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How to introduce a stranger to your dog

Young Australian Shepherd's paw in the hand of human advice

When introducing your dog to a stranger, be sensitive to your dog's body language.

© Shutterstock

Our dogs get used to friends and family, but can sometimes feel unnerved when meeting new people. Our tips for introducing your dog to others safely means that a fear of strangers is less likely to develop.

By Karen Wild, CCAB Certificated Clinical Animal Behaviourist

Published on the 16/11/2020, 17:00

Strangers on walks, a first time visit to the Vet, pet sitter or groomer, and visitors to your home all need to be welcomed by a happy, calm dog. Safe dog introductions to new people are achieved with thorough, gradual training using positive reinforcement. This starts with good puppy training habits, starting early with dog-dog socialization and getting used to the presence of visitors.

Let’s take a look at the best way to conduct safe dog introductions, learning all about your dog’s body language when they are unsure or when they are happy and confident. We will also explore the best ways to prevent fear developing which could end up with aggression towards strangers! First impressions really do count.

Here are our tips to help your puppy or adult dog feel more comfortable in the presence of new people, visitors and to be the dog that is complimented on their good behaviour.

How do I stop my dog from being aggressive towards strangers?

Fear of strangers is a common cause for aggressive behaviour towards people. Ask yourself ‘what makes someone a ‘stranger'?’, and the answer is usually that the dog simply doesn’t recognise them as a friend or family member. This can include people on walks, but also the presence of visitors at home. The dog behaves aggressively as a means to scare the person away, when in fact the dog themselves is experiencing fear. It can lead to a disastrous introduction especially if that person is a household guest.

From an early age, your puppy needs to spend most days meeting new people and dogs.

Pairing a tasty treat or game with a favourite toy with a stranger means that your young dog learns to look forward to every new person they come across. It’s quite easy to motivate a dog when you have enjoyable treats on hand for people to offer. With other dogs, allow your dog to gradually get to know them, especially if they are meeting a calm adult dog.

If your dog is older, and already showing aggressive behaviour, ask your Vet to refer you to a registered Clinical Animal Behaviourist, who is usually a certified dog trainer further specialising in helping dogs overcome fear and stress.

How do you introduce a dog for the first time?

Meeting new people can be exciting, but overwhelming too. You can help your dog to feel more comfortable by introducing a calm, trained behaviour such as teaching the dog to come to you for positive reinforcement like a food treat for example. Always reward your dog in the presence of visitors, asking the dog for a simple ‘sit’ so that you can prevent the dog from jumping up, too (keeping your dog on a leash will help control over-exuberant greetings at this stage).

Be sensitive to your dog’s body language. If their ears are pulled tightly back, their eyes are showing some of the whites around the edges, if their head is lowered or they are turning their head away (or moving away), allow the dog to retreat and calm down for a while. Ask the visitor to avoid direct eye contact as this can be quite confrontational! A wagging tail is not necessarily a sign that a dog is feeling relaxed or happy. It could be that the dog is worried and agitated, their tail thrashing around uncertainly.

How do you tell if two dogs will get along?

Other dogs meeting for the first time will often show a ‘circling’ behaviour at a distance from one another, rather than running straight up. A mature, well-socialised adult dog will allow a more timid one to take their time with introductions, avoiding direct eye contact. A sign of fear would be staring, especially if the dogs are pulling on their leash as this introduces more tension.

How do you introduce two dogs when one is aggressive?

If you cannot avoid passing a dog that you know is likely to behave aggressively, have treats on hand and hold them close to your dog as you walk confidently past. However you should not attempt to introduce your dog to another dog behaving aggressively without qualified professional help from a Clinical Animal Behaviourist (who is also a certified dog trainer). If you know your dog is aggressive towards other dogs or people, you should train your dog to enjoy wearing a muzzle.

Is it too late to socialize a dog?

Some dogs have not had the chance to learn good behaviour. They can learn how to stay calm and get to know your friends and family, so that you can teach them that people and other dogs are not a threat and always have food treats on hand. Gradually your dog can learn a more suitable, happy response to strangers with regular training. Guests to the home can help by allowing your dog to come to them gradually rather than expecting the dog to cope with being stroked when meeting.