The Reactive Dog Part 2: Stranger Danger

Lucy —  January 16, 2014 — 184 Comments

topher-smile

Even before Topher’s incident, there were certain things that we identified as his reactive triggers—things that he would react to in an overexcited (or sometimes fearful) manner. But by far the most interesting trigger that we’ve dealt with recently is a stranger in our home.

Recently, we had a handyman come out and install an exhaust fan in our bathroom. Nothing particularly exciting, but he needed to be in and out of the house a few times for most of a day. We were pretty sure this wouldn’t be a problem—our handyman is fine with dogs, and Topher had been fine with everyone we’ve had over to the house. And then New Year’s Eve happened, and we had to welcome our first stranger into the house since the attack only a few days after. Topher didn’t do well, growling and barking any time the guy moved out of the bathroom or into the attic. Needless to say, it was a stressful day. A day that ended with our handyman needing to come back to finish the job—our house is older, so there has yet to be a handyman job that hasn’t run into some weird problem halfway through.

We worried, post-attack, that Topher would react to every outside this way, so before the handyman returned we had a few friends by to test the waters. As soon as they entered, Topher went right back to his usual (if a bit over the top) greeting antics. Got it. New people are where he needs work.

We’ve developed a bit of a plan, that semi-worked for our handyman for his return visit. For the two hours that he was here, we allowed Topher to investigate as long as he didn’t growl or bark excessively at him. Once he did, he was put away in the bedroom with a Kong full of peanut butter to work at until he calmed down again (which usually meant we’d hear him go into his crate to work on his Kong) and then he could come out again. All things considered, he did alright. There was some barking and some growling, but for a dog still getting used to having one eye, it wasn’t terrible. There was also some tail wagging and a few pats on the head from our handyman.

So we have a new thing to work on. I don’t know that I’m going to invite strangers into my house to work on it, but at the very least we have a technique to put the dog away that doesn’t seem to stress him out too much. But how about you? Does you dog go crazy with new people in the house? What are your techniques?

Lucy

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184 responses to The Reactive Dog Part 2: Stranger Danger

  1. Michelle Montgomery January 17, 2014 at 10:07 am

    Dexter has a bad case of Stranger Danger, or – as I like to call it – “Stranger-You-Touch-Me-I’ll-Eat-Your-Face-Off.”

    He wasn’t always like that – but after his last few visits to the vet it has gotten worse. So I had to start from the basics.

    1 – We’re go out, walk around in very high-traffic areas for only a few minutes, then leave. This was hard because the first few times, Dexter would display redirected aggression at me when we got back in the car. Thankfully he was a little smaller and easier to control.

    2 – We’d go out, walk around in very high-traffic areas and I’d encourage people to just talk to him gently before walking off. No touching allowed.

    3 – I invited close friends over, one at a time, to work with him. First I didn’t want them to pay any attention to him, but over the next few visits I had them start to try to initiate play and give him yummy treats.

    4 – We are at a point where he’s tolerating people holding him just for a few minutes. It hurts their feelings when he starts to hiss at them, but I really don’t care. I’m happy he’s not clawing their eyes out, even though I don’t tell them that. :)

    Small steps! Lots of praise at the right time.

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