Introducing Your Dog to Strangers
Harry Russ

Dogs sometimes show fear, extreme caution or aggression towards strangers. There are several reasons for this behavior, but the main thing is the behavior is reversible with one conditioning technique. It is important that the animal have a pleasurable experience each and every time it comes upon a stranger. It is therefore your responsibility as the pack leader to insure the dog gets the necessary experiences that will assure it that every one out there it meets is a friend and not a threat to the dog.

You start off by doing what we call setups. You have several people you know and who are willing to work with you do the following routine at least twice a day: With the dog on lead, have the stranger come into the dogs view at a distance that causes the dog discomfort. The moment the dog sees the stranger, you start the Magic Button Routine and continue until the stranger is about twenty feet from the dog. ( At least twenty repetitions doing YES.) Have the stranger turn and walk away, until out of sight. (Helps if you work near the corner of a street ) If aggression is demonstrated, you say WRONG and turn the dog away and start the Magic Button Routine again. Do twenty repetitions of this routine each session and do the sessions three times a day. Do this routine until the dog no longer gives any visible indications of discomfort at the approach of the stranger within twenty feet.

The next step is to have the stranger come close enough to throw two or three pieces of hot dog at the dogs feet. Remember, the dog has to be sitting or in the down position. Any tightness on the lead will signal the dog that something is wrong and that it needs to protect you with aggressive behavior. ( Positive Thigmatoxis). Keep a loose lead!!!! As the dog takes the hot dogs thrown at its feet( may take a while, but just stand there and wait for the dog to take the hot dogs) you say YES. Do this routine at least twenty times a session. As the dog shows comfort with the stranger approaching and is eagerly taking the hot dogs, have the stranger move closer to throw the hot dogs. Do not have the stranger give the dog the hot dogs by hand. I do not teach my dogs to take food from strangers! The stranger should be able to move close enough to place the hot dogs on the ground. Remember that each time the stranger throws the hot dogs, they should stand still until the dog takes the hot dogs and you say YES, then they turn and walk away. This teaches the dog that they are in control and can make the stranger go away by acting in an acceptable manner. As the dog becomes accustom to the approach of the stranger, the stranger does not have to walk out of sight, only about thirty or forty paces away, or until a distance is reached that the dog appears comfortable.

If possible, use as many strangers as you can for the training. Continue until the dog shows no concern for strangers approaching it, and the stranger can walk past you in a normal manner without the dog paying any attention to the person, or shows eagerness towards the approach of the stranger.

The problem is not solved overnight, but then therapy takes time and involves conditioning of the animal. All people and animals are different and learn at different rates.

Next you can move into the house and perform the following routine.

This is the type situation that clicker training comes in handy! Have the individual feared by the dog sit on the couch with a bag of hot dogs cut up in pieces. You start playing around with the dog, with the dog on lead. When the dog is farthest away from the individual, ignore him. When he takes one single step towards the individual, even if he's accidentally moving closer, or if he glances at the individual, you click or say "HERE"( IF YOU DON'T HAVE A CLICKER), and have the person throw a treat on the floor in front of the dog. If it helps, you could use chalk, duct tape, string, whatever, to draw several lines on the floor with the individual in the center of the area. You can begin the session with the dog on a loose lead if it makes you and the stranger feel more comfortable. First you click the dog for moving forward towards the line. The person throws the treat OUT past the line so the dog can "safely" run and get it, and then has a chance to offer to go inside the line again, click and treat. Keep that up until the dog will willingly go across the line towards the stranger. (When the dog is able to accept the presence of the stranger in the house, work the dog off lead.) Then hold off until he accidentally puts a paw inside the next line closer to the person, click and treat. Keep working to shape the dog until it willingly approaches the stranger. The goal is to be able to get the dog to be able to approach the stranger and take a piece of hot dog placed between the strangers feet. It shouldn't take too long. At any time the dog shows aggression or concern towards the stranger, start the Magic Button routine to calm it down. Then go back to the last successful behavior and start the procedure all over again. Next session have the person sitting somewhere else. Have the person work in at least three different areas of your home. The next step in the conditioning process is to have the stranger stand up and work with the dog, until the dog is able to complete the behavior modification routine. The goal is to have the dog approach the stranger and take a piece of hot dog from between the feet of the stranger. The final step is having the stranger walk around the house with the dog on a down, stay. Start with the person at the furthest point and work toward the goal of having the stranger walk up to the dog and place a piece of hot dog between the dog's feet.

Do the same conditioning procedure with other strangers. Your ultimate goal is to have the dog permit the stranger to touch the dog without any overt action on the part of the dog. This goal can be accomplished by having the dog sit and while you do the Magic Button routine, the stranger comes up to the dog and at first offers a closed fist to the dog to smell. After the dog is able to accept this, you have the person offer an open hand to the dog to smell. The hand should be palm up, as this is a sign of subordination to the dog. (All subordinate animals approach the dominant animal from a lower position, thus indicating their submission to the higher animal.) Finally, after the dog has indicated acceptance of the stranger by at least taking a non threatening step toward the stranger, have the stranger touch the dog on the shoulder with the back of their hand.

This is a totally non-aversive way of getting the dog to voluntarily approach the people he's afraid of, and at the same time, helping him to calm down and adjust to his home and any circumstances that might arise in it. Notice that at no time is the animal given a correction for acting in an aggressive manner during the conditioning process. No correction is the correct response on your part.

If you are not familiar with clicker training let me know and I will post the training pattern.