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Unsociable Dogs - How to Help Them Deal with Visitors

Some dogs don't like strangers, which can be a problem particularly during the holidays when many people have guests and added stress.

The following tips are adapted from "When Your Dog Threatens Visitors" from the November 2000 issue of DogWatch newsletter.

When confronting visitors, dogs who dislike strangers may bark, snap, lunge and try to bite. Sometimes, this behavior is rooted in the owner's reward history with the dog; many owners praise dogs for protecting the household. Some dogs are very protective due to genetics as a breed trait. Sometimes the behavior is rooted in the dog's early experiences. A socialized dog, one who has been exposed to a range of people and situations during key developmental periods during puppyhood, is usually easier to manage and more welcoming of guests. In any event, a dog threatening visitors can have unpleasant consequences.

It helps to realize that most dogs instinctively protect their owners, handler and territory. The dog regards his owners as his pack. The visitors are not part of the pack and can trigger excessive reactions.

What can you do about this?

* Reinforce your role as leader.

* Provide rewards when your dog listens to you.

* Provide rewards to condition a more acceptable response to visitors.

* Be aware of the signals you send. If your dog senses anxiety when you greet a visitor, he might interpret your stance or reaction as fearful. If he thinks aggression might work to ward off the threat, he'll display aggressive behavior. So make sure you greet visitors in a calm, relaxed and confident manner.

Specific ways to help your dog deal with visitors:

Technique 1: Extend your hand to the guest for a handshake, which the dog will interpret as a sign that the person is OK. Beware: hugging a guest may send an anxious dog a confusing signal.

Technique 2: Teach your dog "sit," "stay" and "go to your place" (establishing a "place" for him somewhere in the home). After he fully learns those commands, you can use them when guests visit.

Technique 3: Your dog will study each guest to determine whether the guest is a threat, and will keep watch for signs of threat. Usually this diminishes within a few minutes of the guest's arrival, but not always. So advise guests:

Technique 4: Upon a visitor's arrival, supply the visitor with a handful of dog treats or kibble. The visitor can casually slide them over one a time to the dog.

Using distraction: If the dog still shows some aggression or fear with guests, use distraction to help break the aggression cycle. Set up situations with the help of a friend or neighbor. Establish a signal that tells the dog a visitor is approaching, such as a knock or a ring of the doorbell. Play with your dog before the guest arrives and rings the doorbell. Your dog will learn to associate the doorbell ringing with fun, not threats. Play when the doorbell rings, or, for non-playing dogs, give a food treat. When your dog returns with the ball, praise "Good dog."

Counter-conditioning: Place a properly fitted head collar such as a Gentle Leader or Halti on your dog. When the guest arrives, calmly but firmly command your dog to sit and be quiet, or send him to his special place in the home. If the dog doesn't abide, gently guide (not yank) the dog into the position or special place. Do not raise your voice. Keep the event positive by immediately rewarding the dog by praise, petting and a food treat for following a command. Have a friend help by coming to your door twice a day for two weeks for these practice sessions. If the dog breaks command, guide him back to the position/place to assert your leadership position.

These techniques will not transform the dog into a burglar-loving pushover, but will help improve your ability to get your dog to look to you before he reacts.


Last Updated: July 02, 2013 (LET) PawSupport