By Kathy Diamond Davis
Many people want their dogs to dislike strangers because they believe this makes the dogs more valuable as protectors. But dogs that can't get along with people are not functional in human society. They must live locked away when service people and guests come to the home. They can't be trusted with children, nor can they be taken for walks, lest they become aggressive toward other people and dogs. And a dog that must be locked away isn't much of a protector.
Police dogs, the best examples of protective dogs, are raised and trained to behave safely around all kinds of people. They can go where needed and react appropriately when someone's behavior clearly represents a threat. Criminals fear the unpredictability of dogs and see any sign of obedience as an indication that the dog might be trained to attack. A substantial-looking, obedient dog at your side is the best form of protection. Unlike a police officer, you don't need to apprehend criminals, just repel them.
Dogs inherit varying degrees of protective instinct, and some have instincts you probably don't want. To choose a dog with instincts you can handle, seek help from responsible breeders and trainers.
Once you have chosen a dog, expose it to all kinds of people, old and young, male and female, children and adults. Accustom your dog to people of all races, people wearing different types of clothing, such as uniforms, and people riding in or on a variety of vehicles including trucks, skateboards, wheelchairs. Without realizing it, people often encourage their dogs to respond distrustfully to strangers or to certain kinds of people. When a dog reacts negatively to a certain kind of person, take the opportunity to show the dog that the person is acceptable to you.
This involves protecting your dog from the frightening person or situation, and then using a powerful technique called the "jolly" routine. First, move to a distance where the dog feels comfortable. Let the dog get used to the person. By using gentle obedience commands, treats, favorite toys, games or a combination of these things, you can help your dog to relax. Then go up to the person yourself -- don't drag the dog behind you -- and speak in a happy, hearty voice. The words don't matter, but make sure your tone of voice is neither threatening nor weak.
Your dog should relax further when it sees that you don't view the person or situation as a threat. Don't push the dog to accept the person right then and there. It may take several contacts to get the response you want.
Dogs that don't get along with all kinds of people may react negatively to them for a number of reasons, including an unstable temperament, former mistreatment or simply lack of social experience. Sometimes these dogs can be rehabilitated, but sadly, this is not always possible. However, with the techniques described above, you can raise almost any puppy to function safely around all kinds of people.
Kathy Diamond Davis
author, Therapy Dogs, Training Your Dog to Reach Others and Responsible Dog Ownership
Canine Behavior Series at www.petcareforum.com
Copyright by Kathy Diamond Davis
Used with the author's permission
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