anxious and fearful dogs - stranger in the home

fearful dog 2

Unfortunately there are some dogs that are afraid of when the wind blows too hard or if they hear a sound even if they are familiar with it.  This blog covers what to do when your dog is extremely afraid of strangers in the home.

Many dogs react with fear, barking and sometimes aggression when a human enters their home.  Behavior modification is in order, but it has to be tailored to the problem.  First, it’s going to take some time for your dog to calm down from the stranger’s presence in your home – try to keep the distance between them as much as possible at first.  It’s important to know the signs that 

your dog is becoming fearful and anxious.  If he is not outright barking, touch your pup and get a sense of how he is feeling – if he feels loose and soft, he’s most likely not fearful yet, but if his body starts to feel tense and stiff, you have reached his threshold for fear.  Other signs of tension are his ears – if they roll back, he’s most likely getting frightened.  If his body starts to put more weight on his backside, same thing.

It’s important to first list the specific stimuli that cause her change in behavior.  More often than not, it’s men vs women that elicit a fearful response.  Make note of that.  Also make note of how far away that man can be before the response is elicited.   Next, most dogs in a fearful state will not take food – but if your food is high enough value, they just might – my go to treat is freeze dried beef liver, but you may find that prepared turkey or chicken work better.

Most Important:  training your pup is about getting him to feel better and not about getting him to perform commands.  Fear is not a behavior – it is similar to humans – fear is something intangible and occurs without reason.

Training involves both desensitization and counter-conditioning.  The method is simple but the work is hard and tedious.  You need to introduce the stimulus (i.e. a strange man), but at a distance far enough away that your pup observes the man but does not react.  This is when you say “yes!” and reward with multiple treats.  Do this several times before having the man take a step forward.  If the step forward elicits a response from your pup than have the man step back and do it all over.  Continue this process until the man is able to take several steps forward without causing your pup to react, then call it a day.

You will obviously need many, many sessions of this type of counter-conditioning – just take it slow.

Remember, affection to your pup is a reward.  If you are petting your dog to comfort him around the stranger, you are reinforcing the negative behavior.  What your dog is understanding is that “I’m scared to death and my owner is rewarding me – he must want me to continue”.    That’s why it’s critical that you reward your dog only when he is exhibiting “normal” behaviors – his body is loose, ears are up, his mouth is loose and his stance is even, etc.  Rewarding him in this state of calmness is key to advancing the strange man closer and closer.

Dogs have four instinctive reactions to what is in front of them – fight, flight, avoidance, and surrender.  It is clear that the first three come into play with a fearful dog – what we are looking for is surrender – that is to say we want your pup to accept what is in front of them without reacting in a negative way.  Very important:  You cannot have fear or anxiety – it will transfer over to your pup and cause the whole experiment to go awry.  It is critical that you remain calm and assertive throughout the process.  Otherwise, your pup will sense something is wrong and step into the dominant position and we’ll lose control of the process.  A fearful, anxious dog must not get physical comforting – rather, he needs to see his human as calm and assertive and through the leader’s actions, his dog will see that everything is OK.

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