Wednesday, April 6, 2011

When a Stranger Calls

The early morning garbage man, the mail carrier, or even the occasional Girl Scout selling those delicious cookies is often enough to send Fido into a barking frenzy. No doubt, for safety alone, alerting us to the presence of a stranger is a valuable benefit to owning a dog.

However, if your pooch takes it too far by displaying aggression, don’t worry; there is no need to hide your little Cujo in the spare bedroom. The following tips are provided by Dr. Sophia Yin, a veterinarian and animal behaviorist, in a guest blog for

Womb to Tomb
If your dog was never properly socialized from the early stages of tiny furry cotton-ball to adult fuzzbucket, it makes sense that random people and other dogs might frighten a pet with little outsider experience. Make every attempt as your dog develops to introduce him or her to new people, places, and other pets. This will ensure your canine doesn’t develop a fear of unfamiliar people, places, or situations. Just keep in mind that some breeds are naturally more sociable than others.

Body Language
Learning to read their body language provides critical clues into dogs’ thinking and how they are likely to react to certain situations. According to Dr.Yin, “Fido may be tense with eyes darting back and forth or his gaze looking away while he's cowering. Or he may be yawning, licking his lips or panting when he shouldn’t be hot.” All these signs should alert you to your dog’s discomfort and give you time to warn eager petters about the possible danger. Look for the same signals when approaching dogs that you have never met and always remember to ask before petting an unfamiliar dog.

Small Steps
Once you’re fluent in your dog’s body language, take little steps to eradicate unfavorable behavior toward strangers. Invite guests over one at a time so as not to overwhelm your dog. Have the acquaintance come in the house, but don’t let them pet or even look at your dog. Provide your guest with treats so Fido will associate this new person (and new people he or she meets in the future) with a positive reward. You can also try distracting your dog from his or her fears by asking your pet to perform tricks, focusing on you rather than the stranger.

Until you are absolutely confident in your dog’s behavior toward new people, do not allow any petting. Simply work on providing constructive and pleasurable experiences for your dog so that guests feel pawsitively welcomed by not only you, but your dog as well!

Is your dog ready to meet new people this spring?

Sources: “Dogs and Fear of Strangers.”

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