Calm a Dog’s Fear of Other People

How to help a dog who’s afraid of everyone but his owner.

Q. Several months ago I adopted a 10-month-old Airedale/Rottweiler mix. He seemed to be the perfect dog – housebroken, crate trained, loves people and dogs. Then my neighbor tried to take him to her house to play with her dogs while I was at work. He turned into a completely different dog – growling, peeing and cowering. He has done this two other times with people.

It appears he has fear aggression when I am not with him. I took him through an 8-week obedience class and have taken him to numerous outdoor events where there are lots of people and noise. He is not fearful of these situations because I am with him. At some point when I take a vacation or he needs to be left at a vet clinic, he is going to have to let someone take care of him. I need to know how to get him over this.

A. Growling and peeing himself is not aggression, it’s strictly a fear reaction. To help your dog get over this fear, take him on walks with a friend. After awhile, let your friend take the leash and you all just keep walking together. Stop and have your friend put your dog through his paces – practicing the skills you taught him in obedience class. You being right there with him will give him confidence to do his “tricks” for your friend. Have your friend give him treat rewards and praise when he does as he or she asks.

Take these walks a few times a week, having your friend hold the leash and direct your dog more and more of the time. Your dog will start to look forward to these walks.

When you can tell he enjoys these walks (when your friend comes over, your dog will act excited, maybe go to the door or the place where his leash is kept), let your friend leash him up instead of you doing it. Let your friend precede you out the door with your dog on leash, while you follow behind.

When your dog is relaxed about all this, let your friend take him on a short walk by herself. Act like this is the most normal thing in the world. And when they come back in, act like it was no big deal. Let your friend walk your dog farther, as he gets used to going with her.

Do this with other friends, too – three or four different people, if possible. If there’s a friend he particularly likes and trusts, have them take him for a short drive. Go to a drive-up coffee place that gives out dog treats to customers with dogs. This will be a nice surprise for him.

Just go slow with this. Don’t overwhelm your dog. You should start to see progress before very long. Progress will be very gradual at first, but once your dog realizes he always comes back to you, he will become more willing to have fun adventures – even when you’re not with him.

Article Categories:
Behavior and Training · Dogs