Week 2 - Strangers

One of the primary situations in which most owners struggle with fear is when their dog is around strangers - human or canine. It's easy to feel frustrated when your dog isn't excited to say hello, or perhaps tries to get away, or worse yet, growls, lunges, or snaps.

Importance of Escape

As mentioned last week, escape is highly important. In situations with strangers, a lack of escape can turn fear into aggression. Dog's easily feel trapped when on a leash, held by the collar or being carried in your arms. Your dog knows that they cannot flee and when confronted by a stranger who frightens them, they are have no other option to make the stranger go away than to bark, lunge, snap or even bite. Never discipline your dog for growling, snapping, or lunging. Correcting your dog will only take the warning away and leave you with a biting dog who attacks without warning. Instead respect your dog's message and get them away from the thing they are uncomfortable with and move to the next step below.

Create a Positive Association

Exposure alone, or mixed with comforting words and petting will not get your pet over their fear. A positive association needs to be created with the thing they're afraid of. This usually means food. When it comes to strangers and stranger dogs, do not feed the dog closer than 5 feet from the strangers. Also do not have human strangers food your dog. This puts too much pressure on the dog . Instead feed the dog for looking at the stranger/other dog. Repeat this until your dog loses interest. 

It's NOT Socialization Anymore

Bringing your dog into new situations and to meet new people/dogs is not socialization. It is called exposure or acclimation. "Socialization" ends when the dog is 16 weeks old. That's it. So when the dog is no longer a tiny puppy, general exposure will not solve a dog's fear problem and will instead create behavior problems like reactivity and aggression. Make sure you take the time to slowly introduce your dog to new locations and to new people/dogs using food to create a positive association. Do not force your dog to accept petting or other contact and keep visits short.

Quit While You're Ahead

Keep visits with new people and other dogs short so that success has a chance to set in. If the dog is becoming brave, don't "see where it goes". Your dog will eventually become overwhelmed and now the good association has been replaced with a bad one. Have first meetings be about 4-6 seconds and then move the dog away. You can repeat these introductions 5-10 times during the same visit as long as the dog acts happy and empowered. If the dog starts to show stressed body language - STOP! Try to end on a good note. It is fine if the person or other dog does not touch your dog. In fact that is prefered.

Molly Sumridge