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How can I get my dog to trust someone?

Border collie with paw raised up to owner advice

Getting a dog to trust someone can take some time and a few techniques.

© Shutterstock

Meeting new people can often be nerve-racking, and it can be the same for dogs too. Here are some great tips for getting your dog to trust someone.

By Pippa Ischt

Published on the 14/08/2020, 11:00

Some dogs love greeting and seeing new people, while others may be slightly hesitant. Whatever their temperament might be, it is important that a dog feels safe and comfortable when they meet another person for the first time. To ensure that a dog learns to trust you, here’s everything you need to know.

How to introduce your dog to someone?

Your dog starts to establish trust from the first moment they see and meet a new person, therefore it is important that your friend or family member is introduced to your dog correctly. Start by finding the right location where your dog is most comfortable, for example a local park, at home or even in their favourite dog bed.

Before the meet ensure that the guest knows of any behaviours to look out for or to avoid, like not to ring the doorbell as a dog may get over excited.

How to get your dog to like someone?

When meeting, make sure that everyone stays calm. It is also recommended that the guest avoids direct eye contact with your dog, as ‘staring’ is considered as a threat or a challenge.

It’s also good practice to approach the dog slowly and leave a small distance between them. This means that your dog can approach the guest first, when they do let them have a good sniff at their hand - this is their way of saying hello.

Alternatively, you can try the ‘Wait-and-See’ approach, which involves the guest ignoring your dog and letting them gain confidence by seeing the guest positively interacting with their owner. When your dog is ready they’ll come over and give your friend a sniff and maybe even ask for some attention!

Whatever approach method you choose, make sure that you use reward based training techniques to get them accustomed to your new visitor. Use treats or toys when they’re showing good behaviour and body language around your friend, and let your guest give your dog a few treats too, we are sure your pup will love that. An encouraging higher tone of voice can also be helpful too.

Routine and repetition is the key. The more often your dog sees your new guest, dog walker or borrower, the more comfortable they’ll be- particularly if they associate them with positive experiences, like treats, a long walk in their favourite park or even training sessions. So why not get your new friend to teach your pooch a new trick! It’s a perfect way to solidify their new found friendship.

What are the signs that a dog trusts you?

Once your new friend has spent all that time with your dog, is there a way to know your dog trusts them? There are a few things you can look out for to see if a dog is feeling comfortable and happy around you:

  • Dog licks - sometimes they can be annoying, but a slobbery kiss from a dog is a sign of affection and is in fact a good sign!
  • Waggy tail - a happy pup will hold their tail in its natural position and often wag it gently from side to side. If their whole tail, or bottom, is wagging they are very happy!
  • Eye contact - If a dog is staring at you or making prolonged eye contact it’s a good thing and you’ve definitely made a new friend.
  • Body language - a few signs of a dog showing trust include; jumping up and down, leaning on you for cuddles, intent to play and a relaxed/open mouth.
  • Showing you their belly - If a dog rolls over in front of you, they definitely trust you and are asking for tummy tickles!

Now that we know what to look out for when a dog is happy, calm and relaxed, it’s important we detect what behaviours to look out for when a dog isn’t so happy and has trust issues. A fearful dog, or one that is at unease, may show some of these behaviours:

  • Lowering their head or ears
  • A worried expression
  • Averting their gaze or turning their head away
  • Lip licking or showing their teeth
  • Growling or cowering

If they are showing any of these signs, give them more time to get used to you and respect their space.

Trust exercises for dogs: How do I build my dogs trust?

Dogs are pack creatures, they follow and approach leaders. As an owner, your dog needs to identify you as part of their pack, and you may also want to establish yourself as alpha. Whether you’re trying to build trust with a new puppy or a rescue dog there are a few things and activities you can try.

The first, most important thing is respecting a dog space and also staying calm. Try to leave some room between you and your dog, and give them the opportunity to approach you first. Being relaxed and poised is essential, although the temptation is to greet a dog with excitement and fuss, you may find the calming signals you emit helps build trust and confidence with a new dog.

A great way to gain a spot in your dog’s pack is to go for a walk together. This can also be a chance for you to be the leader of the pack by providing the dog with direction and safety. Ensure to remain calm yet confident and don’t be afraid to be assertive. The more often and regular your walks are the more trust they will build.

Another great exercise to help build trust with a dog is a training session. Teaching a dog a simple command, like sit or stay, promotes a strong bond between you both. The best way to train commands is with positive reinforcement techniques - reward good behaviour with praise, treats, toys, or whatever motivates your dog the best.

Why does my dog have trust issues?

Dogs have associative memory, they learn to connect one action with another. A good example of this is when a dog owner picks up the dog’s lead they know they’re about to go for a walk. However this can be how trust issues can be developed. If they’ve had negative experiences in the past meeting strangers or, for example, some dogs may even fear men, then they learn to associate these with bad things, and affect their chances of building trust.

Sadly trust issues are particularly common with rescue or shelter dogs. As their previous pack has left them they have learnt to be wary of humans in the fears that the same will happen again, and they will be left to fend for themselves.Therefore building a new relationship with humans can be difficult for them.

You can work on a few techniques mentioned above to try and build a bond with a dog, however if your dog is really struggling and you're concerned try seeking help for a veterinary behaviourist. They can identify the root cause of the trust issue and their stress threshold, by doing so they can suggest the best possible solution for you and your dog.

As with us humans, establishing trust with a dog can take some time. However your efforts will definitely pay off when your dog and your new friend has a blooming friendship and you have someone that not only your dog trusts but you do too!

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