Is Your Dog Scared of Strangers?
12 June, 2014

Most dogs are a bit uneasy when approached by unfamiliar people.  If you have a new dog from a shelter that hasn’t been properly socialized as a puppy, he or she will be apprehensive and maybe even scared upon meeting new people.  It’s understandable.  After all, we humans aren’t always happy to meet new people.  Therefore, it’s important how you approach a dog you have never met or if you own a dog to learn how to handle your dog when someone new approaches.

Some dogs are more gregarious than others

All dogs are not outgoing or used to meeting many types of strangers, especially if they were already shy when you adopted them or have received minimal supervised socialization with many types of humans. If you walk into a dog’s personal space or even stand and reach out to let him sniff you hand or to pet him he may feel threatened or are unsure of your intentions. It is scary for him or her.

If however, you stand straight up or crouch down on one knee while looking slightly away, then he can approach and sniff you at his own rate.  You want to have the dog get used to you and not learning over the pup, reaching over his head or grabbing and hugging the dog so he feels confined. Instead move slowly and smoothly in order to give the dog chance to back away.

Try to read the dog’s signals

Probably the biggest issue with dogs who are uncomfortable with some human greetings is that their owners as well as the unfamiliar greeters fail to recognize the tense body language.  Watch for the signs:  your dog may be tense for some reason… or he may be yawning, licking his lips or panting when he shouldn’t be hot.  Most owners know their dogs so it’s important for you to watch those signs that your pup is scared or feeling uneasy.

The signs that it is safe to approach a dog

The body language you’d like to see when greeting a dog is one that says this whole business is natural and comfortable. The dog should remain relaxed and his gaze should be steady and soft. His tail should either wag or hang loosely down.  Still approach slowly but you should be fine.

What you should do if your dog is scared when someone approaches

If you see these signs in your dog as someone reaches out to pet him, quickly move away so he’s out of range of the approaching person.  You can simply explain to the new person that your dog is afraid of meeting new people that approach him quickly.

The end goal is to change your dog’s emotional state from scared to happy, so that he can eventually learn to associate unfamiliar people with good things. Consequently his fear can go away. Strangers can also toss treats while looking away, but unless you’re absolutely sure that you can tell when Fido is permanently comfortable with them, I’d avoid letting them pet him unless you have a professional coach you through the procedure.

If you approach an unfamiliar dog (now you’re the stranger)

It’s important that you also watch the dog’s body language.  A new dog may take treats from you but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to be touched. Watch the response to everything you do because sometimes a split second freeze or lift of the lip dictates that he is not ready to meet you and could bite.  Instead, just be happy to give treats and admire the dog without touching and know that you’ve given him a good experience.

If all dog owners would allow our dogs to approach us at their own pace and try to watch the dog’s signals, it would be a great way to start a new friendship.

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