As pet owners, you might have the misfortune of having to say my dog is aggressive towards strangers. If you don’t get control of the aggressive behavior, your canine might attack a human. Having a dog that is a danger to people can be difficult and may get you in a lot of trouble.
The Good news is; that dogs can learn how to tolerate unfamiliar people if you train them properly. Keep reading to find out what to do if your dog is aggressive towards strangers.
Why is My Dog Aggressive Towards Strangers?
You love your pooch, Fido, but when it comes to socializing, he’s not the best at it. Some dogs just aren’t good at being around people. They might be more aggressive than other dogs due to their genetics. Or it might be that they have a medical issue. Endocrine problems and health conditions, which cause pain, have been known to make dogs aggressive.
The main cause of aggression in dogs is that they didn’t get the proper socialization as puppies. As they grow into adults, they act aggressively towards anything they feel is a threat, including humans.
Canines are typically aggressive to protect things that they consider their territories, such as their homes, owners, beds, food, and toys. When an unfamiliar person, or animal, gets too close to their possessions, they lash out.
When a dog lashes out, it’s typically a result of either fear or territorial. When a dog attacks while he’s scared, you might notice him taking a submissive position when a threat approaches. He might keep his tail tucked between his legs and crouch down to the ground while shaking. These dogs will frequently make surprise ankle attacks before retreating back to a safe distance.
When a dog is acting territorial, he’ll have a dominant stance. He makes eye contact while keeping his head lowered. He’ll lunge at visitors instead of hiding. He’ll probably bark, snarl, or growl while standing straight and tense. A stiff posture is also a warning sign of aggression.
The Problem with Aggressive Dogs
When you have an aggressive dog, it can lead to an extensive list of problems. People don’t want to come over to a house where there is a risk that they will be attacked by a dog. And you certainly wouldn’t want to put people in a dangerous position where they can be bitten.
When your dog attacks someone, you can be found at fault. You can face criminal charges, lawsuits, and/or insurance claims. Most jurisdictions have laws in place about dogs that have attacked a person; especially if the dog is a large breed. You might end up being ordered to euthanize your dog – ending its life through the use of poisonous gas or injection.
Your dog is a member of your family, so you want to make sure he stays safe and comfortable, especially in his own home. It isn’t fair to have to put him in isolation every time you have company coming over. Thankfully, most dogs can be retrained so that they become more tolerant of strangers.
Training a Dog that’s Aggressive towards Strangers
It’s better to start training your pet to tolerate unfamiliar people at a young age. The younger they are, the easier it is to teach them how to socialize properly. It’s essential to expose your puppy to different environments as he grows. Try various parks so that your pet doesn’t get territorial over the same one.
Make sure that she gets interactions from unfamiliar people and other pets. By starting when she’s young, you’re reducing the chances of your dog becoming aggressive as she ages. She will know how to socialize with other people and dogs properly. And she has learned that strangers don’t always pose a risk.
Trying to train an aggressive dog can be difficult if you don’t have the proper experience. You have to be able to take full control of your dog and be the leader. If your dog does not see you as the alpha, they will not follow your commands. If you’re not sure that you are the dominant one in your relationship, it might be better to consult a behavioral specialist to modify your pet’s behavior.
How to Train an Aggressive Dog
If you’ve decided that you want to do the training, so your pet will stop being aggressive to strangers, we’ve got a few different techniques you can use. When training your pet, there are a few crucial points to remember.
Always use a short leash, so your pooch doesn’t end up hurting his neck. His collar should fit properly, not too tight that it will choke him, but not so loose that he can slip it off his head. Some trainers recommend using a head halter or choke chain instead of a collar.
If your dog has been known to bite, you might want to consider using a basket muzzle during the first few stages of training. The techniques we describe consist of a stranger walking close by and approaching your pet. You don’t want to take the chance of personal injury if your pet doesn’t respond to the training appropriately.
Your pet should be adequately secured at all times while you’re doing your training sessions. The environment you choose is also important. You want to use a controlled setting so that there are no unexpected surprises. Having FedEx show up for a signature in the middle of your training session can derail your progress back to the starting point.
Three Methods of Training an Aggressive Dog
We have three methods we’re going to provide to help you train a dog that doesn’t do well with unknown people. Each of these methods needs to be conducted in the proper setting. It’s crucial to remember that training your dog will take time. Don’t expect your pet to be better after one session.
