A stranger is just a friend your dog hasn’t met – make a good first impression with these tips for introducing dogs to strangers
Meeting new people is an important part of your dog’s ongoing socialization training. Since every dog has its own personality, the way they react and interact with people in different environments can differ. When it comes to introducing dogs to strangers, you’re in for a variety of scenarios depending on where the introduction is taking place. If it’s at home, your dog may be protective of you and your home. Or your dog could be overly excited to meet new people – jumping up and licking them may translate to your dog’s version of a hand shake.
No matter where you are, you want your dog to be relaxed, calm and gentle when they meet a stranger. We’ve put together some tips on how to make both strangers and your dog more comfortable when meeting for the first time.
You’re in control. If you know someone is coming over to your home, prepare yourself by keeping your dog on a leash. Once the doorbell has been rung, it’s important to correct your dog’s unwanted behavior (barking, charging the door) in a calm but firm manner. Because your dog is on a leash, you’re in control of the situation. Once the stranger is inside, greet them first, making sure they acknowledge you before the dog. Then it’s your dog’s turn. Let your dog gently sniff your guest once they are settled down. After a few sniffs, your dog should feel more comfortable with the situation.
Alternatively, you can teach your dog the ‘place’ command, directing them to go lay down on a designated dog bed or mat until released. This will give your guest time to come in the door and get settled before your dog is allowed to come greet them. Not only will this make the situation more comfortable for your guest, but it will also give your dog time to calm down. Many bad behaviours that occur during that initial greeting are a result of being overly excited. Don’t forget to stay in control of the situation when your dog is released and allowed to come over and say hello. To make this easier, you can leave the leash on your dog while giving the place command so that you simply need to take hold of it when they are released.
Lots of rewards: If your dog exhibits a behavior you like, reward him! When he is calm, sitting or lying down when a stranger comes into a room, he deserves treats and praise. Even better – let the stranger give your dog the treat. That way, not only will your dog learn that calm behavior earns him om nom noms, but so do nice strangers!
After you work through the initial meet and greet, you likely want to enjoy this visit with your friends or family. One easy way to make this happen is to consider offering your dog some form of distraction. Choose something high value that will draw their attention away from your guests such as a KONG toy filled with their favourite treats or a flavoured chew toy that they enjoy. If your dog is calm enough at this point, you can give them the distraction on the floor at your feet while you continue to hold their leash as a backup. However, if you notice that your dog is having a harder time staying calm, you may wish to remove them from the space and give them their distraction in another room.
Keep it short at first: These meetings should be kept short, especially if you have an anxious or easily excitable dog. If you’re getting the feeling that your dog is getting aggressive or agitated, take the process slow. He’ll still be on his leash, so you’re in control of the situation. He may need to stay on the leash for the duration of the visit. No matter how anxious your dog is, it is important that you set a good example for him. Stay calm, don’t yell commands and offer lots of encouraging support.
Calming commands: The basic obedience commands of “Sit”, “Stay”, “Off” and “Lie Down” should already be part of your dog’s vocabulary. And it’s not just about commands; it’s also about calming behaviors. Ask your guests not to make direct eye contact with your dog for a minute or two, and approach your dog slowly. Your guest should always direct the conversation to you, especially at first. Your dog will take this as a sign of disinterest, which will help to calm him.
Your dog will feed off the energy in the room, including the energy that you are displaying and that of your guest. If you are both overly excited with loud voices and fast movements, this can encourage a higher level of excitement in your dog. On the other hand, if you keep yourselves calm with slower movements, lower volumes, and calm tones, it can help to calm your dog. If possible, talk to your guest about this in advance. We are often so happy to see friends and family that our initial greeting of each other can be high energy. By starting your visit off with the right energy, you are setting everyone (including your dog) up for success.
A little space does a lot of good: If you’re in doubt, a doggy gate that keeps your dog securely away from guests may be your best option, at least when you’re getting started. The gate allows your dog to observe the stranger at a safe distance. Once he realizes that this person is harmless, he’ll be more open to an introduction over time.
In some cases, you may consider removing your dog from the room entirely. Having visitors over can be overwhelming which can escalate the situation quickly. If you have an overly excitable dog or a young puppy, this is even more likely to be a problem. This could be done by taking them to another room that has been fully dog-proofed where they can relax and take a nap, placing your dog in their crate or having them relax with another family member in another area of the home while they calm down. This doesn’t mean that they must stay away the whole time that your guests are visiting, but that time apart may be just what they need to calm down and return to the situation with a completely different energy level.
If your dog exhibits overly aggressive behavior in the presence of strangers, you must bring in a trained profession to correct the issue. Failure to do so could cause serious issues – your dog could bite and seriously injure another person, which could result in a mandatory muzzle or dog seizure by animal control.
What tips do you have to share? What do you do when you introduce your dog to new people? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.