How to Stop a Dog from Fearing People

By: David Codr

Published Date: September 26, 2023

stop a dog from fearing people

For this Santa Monica dog training session I share tips on how to stop a dog from fearing people.

Juliet made it clear that she was not happy I was visiting her home. I was originally called into work on an unusual behavior in the car and potential separation anxiety so I wasn’t anticipating a dog that was afraid of people.

Normally when I meet with a dog who is fearful of people, I like to meet them outside. Being outside can be really beneficial for fearful dogs as there are a number of distractions and the open space makes them feel more relaxed.

I used the number of Dog Behaviorist tricks to help Juliet feel more relaxed. Many people think that the best way to help a fearful dog is by lavishing them with praise, treats, pets and attention. But when you have a dog who is fearful around humans, often the best thing to do is give them space and ignore them.

I sat down with the guardians and went over a number of dog behavior fundamentals. I go over these with almost all of my clients because as Santa Monica’s dog behavior expert, I have found many people accidentally cause or contribute to their dog’s problems without realizing that’s the case.

We went over the importance of using marker words and a loading exercise. This is the fundamental building block that helps the dog understand that it has done the thing that you want. Establishing a marker word can accelerate your dog’s learning and also increase their confidence and sense of security.

I walked the guardians through a hand targeting exercise so they can practice using the marker word and understand when and how to introduce command cues.

To make sure that Juliet understood what her guardians wanted from her, we went through something I call a celebration exercise (petting for desired behaviors) and how to teach dog manners (redirecting a dog into a desired behavior).

Because Juliet is not comfortable around people she doesn’t know, I also went over Dog body language and cut off signals. When we are with someone who listens to us when we communicate we are uncomfortable or disagree, their compliance helps us feel secure. When we are with people who do not listen, it causes us to put our guard up and feel anxious.

The same thing goes for dogs. Dog consent and cut off signals are my favorite lessons to teach because most people don’t realize that their dog is telling them “no,” and they don’t realize it. Helping people understand their dog better is a profound dynamic shift in the dog’s quality of life.

We finished up the core section of this in home Santa Monica dog training session by discussing some mental stimulation tips. Providing a dog with enrichment or mental challenges is important to keep them occupied, a nice way to drain excess energy and a fun activity for the dogs.

How to Stop a Dog from Fearing People

The guardians wanted me to share some tips to help their dog get over a fear of strangers. They have some friends and relatives who come to visit and Juliet makes it clear she is uncomfortable with them in her home. So I knew that fixing this dog’s fear of strangers will make a huge difference in her quality of life.

Ironically, many of the things that people do to help fearful dogs are the exact opposite of what they should do. A part of this is the human construct, we feel a social obligation to befriend dogs in homes that we visit. And for most people, that means giving them some pets.

But when a dog is fearful of unknown people, it really just want some space and to be left alone. Sometimes ignoring a dog, not looking at them, not talking to them and not trying to put them are the best ways to help them warm up to you. Really, ignoring a dog is a great way to stop a dog from fearing people.

I pulled out my camera and handed it to the guardian so that I could share a number of tips you can use if your dog is scared of meeting new people. If your dog is not a fan of strangers or your dog gets upset when people visit your home, you should definitely check out the free positive dog training video below.

I shared a number of secrets to help a fearful dog in that video. One tip on its own is probably not going to make that big of a difference, but if you follow the strategy that I outlined in that fearful dog training video, you should be able to create a situation that helps the feel more relaxed and comfortable.

It can take time and practice for a fearful dog to stop barking at strangers. The key is to go at the dog’s pace, pay close attention to the dog’s body language and cut off signals, keep the visit short and successful and avoid any activity that causes the dog to act out.

Sometimes this is easier said than done. That’s why I usually recommend my clients select friends and family members who are going to listen to them. Sometimes we invite people over who have the best of intentions but whose actions actually contribute to the problem. The more that we can give the dogs space and time and create positive associations, the more we set the dog up for success.

After we shot that video we headed across the street so they could share some tips on how to create a positive emotional response around other dogs. Juliet did great and so did her humans. We didn’t spend as much time on this as I would like because we had already covered so many other things, but I think the guardians picked up on the technique that I was using. I told him to make sure to call or text me if they have questions or run into any hiccups.

To make it easy for the humans to remember everything that we went over, I set up my camera to record a roadmap to success summary video. Usually filming these videos is very uneventful, but not for this session. Juliet decided to do something very shocking and impressive that indicated that we made good progress in our goal to stop a dog from fearing people. You’ll have to watch the video yourself to see what it was.

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This post was written by: David Codr