You will need to be consistent about frequently repeating the process in multiple places with various people. Using the same person each time can backfire because your dog may just stop seeing this person as a stranger, so he no longer feels threatened. So he’s not really over being aggressive to strangers.
The three processes we will explain are:
- Down stay
- Establish dominance
Down Stay Method to Control Aggressive Dogs
For this method, you start out by practicing at home with just you and your dog. You’ll need some treats to reward your pet when he does the proper behavior. If your pet already knows how to lay down, you shouldn’t need much practice with this first part.
Start out by commanding your dog to “down stay”. When you give this order, your pet should lay down and stay there. Some people like to add in a hand gesture such as holding your hand in the air, palm down, and making a downward motion, like you’re pushing something, while saying “down stay.” Once your pooch is laying down and hasn’t moved for a few seconds, reward him with a treat.
Any time your pet does something he shouldn’t, use this command. While you’re on walks, use “down stay” any time your dog gets distracted by something, like another dog or a squirrel. Remember to reward his compliance each time.
Add in the Stranger
After you’ve gotten your pet used to “down stay,” have an assistant start walking towards you. As your pet responds to the unexpected visitor, give the order to “down stay.” Your assistant should stop approaching.
Once the dog lays down and acts calm, give him a reward. Then, allow the person to resume coming toward you. If your dog stands up or starts barking, the stranger should stop again. Repeat “down stay” and wait for him to obey. Give him a reward and let the assistant move again. Keep doing this until the stranger can walk past at a safe distance away.
Some pet owners prefer to desensitize their pets to the presence of strangers. For this method, you’ll still need treats, a controlled environment, and an assistant that your dog does not know. To start this method, secure your dog on his leash in your preferred location.
Your assistant should start approaching you from the side with their body slightly turned away from the dog. This provides a less intimidating stance, which can help reduce your pet’s anxiety. As your pet reacts to the stranger’s presence, they should stop walking.
Stand still until your dog starts to calm down. Talk to him calmly and firmly, reassuring him that he is safe. At this time, you should not pet your pooch or provide a treat. Keep talking to him until he calms down. Once he stops reacting, then offer praise, a pet, and a reward.
Repeat The Process
After your pet has calmed down, allow the stranger to continue moving closer, still at an angle. If your dog reacts, the stranger stops. You will need to start over by reassuring your pet until he relaxes again. The process can take a while, depending on how aggressive your dog acts.
Once your pet starts to get used to the stranger, bring in another one, and repeat the process, step by step. By exposing your pet to various strangers, you’re desensitizing him to the presence of unfamiliar people. It no longer seems unusual, which means less threatening. Therefore, your pet will stop reacting to unknown people.
Establish Dominance Method
If you’re concerned that you aren’t the dominant one in your relationship, you can use this method. It helps train your dog to stop being aggressive to people he doesn’t know.
To start off, you will use regular training exercises to exert your control. Work with commands like sit, stay, leave it (meaning they walk away from something you don’t want them messing with), and how to walk on a leash.
When walking on a leash, your pet should learn how to heel upon command. And he should know how to follow you as you’re walking. You can use the demands “come” or “here.” When training for dominance, do not use Flexi-leashes. These make it harder to control your dog.
Once your dog is used to walking on a leash and obeying commands, have an assistant slowly approach as you’re walking. If your dog reacts, jerk the leash in an upwards motion or tug to the side and up. Then tap on their side with your leg or with a training device that you use as an extension of your arm. Do not hit your dog when he misbehaves.
Continue walking and have the stranger keep coming toward you at a safe distance away. Remember, your dog should be on a short, tight leash during this method. You should not react in any way to the presence of your assistant as you approach or pass each other.
You should not let your dog pull you as you’re doing this process. You have to remain in control. If your pet tries to stop or pull away, use the leash to maneuver the dog into following you while issuing commands. Use rewards when your orders are followed.
Train Your Dogs to Stop being Aggressive to Strangers
To reduce the chances of your dog being intolerant to strangers, it’s important to start socializing him with other pets and people at a young age. If your pet is older, you can still use these training methods to teach your dog how to stop being aggressive when they’re around unfamiliar people. Don’t believe the old wife’s tale that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks.
Kassidy Shepperd is the editor in chief for Canine-Prime.com. She is is a dog lover/trainer, a freelance writer and a volunteer at many pet rescue and shelter centers. Kassidy is based in Colorado and regularly writes for dog related magazines and blogs.