As you may have heard our resident behaviorist, Katya, has been taking pet-related questions from you all!  Recently, Celia, one of our awesome animal-loving fans posted her question and asked for a little guidance.  Celia wrote: “We rescued two small dogs who had lived their whole lives in a hoarder house with 18 other dogs.  They’re very shy but doing pretty well.  However, one is very hostile toward visitors, barks and growls and even bit our dog sitter once. ”  Well, we just had to reply to help Celia!  We’re so grateful to her and her family for adopting these two guys who desperately needed a loving home.  (Pictured to the left are Celia, her husband, and their cute rescued pups Milo and Mack!)

Below is the advice Katya suggested for Celia.  If there are any of you out there with dogs who don’t seem to like strangers coming over, we hope it helps, too!

For starters, invite your friends and neighbors to stop over for some practice.  Scheduling their visits, you can hand visitors a high-value treat immediately at the door.  Your  pals should walk into your home, crouch down to offer your dog a treat from their hands, all the while looking away so that their eyes are not looking directly at your pooch.  Eye contact can be very threatening to pups, especially from new people; releasing eye contact often encourages them to approach, which is essential to begin associating a stranger’s visit with something good.  Try keeping a bag of treats by the front door (high up so the dogs don’t get them!) for training purposes.

As wonderful as it is to get your friends and family involved in your dog training, it is also important that those participating follow the protocol designed to help your dog.  So no one should go over to your pup during drills as that could make him or her feel more insecure and afraid.  Dogs with anxiety, fear, or uncertainty to new people should be given the time and space to approach on their own time.  The act of feeling safe enough to get closer is part of the learning!  By inching over to get the treat from a new person’s hand, your dog will at the same time be smelling the visitor’s scent, associating this new person with goodies!  Any reactions such as barking or growling is just a way for dogs to communicate that they’re feeling uncomfortable or afraid.  No need to punish that behavior, and by simply ignoring it, it will not be reinforced and should subside.  It is best not to punish natural and instinctual canine behavior.  When your pup stops barking or growling, that’s the teachable moment!   That’s a good time for you to gently praise him or her so that the quiet, calmer behavior is reinforced.

Overall, be patient with your dogs!  It may take time for a pooch to learn to feel confident around new people.  Sometimes your dog might not want to participate in the training, and that’s okay, too.  Gradual and slow is best when it comes to all things canine.  If you continue to work at it and communicate with your dogs, they’ll surely come around.  Last but not least, remember that our dogs often take clues from us without our knowing it, too!  Remain calm when people come over so that your pooch can sense your comfort rather than feeling the need to protect and defend.  Dogs are pack animals after all – if someone else is giving them the message of safety, they often relax to that leader.  The more positive experiences you can create for your dog around visitors, the less afraid they’ll be with new people over time.

Celia has reported that her dogs are getting better every day!  We hope this feedback helps others who share this issue.  However,  please note that enlisting the help of a professional, certified dog trainer in your area to do a personal visit is always recommended.  Seeing the actual dog behavior is often most effective when it comes to working with and managing behavioral problems.

Do you have a pet-related question for us?  By posting your question with the hashtag #AskKatya on our Facebook wall or via Twitter, we will choose one question a week to respond to with video!  Did  you like this article?  Click an icon below to share it on Facebook, Twitter, and more!