Helping a Dog Get Over His Fear of Meeting New People

By: David Codr

Published Date: January 7, 2019

For this Omaha dog behavior session we helped Paco a 2 year-old Terrier mix (pictured here on the left with Manny a 6 year-old Chihuahua mix) who is fearfully reactive when meeting new people.

Paco barked, lunged and nipped at me when I first arrived for the session. His guardians had a barrier up blocking the dogs from reaching the door so I waited there a bit to give him a chance to settle down. I asked the guardians to drop the leashes as well as holding a dog on a tense leash can amplify reactive or aggressive dog behavior.

After about 5 minutes, it was clear Paco wasn’t going to settle down on his own so I took him out for a short walk. As a dog behaviorist, I have found that walking can really help when dealing with a fearful dog like Paco. The outdoor environment is more open which can help a dog feel less penned in. There are also distractions which help the dog stop focusing on the thing or things it fears. Lastly, dogs get over things by literally moving forward.

I also wanted to get Paco away from the other two dogs who were adding to the stress level with their barking. While they are not the cause of his behavior, the barking can increase stress and anxiety and be a contributing factor. It may not be a bad idea for the family members to put Manny away when new people come to visit, at least at first.

Paco was a little hesitant at first, but I let him go pretty much anywhere he wanted as long as he was walking. When we got to the half way point of the walk, I started sitting down on the front lawn of every other house on the way back. The first house, he stayed away so I respected his space and got up after a minute.

The next time I stopped, I saw him come up behind me and give me a few sniffs. That was a big step. I stayed still until he moved away and refrained from petting, looking at him or any other interaction. That is often too much for a fearful dog. When you have an anxious, or scared dog giving them space is often the best thing to do.

At each subsequent stop, Paco investigated me deeper and longer. By the time we got back to his home, he was relaxed enough for me to pet him and pick him up. For the record, picking him up or trying to pet him is not something someone else should do unless Paco shows he is very relaxed and is the one initiating contact.

Its going to be important for his guardians to have friends and neighbors repeat this walking introduction and follow it up with a few things inside the house. To help the guardians and their friend and neighbors know what to do, I filmed a video outlining tips to help dog stop being fearful when meeting new people.

Its going to be super important for the guardians to arrange for friend and neighbors to come by and help Paco practice this new way of meeting strangers. The more positive meetings he has this way, the less fearful he will be when meeting new people.

Id like to see the guardians arranging for at least 4 people to come by each week, but the more people he meets this way, the faster he will get over his fear of new people. They pushed back saying they didn’t have a ton of friends to come over to help, but this is crucial. He has to learn how to and practice meeting people in a calm way so he develops positive experiences with strangers and build up confidence in that type of social interaction. Unless the guardians arrange opportunities for him to experience people who respect his space while spending time with him, he won’t be able to adopt new non aggressive behaviors when meeting strangers.

Paco is absolutely not an aggressive dog. He was acting aggressive as a defense mechanism, likely due to being abused in a former home or as a result of bouncing around from him to home. Fortunately some amazing people rescued this little guy and are willing to spend the time and effort to help him have a happy and healthy life.

To help them remember all the dog psychology tips I shared in this in home dog behavior session, we shot a roadmap to success video that you can check out below.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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