Many puppies are scared of strangers. It is a natural instinct for them to be apprehensive of strangers or strange animals because in the wild, not everyone you meet is friendly whether they run on two legs or four.
However, in some puppies, the natural apprehension turns to downright fear and a pattern begins to develop whenever the pup meets new people. If your puppy is scared of strangers, you must act quickly and in the right way to bring your puppy around so this does not become a lifelong phobia.
How does a Puppy become Scared of Strangers
Some part of how a puppy adjusts to new people in their life is instinct. Breeds of dogs that are natural guardians tend to be more suspicious of strangers then breeds that do not have the natural tendency to guard. We may think Rottweiler and Doberman pinscher when we think of guard dogs but many breeds have the guarding tendency including many herding and working dogs . These breeds are meant to have a job and greeting strangers is not part of it!
However, this does not automatically make the puppy scared of strangers – wary is by no means fearful. Thrusting a wary puppy into the arms of a stranger or something dreadful happens and the puppy is scared by a stranger can intensify the problem but it should not turn into a phobia.
Phobias develop because something traumatic happens and the human handles it poorly. Our natural instinct is to soothe and try to calm an upset puppy much as we would a small child. But how many times have you seen a small child fall down and be fine with it until their parent picks them up and attempts to console them? Suddenly the tears begin and a simple fall has become a traumatic event! Parents are now learning that if their child falls, simply laughing and making light of the fall will make the child pick itself up and continue on with whatever they were doing. In the first scenario, by creating a reason to be scared or hurt, the child reacts appropriately. In the second, the trauma is not given any worth so it is quickly forgotten.
How to Socialize a Puppy that is Scared of Strangers
If your puppy is scared of strangers, it is important to socialize the pup with as many different people as possible so that they get over this fear. Many pups will not approach a stranger, even a friendly one, if they are on the ground as the shear size of the person is daunting. Instead of pushing your pup to the person, pick them up and bring them to the stranger. Let the pup have a quick sniff and then place the pup in the stranger’s arms. Verbally encourage the pup by both you and the ‘stranger’ talk to the pup in happy, upbeat, and enthusiastic voices. This simple act tells the pup that you are fine with the person and they will quickly get over their fear.
It is vital that the pup faces their fears in a supportive environment. Placing them in the arms of a stranger while there is harsh, loud music in the background may be one too many fears to face at the same time. Strangers with loud, boisterous voices should be told to tone it down and although they do not need to whisper, acting calm and speaking in a happy but normal voice will help the pup adjust to the new person easier. Asking the person to sit on the ground so they seem less overwhelming can help as can taking off their sunglasses and hat.
Take your puppy to as many places as possible to meet new people, visit shopping centers where people congregate and expose the pup to crowds to overcome their fear of strangers. If done in a positive and encouraging manner, your pup will soon get over their fear of strangers for good!
A Note about Health Concerns if a Puppy is Scared of Strangers
If your puppy seems unusually scared of strangers and new situations, tell your veterinarian on your first visit. Deafness, ear infections, and neurological disorders can cause a puppy to be apprehensive or fearful.