Dogs Scared of Strangers On a Walk
Without a doubt, all pup owners treasure their dogs as if they’re children. Living with them day in and day out, it’s easy to get extremely in tune with your pup’s preferences, habits, and quirks; some of these behaviors are in-born, and of course some are learned.
Especially when going for walks, your pup’s fears, loves, and everything in between, is on full display. For many pups, those fears can include a fear of strangers on the walk.
This is particularly true for pets adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic; research & anecdotes are plentiful, showing how the long period of isolation caused a drastic change to their pet's socialization skills, and the same could probably be said for humans! With restrictions appearing, as of 2022, to be in the rear-view mirror, dogs fearing strangers could become a widespread issue.
Suppose you are one of many pup owners whose dog suffers from this kind of “mental illness” or suspect your pet shows signs of such behavior. In that case, this article will extensively discuss the symptoms of fear in dogs, its causes, and possible solutions to implement.
What is fear in dogs?
Fear in dogs refers to the behavior response of dogs to particular objects, words, or activities. Although fear is often a result of a reaction to a new environment or training, it can sometimes be due to the dog's genetics and its ancestors.
Fear can go beyond mild comfort to being a barrier to your pet's daily routine as it can cause severe physical and emotional distress.
Symptoms of fear or anxiety in dogs
If your dog fears strangers, that could manifest (and probably already has manifested) as some combination of “fight or flight” symptoms. It’s important to distinguish the symptoms from the root cause, which is fear.
For example, if your dog barks at strangers, because your pup feels that his life is threatened by strangers, putting a buzzing barking collar on your dog won’t actually address the root fear, and may worsen his anxiety.
Some observable symptoms of fear include:
Excessive avoidance and anxiety
For pet owners who successfully get their pets out to the public, you might notice your dog is pretty wary of people and other pets. Your pup may choose to travel on a less crowded path, or start to behave oddly due to anxiety.
Lots of dogs bark at strangers because they were originally bred, hundreds of years ago, to do just that. However, in this day and age, with dogs being more members of the family than working dogs, this has put certain breeds in a tough spot.
That’s to say that certain dogs bark confidently, simply because they were bred to, though that’s quite different from anxious and fearful dogs who bark almost spasmodically, due to feelings of fight or flight.
Separation anxiety and excessive clinginess
This is a common, and even growing, symptom of dogs who are scared of strangers. Your pup may hide behind you, since they trust you wholeheartedly. This behavior explains that their only safe place is near their pet owner rather than mixing with others.
As rare as it sounds, some dogs are known to excessively pee and poop when they’re scared. Experts believe it's a way of making their territory and creating a barrier around strangers, an offensive act to show their hate.
At times, pups show their fear and frustration by being destructive. Their fear is probably being expressed as anger, and may result in chewed up shoes, clothes, collars, harnesses, and couches.
Just like humans, dogs have feelings and moods which can range from high and low. Depression probably doesn’t afflict dogs the same way it does humans, so perhaps a term like unhappiness is better. Regardless, this state of your dog may be due to a lack of confidence due to losing battles to fear.
Causes of dogs fearing strangers
Several factors can cause a dog's wariness with strangers. Before these factors are discussed, pup owners should recognize the onset of fear; was your pup comfortable before the start of the stay-at-home orders caused by the pandemic? Was your dog wary of strangers after a specific walk to a park? Is your dog naturally scared of strangers despite constant socialization from birth? These questions will serve like trial by elimination, so you can tackle the root cause of your pup’s fear.
A traumatic experience
For example, your dog might’ve been scared, attacked, or abused by strangers with or without your knowledge, or prior to your ownership. This experience can cause Post-Traumatic Disorder Syndrome (PTSD) in every pet or person as a form of protection.
Some dog breeds are genetically predisposed to get scared of large companies and strangers. Although there has been no specific dog breed that has shown perpetual fear of strangers, the recent rise, in this case, has been popular amongst some dog breeds.
Like humans, a dog's breed is divided into segments that make partial or complete control of certain activities like a response to stimuli and words, associations. Neurological damage can arise from pressure or tension in the dog's brain, causing some or all brain parts malfunction.
Poor socialization skills from the onset
Some puppies were trained poorly from the onset on interacting with other individuals and pets. These poor interaction triggers fear in your dog as they grow older.
For animals with a history of abuse during training, like the use of choke collars, it is not uncommon to be scared of a stranger. There have been countless rescuer pets having difficulty interacting correctly with their new pet owner and other animals.
What are the possible solutions to apply?
To ensure these behavioral patterns are corrected, and your dog becomes more comfortable around people, there are several solutions pup parents can try. These solutions range from DIY methods or require the expertise of medical and psychological experts.
What better way can pet owners help their pet get rid of fear than therapy sessions? Pup behavioral experts can help ensure your pet undergoes a series of desensitization, unlearning, and relearning to ensure they behave appropriately in public.
Practice the non-contact form of dog walking
As bizarre as it may sound, experts believe pet owners should practice a form of dog walking that requires the most sparing contact with other strangers and animals. Pet owners should walk on less busy roads and avoid parks with many other dogs to avoid triggering their fears.
Slowly introduce other strangers for your dog to react
You can artificially create positive experiences of meeting strangers, helping to reinforce new expectations. For example, you can meet your friend (who’s never met your dog) at the park, and have your friend give your pup treats.
Stick to a routine and introduce walks when your pet is comfortable
Dogs are known to prefer walks that follow a specific rhythm during the day. An expected routine provides a sense of security, which makes for confidence and happiness. Does your dog love it when you walk through long or short distances? Does your dog enjoy walking during the day, noon or evening? Ensure you keep mental notes on what your dog likes, which can allow you to build from that foundation.
Use treats to reward your pet for every job done.
As you slowly familiarize your pet with new people, ensure you reward every progress they make. By using treats and offering extra meals, you can help your dog stay extremely positive and enjoy what were once difficult experiences.
Use the default behavior method if no progress has been made
The default behavior is a training process carried out by pet owners or dogs' behavioral analysts to calm them down whenever they get overly upset, excited, or angry when performing tasks.
Pet owners use it to hasten their DIY behavior training and prepare their dogs for the outdoors. Although it uses harsh and stern methods, it has countlessly helped pet owners manage their pet's stress and uncontrollable emotions.
To begin default behavior training, start by training your dog with some simple commands like stay, be still, stop, or move at home. Then, use these commands when their energy levels get out of hand in more public environments. Depending on the training intensity, your dog may be reluctant or obey immediately. Ensure you reward them with treats when they ace every default behavior test, while failed attempts call for more intense training.
Be patient with every dog.
During training, it’s probably unreasonable to expect that your dog will overcome fear within a day or weeks, as it may take several months or even years.
Exercise patience and know that, like any behaviors, it'll take lots of time and lots of consistency to eventually produce results.
It’s challenging for pet owners to manage an anxious dog who’s scared of strangers. Though it’s tough, these fears in your pup are normal. As a pup owner, you can make a concerted effort to aid your dog in becoming comfortable and confident again.