Dogs, like humans, are territorial by nature. If a stranger came into your home unannounced you would likely react in either a fearful or aggressive manner. Dogs who are aggressive and protective are no different. Fortunately, there are training techniques that can be employed to help your pet grow more comfortable when you have company at your home. Whether you have an older dog who behaves aggressively toward visitors or you are raising a puppy that you want to train to be comfortable around strangers, here are some tips that can help.
Know your dog
Before you start training you need to understand exactly what makes your dog uncomfortable. With some dogs it may be a certain type of person (like a mail carrier or the oil delivery driver). With other dogs any stranger who comes in or near the home is a trigger. Determine the fine line between your dog’s comfort zone and where your dog becomes scared.
Employing a training partner
Start small by having a friend (someone your dog doesn’t know) walk past your home where the dog can see. The moment they show signs of fear, assure your dog that you have the situation under control. Scolding the dog, grabbing them, or otherwise exhibiting aggressive behavior toward your dog will only exacerbate their fears. You want them to know that you have the situation in control. Saying firmly and calmly, “I got it; I’m OK” will tell your dog that you see the stranger and you’re in control.
Oftentimes, dogs bark at strangers because they want us to be aware of the potential danger. Acknowledging your dog is vital in these situations. If your dog is the type who barks or growls at strangers, reward them with treats when they don’t bark as the “stranger” passes by your home.
From there, you can try other triggers with strangers outside the house such as ringing the doorbell or walking through the yard.
Let the stranger inside
After a few sessions working with the stranger outside your home, it’s time to introduce your dog to strangers inside their territory. If you think your dog will be aggressive toward the stranger, make sure you keep your dog leashed or basket-muzzled during the first visit. It will protect your training buddy and will help let your dog know you are in control.
Start by having a family member let the stranger in the home while you hold your dog leashed at length. If your dog barks at the stranger, attempt to get your dog’s attention and verbally reassure them you are okay; you are in control. Have your training partner avoid eye contact with your dog.
Once your dog calms down enough to stop barking, try having them follow commands for treats (sit, stay, etc.). If this is successful, have the stranger try tossing treats to the dog as well. If your dog is too nervous to eat, reward them with pets and other positive reinforcement (“Good girl!”).
Tips for productive training sessions
- Try to keep your dog’s focus on you as often as you can. Use treats and positive reinforcement constantly
- Exercise your dog before training if they are high-energy
- Train in small increments; if your dog is afraid of strangers don’t start by introducing him/her to a party at your home
- You need to be calm at all times while training. Your dog takes his/her cues from your behavior. If you get frustrated or anxious take a break and start again when you’re fully calm