Training Tips to Help a Fearful Dog Greet Strangers

By: Sam Kanouse

Published Date: August 21, 2017

Sadie is a ten-year-old Bull Terrier who lives in Omaha. Her guardian set up a dog behavior training session to stop aggression towards guests and help her overcome her fear of strangers.

Before I arrived I asked Sadie’s guardian to leash her to make sure that we were in a safe and controlled setting. Although pulling on the leash can increase dog reactivity, we needed to first be in a safe setting so I could assess Sadie’s level of fear of strangers. In the video I asked the guardian to back Sadie away from me to increase the distance between us. By increasing the distance between Sadie and what she is reacting to, she can start to gain more self control. I tossed a few treats towards Sadie to help her start to make a positive association between a stranger approaching her and receiving a yummy treat reward.

I asked Sadie’s guardian to put Sadie in another room after our greeting to allow Sadie to calm down and deescalate her energy. Sadie’s guardian had attended one of our Dog Behavior Workshops so was already familiar with our Petting with a Purpose method. I reminded her to never pet Sadie when she was anxious or reacting to a new person or dog. This would reinforce for Sadie that she should bark or be fearful of new people and dogs.

To help Sadie overcome her fear of new people approaching her I used a counterconditioning method, which you can watch below.

In the video above you can see that when I asked Sadie to sit I would move from a sitting position to a kneeling position. While I wouldn’t want to typically make myself taller or “bigger” in this scenario at this point, Sadie was used to being asked to sit when people are standing up, so I mimicked this by adding a little height and helping her understand the command better. Asking Sadie to sit gave her a sense of control because she knew what we wanted from her. This helped her gain her own self control and calm down.

By the end of the session Sadie was accepting treats from the guardian’s brother by using the same counterconditioning method that we used in the video above. To keep building Sadie’s trust with new people, the guardian will want to progress slowly allowing Sadie to become more and more comfortable with people approaching her from a distance and walking around the room at a safe distance away and then over time increasing the proximity to new people. We wrapped up this behavior session with Sadie’s Roadmap to Success video, which you can watch below.

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This post was written by: Sam Kanouse

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