Tips to Help an Anxious Dog Get Over his Fear of Houseguests

By: David Codr

Published Date: January 2, 2018

For this Omaha dog training session we helped a very anxious dog; 1 year-old Rat Terrier / Chihuahua mix Rocco – helping him get over his fear of new people visiting his home.

I spotted a few things that were likely contributing to his territorial behavior as soon as I walked in the door.

Dogs have a fight or flight response meaning they will attack or move away from things they aren’t comfortable with. Often times, the dog will defer to flight and try to move away. But when the guardian picks up a dog this way, they take away that option so the dog can start down the path to fight. Although Rocco wasn’t nipping or attacking people, his behavior was clear in its meaning, go away.

I had the guardian put Rocco on the ground, at which point he started a nearly 2 hour barking marathon. This behavior wasn’t due to aggression, he was acting out of fear and insecurity; trying to act in a way that he hoped would get me to leave.

Because part of his goal was to elicit a response, I ignored Rocco and distracted him by tossing high value training treats when he calmed down and stopped barking. I wanted him to learn that a new human’s arrival can be a good thing. I didn’t try to pet him, look his way or talk to him while I was waiting out his barking and creating a positive association.

It was really difficult for the guardians to refrain from correcting Rocco while he was barking this way. But by waiting him out and proving that something exclusively good is related to a new guest, it will be easier for the guardians to help him get over fearful dog behavior. Eventually Rocco stopped barking and actually started to initiate contact with me.

I summarized what I was doing and how future houseguests should act when visiting in this free dog training video.

Its going to be important for the guardians to practice having people come to visit a few times a week for the next couple of weeks. Ideally this would be a neighbor as they are close and can leave after a few minutes which is a good visit length when working with a anxious dog with this kind of problem). But friends or relatives who have a nice calm energy and can take direction from the guardians will also be good options.

Basically the family will have to help the dog learn that new guests are a good thing. It will take practice at the approach I outlined in the above video as well as changing the leader follower dynamic so the dogs sees and identify the humans as being the leaders. A dog needs to be able to count on its guardians to show it they have things covered. Consistently enforcing rules and boundaries is a great way to start accomplishing this.

It will also be important for the family members to regularly reward the good behaviors Rocco displays. Many people focus on correcting unwanted behaviors and ignoring desired ones. Because dogs like to please us, clearly explaining how much we like desired behaviors by petting with a purpose and using passive training when a dog displays them organically will all help Rocco relax and learn he doesn’t have to protect his family from strangers who visit the house.

We wrapped up the session by shooting a roadmap to success video outlining all the positive dog training tips and secrets we shared in this in home dog training session.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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