Helping a Rescue Dog Who’s Fearful of Strangers

By: David Codr

Published Date: April 12, 2022

Fearful of Strangers

For this Santa Monica dog training session we worked with beautiful 6 year-old Beagle mix Snickers who is fearful of strangers.

Snickers is a pretty fearful rescue dog. It took her guardians quite a bit of time to earn her trust. In fact, her male guardian is still working at it. When I arrived for the session, she retreated to the upstairs landing which is her safe place. Fortunately her guardians dont try to force her to meet new people. Respecting a dog’s wish to keep distance is something you should anytime you are around a dog who is fearful of strangers.

I spent a good portion of the session tossing treats on the ground to get her moving around. I chatted with her guardians about a number of dog behavior tips that will help as I strategically tossed these treats. I wanted to get her moving around instead of sitting in one place and shutting down.

I made sure to go over a number of forms of enrichment; like lick matts, feeding out of snuffle matts, scent games, how to use marker words, the importance of rewarding desired behaviors (celebrating) and some creative exercise tips. Creating a satisfying and enriching home environment is really important when you have a fearful dog like Snickers.

At one point I had the guardians leash her up so that we could take her outside for a change of pace. This really helped as Snickers was able to literally shake off her anxiety and get some sniffs in.  I was even able to take the leash and walk her around a bit.

Tips to help fearful dogs

I recommended that the guardians ask all new visitors to meet them in the park across the street and text them when they arrive. Meeting a fearful dog outside is a great way to set them up for success.

Once Snickers gets a chance to meet the person in a distracting environment like a park, the person can toss some treats on the ground and even offer them out of their hand if she feels comfortable enough to approach them (they should freeze and be completely passive when she approaches to sniff). Then on the way back, the guardians can stop and grab a seat a couple of times where it’s convenient so that the new person can toss treats to Snickers or simply toss them on the ground.

I’d love to see the guardians teach Snickers how to catch. I love using the catch game when dealing with fearful dogs. Playing catch may sound simple but it allows the dog to keep whatever distance it feels comfortable – which is crucially important. It also allows the guest to engage with the dog in a positive way. Over time, many dogs start getting closer and closer to the person who is tossing the treats.

I recommended that the guardians stress to all visitors they need to freeze and be very passive anytime Snickers is brave enough to approach them. The best thing you can do with an anxious dog is sit still and give it an opportunity to come to you in its own time. Sniffing shows interest and so anything you can do to help assist a fearful dog in doing that, its benneficial.

There are a number of things you can do to help a fearful dog build confidence and create positive associations with strangers. To help the guardians remember them all, I handed my phone to one of them so I could share a number of tips they can use to build up snickers confidence.

If you have a dog who is fearful around strangers, you may want to check out the free positive dog training video below.

It may take a couple of visits before Snickers warms up to people and that’s OK. I recommend the guardians try to arrange visits from friends who can stop by for a very short visits. Often we try to shoehorn in dog behavior modification around living our lives. You can get away with that in some situations, but in Snicker’s case, I would like to see her guardians creating situations that set her up for success where they control all of the elements.

To help the guardians remember all of the other dog behavior tips I shared in this in-home Santa Monica dog training session, we recorded a roadmap to success video that you can watch below.

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This post was written by: David Codr