In my line of business I see tons of dogs that are terrible when meeting new people. However, there are two completely different ends to the spectrum. There are dogs that are excited to see everyone. This is due to over socialization. I will address this dog in a completely separate post. The second is the fearful dog. There is no in between. I hear clients tell me all the time that their dog is protective of them. The dog does not “protect” unless he perceives danger. I will elaborate.
First let me say, it is not your dog’s job to be a judge of character or intent. That is your job entirely. Owning a dog that decides these things is just like owning a gun who is deciding who it is going to shoot. It’s a major liability. You must train this behavior away. Notice that I say train away, not socialize. If you have a dog like this, socialization will only perpetuate the behavior. How you ask?
We have to look at this from the dog’s point of view to figure out why he does this. When you put your dog on leash or in the yard and he barks at everyone, he thinks he is keeping everyone at bay. The more the people come, he barks, and they go, he thinks he’s getting rid of them. Your little ankle biter or head biter thinks he is running everyone off. The dog that does this consistently believes the only reason they haven’t come over and hurt him yet is because of his antics. This makes this the hardest habit to get rid of in dogs. This dog believes his life is in danger if he does not act boastful.
Now you CANNOT soothe this behavior away. Your kind words of “It’s OK” and caressing only serve to re-enforce the bad behavior. There are two ways to handle this. First you can reprimand the bad behaviors that you do not want. (Most popular) With this behavior being so strong, consequence must also be strong. This may make a fearful dog like this fall apart if too strong since now he is fighting the perceived outside threat and dear old mom or dad. Secondly you can reward a stable behavior that you would prefer to the first. The problem here is you have to wait for the stability, which will require some patience. You can also do both. (I know I said two ways) This can expedite the process and also create balance, especially if the reward is food for a hungry dog. Enjoy and happy training.