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Many active dogs (ones who are particularly adventurous and love things to do) can be sensitive, perhaps even fearful. This can have implications when people arrive at your house. This issue often stems from fear: they fear the people coming to the house, and may feel territorial about that person crossing the threshold… or just being in the vicinity of it. My dog Mort is definitely that way, especially after he got scared at the door when he was new to our house. Since then we’ve been working on the issue, and other things we have chosen to leave – such as his barking, as we find it useful for us.

On a recent forum post, the following question was posted regarding a dog who “hates” people coming to the house. Here is the question, and my thoughts about some things that could be done.

Question: My dog hates people coming to the house

I have a Stafford shire mix who is literally my constant companion, I got him from my daughter and he was neutered, but undersocialized. I now have a problem when anyone comes over with him barking and growling. With some people he is ok after about 10 minutes however he doesn’t like anyone day one touching me. He won’t listen to anyone but me either, not even my husband. How do I help him accept other people in anyone day one nice way? I am disabled anyone day on end have brought him a long way, but I need him to accept strangers without having to hold him on a short leash. Any advice? He’s fine with kids, the problem seems to be adults, mainly men.

My answer

I had a very similar problem to the one you describe regarding men coming to the house. The one with the problem is a very sensitive and fearful herding mix, and he got scared by my dad and then another friend when he was quite young and new to our house – so this then became a problem for anyone coming to our house, and especially men. He’s actually a bit reactive with men in very specific scenarios still, but that’s another topic! Just a quick note that I do not work as a trainer, but do have several courses completed on the subject.

The main thing to remember in all of this: do not do anything to encourage him to approach the stranger. It’s already a difficult situation, so you don’t want to “reward” fear (ie: going up to the stranger to take food). Now, eventually you can do this, once your dog is comfortable, but I wouldn’t recommend it right off the bat. The key is to reward your dog when he moves away and feels more comfortable as a result. This is often called “Treat and Retreat”.

So to do this, find something that your dog finds the most motivating – such as a toy or treat reward. Something your dog really likes. Wait until your dog is a bit more comfortable with the stranger in the house – this might have to be crating in another room or something. Wait until the excitement of the company arriving is over. Then have the stranger throw the toy or treat away from them for your dog to go eat or whatnot. If your dog likes to play retrieve, it’s quite possible they will deposit the toy farther away from the stranger, or take it to another human. This is fine – do not encourage your dog to take the toy right to the stranger until he does it on his own. Until then, have the stranger get it or you take it to the stranger – whatever keeps things the most calm. Eventually though, your dog should get closer and closer to the stranger and may eventually take food or toys from the hand. Absolutely make sure your dog is completely calm, happy, and willing to approach the visitor. Never entice or force your dog to do so (this can be dangerous).

Tig the dog on Carmel beach

Reward when your dog is relaxed – for quite awhile this will be away from the visitor.

If your dog is too excitable to get to this stage, then start with management. Keep your dog away from the stranger in another room, and let him get used to having people in the house in baby steps. You might want to find one of those huge bones or treat puzzles to keep him preoccupied when the stranger is in the house – the point is to learn how to be calm when hearing company, that good things happen when strangers are in the house. This could take some time.

Also a quick note that if kids are present when the adult your dog is wary of is around – don’t let the kids touch or interact with the dog when he is stressed. While he may be great with the kids, the stressed state can make him a bit unpredictable (he can “redirect” his stress towards the adults at the kids – and he doesn’t mean to at all). So if the kids are around, I’d just make sure they are doing a different activity while you work on the issue.

I would suggest not using the leash during the highly stressed activities – this can really enhance the stress for some dogs (the pulling sort of increases stress, and the restraint makes a fearful dog more so because they know they can’t flee). This is why I would recommend a separate room in the meantime. When he comes out, do use the leash for general management and let it drag on the floor for treat and retreat, which gives you a bit more control if you need it as you can step on the leash in the event of an emergency.

For the listening to your husband – it could be a whole bunch of things (the way he asks him to do things, body language, a lack of a bond, etc). For this I would really recommend a positive, force-free trainer to work with the family, which could also help with the visitors. Your trainer would be able to see first-hand when coming over to work with you. With problems like this, it’s a good idea to have the whole family able to address the problem. For some tips on selecting a trainer, see this video.

This is part of the Barks and Bytes Blog Hop hosted by 2 Brown Dawgs and Heart Like A Dog.

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About Author

Jen deHaan is graphic designer, small business owner, and dog person living in Bay Area, California. Jen enjoys learning about dog training and behavior, and has taken several courses and seminars since 2010. She also contributes articles to leading websites, such as Victoria Stilwell's Positively . It all started with a great dog called Mikey (aka "dude"), loved and lost but remembered forever. Jen also runs a freelance business focusing on graphic, web, and UI design at FoundPixel, and a small business creating hand crafted dog products at Stylish Canine.

  • Mark S

    Great tips about fearful dogs. We recently had a fearful foster dog at our house for a little bit and followed a similar training plan. The dog was good with Sallie so he was rewarded for seeking her out in stressful situations. Eventually, after the dog began to approach me, I began giving food rewards. First tossing the treat to ensure safety, then eventually getting to treat directly. Took awhile but worked. Soon the fearful dog was climbing up in my chair to watch TV with me.

  • Thanks for the tips!

  • Great tips. We use similar methods with our dogs. They are not fearful and do not have those issues, but they can get excited and protective. The professional trainer that we do our field training with also does obedience and with some hard to handle/fearful dogs. He really stresses getting the on lead obedience strong, even in the house if necessary. Thanks for joining the hop.

  • You often hear the tip ‘my dog loves food just give him some food’ but then you notice the dog grabs the food and runs and it doesn’t solve the situation of fear/aggression. Some dogs aren’t even that motivated by food to risk getting near the person!

    As you mentioned, the stages of perhaps just getting used to hearing other people in the house and then associating people with positive things make sense. That way the whole anxious atmosphere is taken away.

    We did a similar thing with our Min Pin who was very fearful of new people. Simply because in her old home there weren’t many visitors. We have people in and basically just tell them to ignore her rather than trying to pat her (she sees that as threatening). She has learnt that nothing bad happens in the situation and shortly after she often approaches them and sits all over their lap!

  • Edwards wilson

    Well I don’t know so much abo7ut this stuff but yeah surely I can get to know as I am going buy a pug. I am so excited for it. By the way thank you so much for posting. I love to read your post as there is always something new in it.