Our furry companions often become like members of the family. In fact, in some cases, they may actually be the only “family” some people have.
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As much as we may love them and in some cases even depend on them, however, that doesn’t mean that others always do. In fact, in some cases, not training your dog properly can lead to legal problems and even potentially having to have them put down.
Teaching them how to behave around strangers is critical to their health, welfare and well-being as well as your own. While your dog may not ever bite a stranger, barking at them can be just as off-putting and can potentially still land you in hot water. Particularly if a stranger reacts negatively to being barked at and causes the situation to escalate. One of the best things you can do for yourself, your dog and everyone else is to teach them not to bark at strangers. Here are 5 ways to get your dog to stop barking at strangers.
1. Relax and be friendly
Your dog is highly sensitive to your emotions. When you are anxious, it makes them anxious as well. You may not even be aware that you suddenly tense up when you pass a strange man on the street or even people you don’t necessarily like and get along with. The first step to helping your dog not to react to strangers is to become aware of your own reactions to strangers.
One of the best things you can do when strangers pass is be friendly, offer a greeting or at the very least consciously make yourself relax. If you live in a city where it might seem strange to be so friendly to strangers, you can actually tell them – in a very friendly tone of voice – that you are trying to train your dog not to bark at strangers, so you want them to see you interacting in a friendly manner. Who knows, you might actually meet a new friend or even get a date that way!
2. Acclimate them to strangers
The best time to start training dogs to do anything is when they are puppies, but in many cases that is not an option. If you adopt an adult dog, however, the truth is almost everyone familiar to you will be a stranger to them. Remember, dogs will naturally be wary of strangers, they literally have to be trained to be friendly. One great way to do this is to invite family and friends over to help.
You can start their training from the minute the doorbell rings. Not only can you train dogs to not bark at strangers, you can teach them to not bark at other common disturbances, such as the doorbell or mailman. When the doorbell rings, your dog will most likely bark. Rather than scolding the dog, calmly go and open the door. Believe it or not, one of the best ways to teach your dog not to bark is simply to not respond when they do. If you raise your voice or scold them, it actually reinforces their behavior.
3. Ignore them
Before your guest arrives, you can ask them to simply ignore the dog as well. The more you ignore the dog, the more they realize their anxiety is unnecessary. Often, when the dog sees you interacting with your guest, they will become curious as well. They may begin to move toward your guest, but prepare your guest in advance to continue ignoring the dog. Allow your dog to acclimate to your guest at their own pace. If the dog goes and lays down next to your guest, you can give them permission to pet the dog, but let the dog go to your guest and ask your guest to please not respond to the dog until you give the okay.
Training takes time and it will not happen overnight. You may have to have a lot of guests over before your dog becomes acclimated to them. One thing to keep in mind is that if you have friends or family that regularly walk into your house, ask them to please ring the doorbell and wait for you to answer it while you are training your dog. You don’t want your dog to become acclimated to complete strangers walking in the house, just to know the difference between “friend and foe.” When your close friends and family come over often enough for the dog to get to know them as “friends,” they can begin entering once again without ringing the doorbell.
4. Reward good behavior
It is harder for your dog to connect rewards to things they do not do than for things they do do, but it can be done. One way to do this is to use a key phrase with your dog each time they pass a stranger. For instance, you might calmly say “easy” to your dog as they are passing a stranger. While dogs do not understand the specific word you are saying, they are able to recognize certain sounds and connect them with certain actions. If you repeatedly and calmly say “easy” as they pass and the dog continues to bark, you do not reward them, but also don’t scold them. Just keep repeating “easy” as they pass strangers. Eventually, they will pass a stranger without barking, and that is when you reward them.
As soon as they do, though, it is important to reinforce this behavior. Keep saying “easy” as they pass strangers and then reward them every time they pass a stranger without barking. Needless to say, if you go on a long walk in a public area, you will end up feeding them a lot of treats if they do well. Most pet food stores carry training treats, which are small morsels so you can feed them plenty of treats without overfeeding them or making them sick.
5. Rinse and repeat
Teaching your dog not to bark at strangers can be a long, time-consuming process, but well worth it in the end. No matter how well you train your dog not to bark at strangers under certain conditions, you can rest easy that if a stranger enters your home or engages with you in a threatening manner, your dog will still alert and protect you. The more often you take your dog out for walks, however, and arrange opportunities to meet with “strangers” (to them at least) the more successfully you will be able to train them to not bark at strangers. Primarily, what you are teaching them to do is to let you decide who is and is not a “stranger.” In other words, you are teaching them to follow your cues and not react and respond to people you do not react and respond to.
Small or large, dogs can be intimidating to many people. When people are intimidated, they can act in ways that might seem threatening to your dog. In that case, dogs do what dogs naturally do and get protective. That can just make them seem even more threatening, which can make people act even more erratically and things can quickly escalate out of control. That’s why you always want to take responsibility for ensuring that your dog does not engage with strangers unless they are being directly threatening in some way. Doing so helps protect you, protect strangers and above all else, helps protect them.