Nervous Dogs – Is Your Dog Fearful Around Strangers In Public?

The following question is in reference to the post about nervous dogs inside the home — dogs that bark like crazy whenever strangers come to the door or enter the house.

What can you do if you are out in public? my dog is very nervous around anyone and will not turn his back on anyone. We have tried having the stranger give him treats but that doesn’t work and he won’t let anyone touch him either. — Pat

Dear Pat –

Having the stranger give your dog treats is a good idea — and before that, some other things need to be looked at.

A nervous dog often times is a very sensitive dog, which means that he picks up all of your thoughts, feelings and emotions as well as anyone around him.

So, the first thing you will want to do is to be calm and confident when you go in public with him. You have to look at it this way: You know how to be around other people out there in the world, and it’s up to you to guide him through that experience. He needs to learn from you how to be!

Here’s how to make a nervous dog more comfortable around strangers in public…

Your Dog Gets Clues From You

You can get your dog more comfortable around strangers in public by working with your dog through his nervousness using slight corrections, as well as inserting confidence.

What has to come through the leash from you is total confidence and calm — at all times throughout this exercise. If you start feeling nervous, or sorry for him, or frustrated, you will not be able to create a change.

All those "emotions" will lead to your dog feeling insecure and more nervous, because you as the guide are (from his point-of-view) experiencing discomfort in the situation. And now he sees it as his job to decide how to get through it.

So because of his nervousness already in place, your dog will decide to avoid any contact and go into defense mode. Right now, he has no idea how to handle this quite overwhelming (to him) situation!

Dog Won’t Turn His Back Toward People

If your dog won’t turn his back toward people, most likely it’s because he is looking out for you. So, you have to assure him that you’ve got the situation under control.

So literally tell him: "I am in control, I got this, you can relax, I am aware of all these strangers and I am fine with them, they are part of our pack."

It’s best if you practice this situation with some friends, where you can take your time. Try this:

  • Have your friend stand facing you.
  • Tell your dog that you are in control and you’ve got the situation handled. Most likely he is nervous right now, so do not pet him for comfort, give slight tugs on the leash for correction (not harsh, just enough for him to know you are correcting him).
  • Every time he looks at you, tell him to relax and that you "got it." But also, do not focus all your attention on him; that might be too much for your dog.
  • Make sure you interact with the person in front of you as well.
  • Tell the person to not look at your dog, but to be relaxed and just interact with you. It is imperative that this person does not try to make contact with your dog first. So here you have to be willing to be the "protect" your dog from what he sees as an assault to his space.
  • If you perceive that your dog is starting to relax, start to physically turn him away from the person. Stay calm and be firm in what you are doing; not hash, just firm. If you start feeling frustrated, or in any way unsettled, please stop and start again another time.

The most important part about all of this is that you keep a light and easy conversation with the "stranger," rather than focusing too hard on your dog. And, if your dog tries to turn around to face the person, just turn him back again and again — until he relaxes into that situation.

Dog Won’t Sit In Close Proximity To Strangers

Depending on how fast you are getting a result, you can go on from here. But if this exercise was not easy for your dog, please end the session here and try again the next day, or whenever you choose. Just give your dog some time to process this new way of being around "strangers."

You want to end each session with him being relaxed and facing away from the stranger. If he has accomplished that with ease, then you could go on further — but make sure you are not asking too much the first time.

The next step could be to have the other person sit next to you, with your dog relaxing laying next to you. Position yourself so that you are between the other person and your dog, and your dog’s back is facing the "stranger."

If that is working with ease, have the person sit on the other side of your dog, with the dog facing his back to the stranger. Make sure that all nervous behavior gets corrected, with gentle tugging on the leash and verbal assurance that you’ve got this one under control.

It is important that the other person does not reach for your dog, stare at him, or talk to him throughout this entire exercise. The goal is to get your dog to experience relaxation while facing away from what he has decided is dangerous.

Please don’t feel pressured to create a certain result during these sessions; let your dog determine how much is enough for one session. And remember, sessions should always end on a good note and having accomplished something. Even if it is the minutest change, congratulate yourself and your dog!

Things You Should Do If You’ve Got A Nervous Dog

Would you be willing to give your dog some time with this? Would you also be willing for him to never be totally outgoing towards another person?

It helps if you do not have an agenda, but would simply be willing to just have a less nervous dog.

Without that pressure on you and him, so much more can show up in both of your lives.

Your dog needs to know…

  • …that you are on his side.
  • …that you will protect him from people that are invading his space.
  • …that you will not allow anyone to touch him unless he is inviting the physical contact.

And please show your affection towards him with petting only when he is relaxed. If he is nervous, you can rest your hand on his neck and let your calm energy transfer into his body. You can even ask his body to dissipate the nervousness into the Earth.

The more you gain his trust, the easier for him it will be to come out into the world and discover that the people around him are not out to get him.

You will know when it is time to introduce the treats given by strangers again. And this time you will have a better result, given that your dog has drained a lot of his insecurity with the exercises you have done!

Need some advice or training tips regarding your own dog? I would be happy to help you solve dog training and behavior issues right over the phone — just like I was able to help Jim and Lynnette with their dog who used to be anxious and nervous around people.

About Suzy

I travel worldwide to help facilitate the communication process between people and animals through workshops, courses, private consultation, and a popular radio show called Conversations With Dog.

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