How Dog-Loving Strangers Ruin Well-Trained Dogs
You’ve sunk hundreds of dollars into obedience classes for your dog and spent countless hours teaching him not to jump on people. And all your efforts seem to wash away as soon as an overly enthusiastic dog lover crosses your path–arms flailing, baby voice squealing, exclamations of “It’s okay, I love dogs!” as your pup covers the person’s chest in muddy paw prints.
While there’s not much you can do to train the human in this scenario, you have some options to keep your dog under control during a greeting.
First, be prepared for the encounter well in advance. You often get signals that someone is excited to greet your dog well before they reach you. It’s as if your dog has a magnetic pull holding that person’s gaze and drawing them in for half a block.
The moment you see such a person coming, body block your dog. This means if the person is approaching on your left, bring your dog to your right side, shorten your leash enough so your dog won’t lunge in front of you, and be prepared to use your body as a barrier between your pup and the friendly stranger.
To Greet or Not to Greet
From there, you have a decision to make: should I let my dog greet this person? You are under no obligation to stop and say hello to a friendly stranger. Granted, it’s a little cold to ignore someone who clearly wants to greet your dog, but keep in mind that the person won’t think twice about undoing your training simply because they want to pet something fluffy.
It’s perfectly fine to keep a fast, forward pace and walk right past the person, giving a friendly smile and a quick “I’m sorry, we’re training” as you pass.
If you choose to let the person greet your dog, have a plan to keep your dog under control through the encounter. Here is one strategy:
- If your dog is able to calmly sit while the person approaches, then pull over to the side a bit and ask for a sit. If your dog won’t be able to hold a sit while a friendly stranger is approaching, then a stand is fine. The goal is to keep all four paws on the ground.
- Continually treat, treat, treat while your dog is sitting (or standing). Reward him for maintaining the calm position and keeping his mind on you rather than this new potential friend walking towards you. The frequency of your treats will be determined by how bouncy your dog is. A moderately excited dog may only need a treat every five seconds to stay put, whereas a dialed-to-10 excited dog will need treat after treat with barely any pause. Make sure to use extra tasty treats, as you’re asking a lot of your bouncy dog.
- When the stranger reaches you, continue to treat-treat-treat as they pet your dog. This teaches your pup that it’s much more rewarding to sit or stand politely for petting, rather than jump up.
- When the person walks, away, the treats stop and it’s best to briskly walk away so your dog doesn’t try to jump on them as they go.
You’ll find that, with practice, you’ll be able to add longer and longer pauses between treats, but let your dog’s excitement level dictate how frequently you dispense them. Slow and steady progress always yields the best long-term results.
Kate Naito, CPDT-KA, is a dog trainer at Doggie Academy in Brooklyn, NY, and author of the training book, "BKLN Manners." She draws upon her experience as an educator and dog trainer to apply positive training techniques to a challenging urban environment. Kate is a rescue advocate drawn to special-needs dogs and currently has two Chihuahua mixes, Batman and Beans.
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