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Ask Dr. Diane: My Dog Hates Strangers!

Dear Dr. Diane,

I have a 5-year-old, 45-pound rescued dog – possibly sheltie/white lab/terrier mix…I don’t know! I got him at about 4 months old, and he’s a very loyal affectionate loving dog but he has severe anxiety and dog aggression.

I don’t know what happened to him in his first four months but the rescue group had sedated him (I found out later!) because of his anxiety around other dogs and strangers. Around other dogs he’s very uneasy and continually barks at them and sometimes tries to nip.

He also hates strangers and will lunge at the window and scratch the door if he sees anyone walking by the house. If I have a friend over and they try to approach him he will run and hide and if pressed he will nip. He does slowly warm up to people and eventually likes them when aren’t strangers anymore and he sees that they won’t hurt him or me! What can I do to stop or lessen the anxiety, fear and aggression?

If you haven’t already, I would definitely consult an animal behaviorist ASAP who can visit your home and witness your dog’s undesirable behaviors and provide you with a personal profile of your pet along with practical, first-hand advice.

I would have your dog obedience-trained in classes offered by many pet product stores such as Petco and PetsSmart and socialize him as much as possible. You may find it advisable to use a Gentle Leader in order to painlessly and effectively remove the dog’s natural tendency to pull, lunge, jump or bark excessively. It is not a muzzle – when fitted properly a dog can open its mouth to eat, drink, pant, fetch or bark. It is designed to calm an aggressive and/or anxious animal.

I would definitely seek the advice of an animal behavior consultant. I would then follow his/her advice and positively reinforce and reassure your dog’s positive behaviors. Dogs love to learn and they love to please. They get the message more quickly and learn faster when the reward for good behavior is enthusiastic praise given with love and affection. At first, your pet’s good behavior can be reinforced by giving him healthy dog treats, but, ultimately, you can positively reinforce his good behaviors with a “Good boy” and some petting and hugging. Dogs just want to please their guardians – be patient with him, and keep calm and supportive throughout his training.


Dr. Pomerance is an animal behavior specialist and an expert on topics such as deciding which puppy is best for your family, how to pick out a rescue, and on healing from the loss of a pet.

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