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How To Deal With Dog Fear of Strangers

Dog Fear of Strangers

Fear of strangers is a situation that is very serious and should be treated with behavior modification. While you are treating his behavior, it is imperative that you manage him around strangers . Every time he is exposed to the fearful situation, the behavior becomes deeper ingrained and will be harder to modify; along with being risky and absolute unfair to your dog.

In order to modify a fearful dog’s behavior, you have to change your dog’s emotional response to the scary situations. You are changing your dog’s fear response to a positive response when the stranger approaches. This is done through a slow process of systematic desensitization and counter.
Each person has their comfort zone. Once someone violates our comfort zone, our body language changes, we back away, put our hands up, warn the other person to back up and if all of those warning are ignored, we will either retreat or make the other person retreat with violence.

Now imagine, every time someone entered your comfort zone and when you started giving off your warnings, your friend poked you in the arm and forced you to stand there and be nice when all you want to do is get away. You certainly don’t feel that things are fine, you feel threatened! If this is repeated often, one or more of the following will happen, you will drop your warning system altogether and just go to violence, your zone will get bigger and bigger and you will start to feel threatened unless the person is farther and farther away, you will start to avoid your friend, you won’t trust your friend any longer, or you will lash out at your friend.
This situation is very similar to dogs that have a fear of strangers, or any stimuli that is scary to the dog. I constantly see and hear about people forcing their fearful dogs to interact with strangers and/or punishing them for growling at the stranger. As in the above scenario, the well meaning owner is playing the role of the friend - causing the dog more psychological suffering, increasing aggression, and teaching the dog that their owner is not to be trusted.
First, you need to realize that your dog’s growl is a warning to you and everyone around that he is uncomfortable with the situation he finds himself in.
Your job as his protector and friend is to help him feel safe!

Listen to him when he is clearly telling you he is uncomfortable and remove him from the situation in his time of need. Do not let strangers approach him, even if they insist! Dogs that are pushed past their comfort zone will bite.
Usually your dog’s growl is not his first sign of being uneasy. Learning and paying attention to your dog’s body language should be something you do so often it becomes second nature.
When a stranger approaches, your fearful dog has two options:
Retreat or make the stranger retreat!
So, if you have a fearful dog, the bottom line is — hire a professional trainer and address the situation sooner rather than later. Be sure the trainer use positive reinforcement methods and choose one that you have a connection with or whose methods you feel most comfortable with. With some work and commitment you can change your dog’s fear response to a happy .
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Jim Anderson has been training pets for over 30 years. He offers in home training, behavior consulting and private obedience classes for dogs.