How can I get my dog to like strangers?
Q: We have a 1-year-old Husky/Golden Retriever mix. She is very friendly but when we have guests over she barks and her hair stands up, like she's being overly protective. It makes our visitors nervous. She didn't start doing this until she felt more comfortable in our home after we adopted her. How can we curb this behavior? -- Jennifer H.
Andrea Arden, CPDT at Andrea Arden Dog Training in New York City, writes: Firstly, yippee for the adoption option! Dogs, like people, have some situations where they feel more comfortable than others. I for one, love chatting with people at parties, but my best friend gets really nervous. We're both friendly people, we just have different comfort levels.
With that said, we tend to hold our canine companions to a pretty high social standard. We want them and others to be safe and we want our friends to get to see how wonderful our dog can be.I think your girl will greatly appreciate your efforts to help her build a larger social circle by doing the following:
1. Always respect her boundaries. People sometimes are so eager for their dogs to make friends that they push them a bit. Fright can easily turn to fight or flight. So let your dog have the space she needs.
2. Have one nice, calm friend at a time help you and your pup practice. Invite your friend over at your dog's mealtime and have him sit in one spot, turned slightly away from your dog and feed your dog from his hand. This may need to start by tossing the food -- one piece at a time -- on the floor and gradually tossing them closer.
3. Teach your dog hand targeting -- touching her nose to your hand. If she learns to do this with you and then one of your friends at a time, she is learning that touching human hands is incredibly rewarding. The goal is for her to gradually generalize these good feelings to more and more people.