Helping your dog with Stranger Danger

Posted On July 24, 2020

We have our first guest post! This is from Caroline Wilkinson who is a Certified Animal Behaviourist.

Whether your dog has always struggled with greeting new people on their own territory, or elsewhere, or if you’re worried about how greeting people will occur now after having no other human contact in their residence since Lockdown, this piece is for you!

Now that we’re beyond the worst (fingers crossed!) of coronavirus, and people are allowed to start socialising again, I feel like we can finally share this post. Some dogs get scared when people come into their home, or when they greet people. So, I had a chat with Caroline about whether she had any tips, and she does!

As the Founder of the online learning space Barket Place, Caroline has a passion for improving connections between human and hound, with a focus on relationships and reduction of stress for canines living in a human world. She’s helping us look at how to deal with Stranger Danger! I.e. how to help your dog cope with new people coming into his or her space. Goodness only knows, Indie hid behind me from my 85 year old grandmother when he met her for the first time!

She’s given us 5 great tips to help you and your pup deal with Stranger Danger. Time for me to give over to the expert… Enjoy!

Whether it’s due to a traumatic past history, a developmental fear phase, a physical ailment, or just plain DNA, it can be really tough when your dog finds it hard to let new people into your home.

Our dogs are living in a human world – full of lots of scary sights and sounds – often without much choice as to the interactions they need to endure.

Whereas we can make choices about the guests we invite into our home or the sorts of social events we attend, we make most of these decisions on the behalf of our dogs.

 

nervousness shows in many ways

 

If your dog finds new humans visiting your home to be a challenge, the first step would always be to discuss this with your vet. Emotional displays of fear, anxiety, or aggression can be related to something physical that we might not be able to see – pain, thyroid levels, or neurological disorders, for example.

Once you’ve consulted with your vet, I would highly recommend booking a consultation with a force-free behaviour specialist to get individual guidance suited to your specific needs. They can provide you with support throughout your journey.

If you feel your dog is starting to feel uncomfortable meeting new people in your home – or perhaps you’re looking to create a solid new relationship with a new dog walker or carer – I’d like to share these ‘positive connections’ tips to help you get started.

1 – Management.

If your dog displays any aggressive behaviours towards new visitors it’s important to put some management in place to keep everyone safe. Child gates are a great tool here – allowing your dog to view the person without being able to gain access to them. If you’ve got a really small dog, just ensure they cannot wriggle through the bars.

2 – Create space.

Ensuring your dog has plenty of space and options to flee is vital in allowing them to feel like they have more control in scary situations. Make sure there is an easy exit for your dog when someone new is entering the room. Ask your visitor not to approach, allowing your dog to be in control of how close they get.

 

3 – Pair people arriving with good things.

What is the thing your dog most loves? Is it food? A special toy? Do they feel most happy when carrying something in their mouth? Provide this ‘loved item’ as your visitor arrives. Initially, it can be useful for you, their trusted guardian, to present the item – but later it can be the visitor themselves who ‘brings the goods’! Following on the point regarding space, don’t use this loved item to bribe your dog towards the visitor – instead throw the food or toy behind your dog, allowing them more space. Soon your dog will start to realise not only is there no pressure on them to interact, but they also get something delicious – or fun – when people arrive.

4 – Use the power of scent.

Food or fun is one way we can change our dog’s emotional response to something scary – scent is another way. Changing a person’s smell by spraying a calming blend of essential oils onto them before they enter your home, can make them appear much less threatening to your dog. I often spray myself with Caroline Ingraham’s Fear & Anxiety Mist before going to see more nervous clients.

5 – Short but sweet.

The longer your dog is exposed to the scary new human, the more adrenalin and cortisol (stress hormone) their body will create. The come-down from this experience will then take much longer. Keep introduction sessions short and make sure you leave a day or two between new guests visiting your home.

What can you take from this wonderful advice from Caroline?

Well, it’s that your dogs fear is something you can work with. It’s something you can get over! It might always be a work in progress, but if you can help them to feel happier about strangers can only be a good thing.

Take your steps and familiarise yourself with as much canine body language as you can, especially the ladder of Canine Aggression so that you can understand what your dog is trying to communicate. If you need any further help?

I’m happy to offer what I can – but Caroline is certainly going to be better than me!

Check her out, she provides online behaviour consultations at https://barketplace.uk.

If you think this is useful, why not share it with your friends? Maybe it will help someone you know!

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