It’s essential to teach your dog to be comfortable around strangers when you’re out and about. This is because dogs that exude confidence and sociability will engage positively with people they’re not familiar with in the given surroundings. Dogs will react differently to strangers for various reasons; sometimes they’re excited whereas other times they’re anxious.
Our friends over at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home have shared their expert advice to help your dog overcome their fear and be more confident when meeting new people.
For more useful tips from Battersea on how to look after your pup, see our collection of Canine Care blogs.
Signs of anxiety and stress in dogs
Firstly, it’s important to recognise the following signs of anxiety in dogs to better understand their comfort levels. Some common signs can include:
Your dog’s body language
Look out for trembling, pricked ears, tucked tails or cowering.
Growling, barking and lunging towards strangers. This is your dog’s way of communicating that they’re trying to put more space between them and the stranger.
Hiding, running away, avoiding contact with strangers.
Increased panting and drooling can also be a sign of stress in dogs.
Establish a strong bond with your dog
It’s important to build trust with your dog to help reduce any anxiety or stressful situations for them when they’re around people they’re not familiar with. Establishing a strong bond will ultimately make them feel safe and reassured when they’re out in public with you.
If your dog is reactive in their behaviour, then reducing the number of instances where they are likely to encounter strangers is a good first step to building their confidence. Be sure to maintain a reasonable distance from others when out on walks or consider taking a quieter route.
Top tip: It’s good to know the maximum distance from someone that your dog is comfortable with. Try to picture an invisible bubble around your dog. This is effectively their safe space. Your dog’s bubble will likely vary in size depending on how calm they are and what triggers them to react to strangers.
Take simple steps
A great way to build your dog’s confidence is by introducing them to your friends and members of your family that you see regularly. This can be achieved in your home where your dog has a safe space to move to, such as their bed. Be sure to take slow steps so that your dog doesn’t get overwhelmed. Ask your friends and family to give your dog time and space for them to get used to them – keeping your dog’s ‘invisible bubble’ in mind.
Practise positive reinforcement training
Another way to build your dog’s confidence around strangers is by practising positive reinforcement training. This involves praising and rewarding your dog when they display calm behaviour around strangers. Start by slowly building up your dog’s tolerance level to being near people they’re not familiar with in a controlled space. This could be by walking your dog on a leash in a quiet park or down a street in your neighbourhood that they’re familiar with.
When your dog displays calm behaviour, offer them a treat. This will help to reinforce the positive association between their behaviour and the treat. In the likely event that you come across someone while out with your dog, wait for your dog to notice the person before distracting them with a treat. Encourage them to display calm behaviour before offering it to them and reward them when they follow through with your instruction. Soon, they’ll start to realise that this type of behaviour means they’ll get a tasty treat!
Exposure is key
As your dog gets more comfortable and used to this, you can slowly start to increase their exposure to strangers when out and about. This is a good way for them to notice all types of people, including children and adults. Gradually exposing them to all sorts of people will help desensitise your dog to help them overcome any fear or anxiety of strangers.
Praise and reward your dog throughout when they display calm behaviour and be generous enough to offer them two treats for moving away from others while staying by your side. Over time and with lots of practice, your dog’s perception of strangers will change, and they should start to feel more comfortable around them.
It’s important to remember that building your dog’s confidence takes time and patience. However, a safe and secure environment combined with consistent positive reinforcement training will gradually help your dog to develop lasting confidence around strangers.
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Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing,
please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.