If you have a dog, you know that fears can be a part of his daily life. A simple walk around the block may be fine for a young, confident pup, but a more timid dog may need to be led to new locations until he builds up his courage. A fearless dog may be okay with approaching people, but not all dogs will naturally warm up to new people. Your dog will also have fears based on experiences from his past.
It’s important to be aware of your dog’s behavior and reactions so that you can figure out what he is afraid of and how to help him overcome this fear. One of the best ways to help your dog is to teach him a few commands and to have a good understanding of his behavior. As your dog grows, he should learn what situations are dangerous and become more comfortable in these environments. The following tips will help your dog overcome his fear of new people.
The new person exercise
The first thing you can do is to establish a safe and predictable schedule at your home. Your dog should know that the people in your household come in daily at a set time so that he will start to think that people are more predictable than they really are.
By establishing a regular daily routine at your home, it will give your dog some stability and will teach him to be comfortable with strangers. The best time to establish this routine is when your puppy is eight weeks old or so.
In a safe environment, such as your living room, have your puppy sniff some toys or play with your hand. After he has become comfortable with the scent of the toys and the touch of your hand, you can take him outside. Take him to the sidewalk or have someone place a toy in the parking lot of your house.
If you feel that this is not sufficient for your puppy, take him on one of your walks, have him sniff around someone’s feet, or even bring your dog to your vet. Whatever you do, just keep the session very short, but very predictable.
Use his favorite toys
You can even use toys with a dog scent to help. Put a little dog treat in an empty toy, then take it outside with you. When your puppy starts sniffing at the toy, gently place the treat right next to the toy and let him sniff it. Give him a few minutes to do this, then take him back inside. This way, you are exposing your dog to a scent he is likely to encounter very soon.
Now that he has become comfortable with a scent, you can slowly introduce him to the toys and people he encounters daily. At first, it may be best to only do this in the presence of someone familiar with the routine, and keep your dog away from people you do not know.
To get your dog used to other dogs, go to a dog park or kennel where people are walking their dogs. Take your dog to the park and play with him while watching what people are doing with their dogs. Then take him home and let him sniff the other dogs, preferably in a confined space. If you find a large open area with a lot of dogs and children running around, you may want to consider bringing your dog there. Just be sure to take him back to a safe area at the end of the day.
If your puppy seems fearful or afraid of people, you can even take him to an obedience class for a week. Fearful puppies often tend to jump to conclusions and assume that every strange person coming into the room is a dangerous threat. It is important to show him that he is safe with all people. After a week at the class, you can slowly start to expose him to people he does not know. Just make sure that they do not try to touch your dog until he is used to the people.
Use Positive Reinforcement
The new person exercise should always be done in a positive environment. If your dog is scared, he will not learn to overcome his fear. Your dog will also learn that new people are a bad thing. Remember that most of your dog’s fears come from experiences from his past. If you were to approach a stranger, your dog might fear that you will hurt him in some way.
Once your dog has overcome his fear of new people, you will be able to use positive reinforcement to help him adjust to new people. You can use food rewards to get your dog’s attention, but you will also need to use praise to teach your dog to accept a new person’s approach. This should take a few sessions to perfect. You can begin by giving your dog a food reward for approaching a new person.
You will need to build up your dog’s confidence a little at a time. Your dog will need a lot of practice, but you can be sure that this exercise is worth the effort.
You should use this approach to get over other fears as well, such as the fear of new animals, new places, new experiences, or even the fear of fireworks or thunder.
When you get to the end of this session, your new person can even give your dog a treat. This will show him that new people are not only good, but he will also learn that they like him and want to help.