Dogs and Fear of Strangers

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Dogs can develop a fear of countless things, most of which make little sense to their owners. For example, some will become fearful of stairs; others will develop a phobia of their owners’ vacuum cleaners; still, others might become fearful of buses. Other phobias are more understandable, such as anxiety about thunderstorms, fireworks, and other loud noises.

Another common dog phobia is a fear of people. Sometimes general and other times specific, it is usually directed at strangers rather than a dog’s owner. For instance, your pet may be distressed when he sees anyone who is unfamiliar to him. Or, he may dread those who walk with canes. Sometimes, the anxiety is triggered by certain types of people, such as kids, women, or men who are unusually tall.A canine’s fear of people can become extremely frustrating for his owner. It may be difficult to take him into the public. Even if your pet is frightened by only a certain type of individual, a chance meeting can trigger a reaction.

Possible Reasons Fear Of People Develops

There are two primary reasons canines may develop a phobia of people. The first is natural – or more specifically, physiological. For example, your pet may suffer from a hormonal imbalance that triggers his anxiety.

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The second reason is far more common: the fear is learned. At some point in your dog’s life, he may have had an experience that produced his dread of people, and imprinted it upon his mind. This is often the case with canines that spend the first part of their lives in puppy mills. It can also occur in dogs that are physically abused by their past owners.

Helping Your Pet Cope With His Fear

Assuming you have adopted a canine that has already developed a phobia of people, it is important to carefully control his environment at all times. He should be protected from experiencing stressful situations when he is near strangers. Otherwise, a connection will form in his mind that reinforces his fear.

A common mistake owners make in trying to help their canines overcome this problem is to introduce them to environments that draw crowds. The idea is to acclimatize the pets to the presence of people, and thus break the strength of the fear. Unfortunately, while this strategy is well-intentioned, it often has the opposite effect since the dog is exposed to too many people too quickly.

Far more effective is a program that involves desensitization training. This, too, involves introducing your pet to unfamiliar people but doing so in small steps. For instance, you might begin by allowing him to see a stranger from a distance. This is immediately followed by praise and a treat to create a positive connection. Over time, you would expose him to strangers at a progressively closer distance to gradually cause his anxiety to erode.

It is important to note that desensitization training takes a long time, and thus requires patience. Also, when a fear of people has formed in a dog’s mind, it is usually deeply ingrained. As a result, there is a need for ongoing training to prevent the anxiety from resurfacing. With time, however, your canine will learn to control his fear and even enjoy the presence of strangers.

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