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The Right Way to Introduce Your Dog to a Stranger

Picture of a woman and a dog

When you’re out and about on a walk with your best canine pal, it is inevitable that you will encounter new people. Many people greet dogs with great enthusiasm; often swarming them in the hopes they can lavish them with love and affectionate pats and cuddles. While some dogs enjoy the company of strangers, others are naturally wary of them, and some respond with barking and lunging, viewing the stranger as a potential threat. If you plan to take your pooch out in public, you’ll want to do all you can to help him feel safe when approached by someone unfamiliar to him. What is the right way to introduce your dog to a stranger? 

Helping Your Dog to Feel Comfortable Around Strangers

If a dog has been well-socialized to new people during the formative puppy developmental periods, they rarely have a problem meeting strangers. However, not all dogs receive this early training, and that is where problems can develop.

It may be that in the past your dog had a bad experience when approaching a new person or has developed his very own fear based on the circumstances surrounding meeting strangers. Some dogs are naturally reticent of new situations and put the breaks on in the face of something unfamiliar. However, none of these things have to mean that your dog can’t learn to greet strangers with politeness rather than with fear and reactivity. Bear in mind, that to set your dog up for success, your dog’s own comfort level should be respected. Dogs are very intuitive and often take a disliking to a person because they perceive the person to be dangerous or to mean them or their owner harm.

Similarly, since dogs possess such a powerful sense of smell, they can often detect the presence of disease in people. By nature, many dogs will refuse to advance towards a person they perceive to be suffering from cancer or other serious illnesses.

Forcing your dog to approach someone they are uncomfortable with teaches your dog that you don’t recognize or respect his fears. In turn, the dog will learn that you don’t have his best interests at heart, and your bond will be damaged. If your dog is not interested in meeting a stranger, respect his boundaries. In time and with training, you can help your dog to overcome this fear. But progress is never made through force.  In some instances, a dog will never be comfortable meeting new people, and this too must be respected. 

There are several different methods you can employ to help your dog learn to meet strangers appropriately.

These include:

  • Management

Managing your dog’s environment is key to helping him learn that strangers don’t have to be a bad thing for him. Since dogs respond very poorly to forced situations, it is important for you to be prepared to move in baby steps towards the goal of your dog willingly greeting a new person. There will be setbacks along the way, and training should always be adjusted to support the dog’s comfort level.

To utilize the management approach to training a dog to meet a stranger appropriately, you will need a leash and very high value treats. Take your dog to a public park or area in town where you will encounter strangers. Remain at a safe distance from these new people, preferably out of their line of vision.

When a stranger walks past the dog, reward the dog with treats and praise for displaying calm behavior. If the dog attempts to shy away, bark, lunge, or react in any way that is counterproductive to your goal, simply increase the distance between your dog and the strangers in the area. Over time and with training, your dog will be able to come closer and closer to new people without feeling the need to be overwhelmed or defensive.

  • Enlist the help of new friends

What many dogs find confrontational about meeting a stranger is being addressed by someone they are unfamiliar with. Most dogs will behave politely or even seem disinterested when approached by a new person if they are not the object of the person’s attention.

To help your dog learn to respond appropriately to new people, ask some of your friends who have not met your dog to approach you in a neutral setting, taking care to completely ignore your dog. When your dog makes the choice to interact with your friend, they can then kneel down to allow the dog to sniff them. By allowing the dog to take control of the interaction, it helps to build confidence in Fido, and he begins to view strangers with less suspicious and fear.

  • Treat and train

Most dogs love food. High value treats can help you to train your dog to politely greet a stranger. For this method of training, you will also need to ask your friends for assistance.

Meet your friend ahead of time without your dog. Give them a pocketful of your dog’s favorite treats. Once your friend is loaded up with your dog’s most cherished snacks, you can then return to your car to get your dog.

Your friend should approach you and your dog in a neutral setting, taking care to ignore the dog. When the dog chooses to approach your friend, your friend can simply give your dog a treat, avoiding eye contact or any verbal interaction. Over time, your dog will come to associate your friend…and strangers…as potential for good things to happen for him. 

A Word of Caution

When training a dog to accept meeting strangers, it is important that all training take place on neutral ground. Many dogs will respond aggressively if approached on their own property, thus setting the dog up to fail. Public parks, parking lots, and even a friend’s dog-free backyard are all excellent places to work with your best canine pal.

Can your dog learn to meet strangers politely if previously he has not been a big fan? Absolutely! With a little patience, a firm commitment, and lots of yummy treats, Fido can soon learn that new people can be a lot of fun.

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