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Vancouver, BC, Canada

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  • Richard Chan

Say "no" to strangers


"My dog was really friendly. l don't know why but one day he just started growling and then yesterday he attacked a stranger who just wanted to pet him!"

I hear this all the time. Usually from owners who have spent lots of time to train and socialize their dogs since puppyhood. These are very good people who love their dogs. They will do anything for their dogs. They are not dog abusers - but they have an aggressive dog.

Why?

In most cases, they share a very common mistake.

They have unfortunately been misinformed.

They thought letting strangers pet their dogs would make their dogs friendly.

Please let me explain.

I never ever allow stranger to just come and pet my dog.

First of all, my dogs do not need to be petted by strangers. They are perfectly happy and content being together with me. If they want to be petted, they would want to be petted by me.

Secondly, many people do not know how to approach a dog properly. Many of these people are very excited and unstable and won't take my instruction on how to interact with my dogs properly.

Inappropriate behavior from these people can put unnecessary pressure and stress on my dogs. Why would l knowingly subject my dogs to this kind of stress?

Besides, even if the person is doing everything right, why would l want my dog to think that it is better to pull me towards someone else than to stay nicely by my side?

Many many aggressive/fearful/reactive dogs that l have met were raised with lots of "saying hi" to strangers and dogs when they were on leash. Same thing happens to many dogs who never pay attention to their owners once they are in public.

Allowing strangers to get really close to your dog constantly can either make your dog lose trust in you, or lose engagement in you.

If your dog is anxious, and you fail to advocate for your dog, your dog will not trust you as his advocate.

If you dog is already paying very little or no attention in you, and he loves to say hi to strangers - the more you allow your dog to do this, the more your dog is reinforced to ignore you and pay more attention to strangers.

You are devaluing your relevance to your dog by allowing this to happen repeatedly. You are training your dog the exact opposite of engagement.

Allowing many people to pet your dog does not guarantee that your dog will not become aggressive.

Many human aggressive dogs were raised with constant petting from strangers. A few negative experiences from these strangers, whom you know nothing about and have no control of, is all it takes to make your dog dislike, hate, or become very nervous around strangers.

Why would you want to take such a risk?

If you are doing this because you think that would make your dog very happy, then it begs an important question - is your dog not happy just being around you?

If you dog is more happy being around a total stranger than you, you should really work on your relationship with your dog. You dog should be the happiest around you.

I socialize puppies to human by using lots of food. I would give the puppy lots of food as we meet and walk past strangers. I let my puppy know that whenever a stranger appears it is "food time" so he really has no reason to be afraid of strangers. He has nothing but positive association with strangers.

But rather than allowing the pup to go up to the stranger to receive the reward of physical affection, l would give my pup lots of food rewards myself. That is how l teach my dogs to love paying attention to me and not be anxious or aroused around strangers.

I am the source of reward. I am more relevant. Paying attention to me is awesome. The default response of seeing strangers (or other distractions) is to focus on me.

This is a much safer way to socialize a dog as it greatly reduces the risk of negative experience often occurs with a stranger who is not good at reading body language.

As owners it is our job to screen who can approach our puppies and what they are allowed to do and for how long. That is what the dog mother would do with her own puppies.

When we take a puppy home, the puppy expects us to carry on the job of her mother, which is to advocate and protect her.

To keep her safe and give her a sense of security and stability is our job.

If we fail to do our job, we can easily turn this puppy into one which is unstable, fearful, insecure, and even aggressive.

Please do your job. Keep your puppy safe, content, and secured next to you. Say no to strangers.