How to Handle Dogs Who Are Afraid of Strangers
It’s not the dog’s fault. There are many dogs out there who are afraid of strangers. It makes sense. For thousands of years, dogs have been bred to alert us to an attack. They don’t know that we’re welcoming our visitors; they’re on alert. But there are ways to deal with a “scaredy-cat” dog. Here’s what you need to know.
When Do Dogs Look Fearful?
How do you know whether a dog is truly afraid of someone? It has to do with their body language. Dogs that are fearful will have their tails tucked and their ears back. They may lick their lips or give you the “whale eye” (large eyes with the whites of the eyes showing). To someone who isn’t familiar with dogs, fearful language can be very similar to play — you need to know your dog and how it usually behaves.
If someone was shouting “Just leave me alone!” and someone ran up and hugged them, you wouldn’t be surprised that they pushed you off. Unfortunately, people don’t think the same way about dogs, nor do they see the way dogs try to communicate. When a dog tells someone “don’t touch me,” though, people tend to try to do it anyway. And it has obvious consequences.
How Can You Avoid Triggering a Reactive Dog?
If you’re visiting a reactive dog (or you have someone visiting a reactive dog) the best thing for them to do is ignore the dog entirely.
That means entering a home quietly (though visibly, so they don’t startle the dog) and ignoring the dog completely. Dogs who are fearful are often over-stimulated. If they are ignored, they will start to calm down.
Once the dog has calmed, a stranger should try to give the dog some high-value treats. Over time, dogs will learn that strangers are nothing to be fearful of. But regardless, strangers should avoid any loud sounds, shouting, or sudden movements; these things can startle a dog and give them more to fear.
Young children are unpredictable and should never be around fearful dogs. A single negative interaction (such as a tug on an ear or a tail) could set the dog back significantly and cause them to fear all people again.
What’s the Difference Between a Fearful and a Dangerous Dog?
A fearful dog will try to avoid interactions with people. While they may bark aggressively or growl, they won’t approach someone or snap at them. They are simply using their voice to say, “Don’t touch me, please!”
But a dog that is snapping at people or otherwise trying to injure them is a dangerous dog, not a fearful dog. A dog that is dangerous needs professional training. That’s again, not the dog’s fault. Often, the dog has learned the wrong lessons from the wrong people. But if they aren’t trained as soon as possible, they could hurt someone. And if they hurt someone, a lot of training and correction will be required to make sure that the dog is safe again.
Do you have a dog who is fearful or dangerous? Don’t give up on them! Many dogs just need to be trained by professionals. Contact the German Dog Training Center for more information.