My Dog is Getting Used to People

My Dog is Getting Used to People

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A funny thing happened on the way to Misha’s 8th birthday. Something I really didn’t even notice. She began to lose her fear of people.

My Dog is Afraid of Strangers

So, this is how Misha usually greets people…

small dog barking at door
My Jack Russell thinks she is a Rottweiler

She’s terrified of strangers. When meeting someone new, she would not sniff their shoes like a normal dog. She would bark incessantly.

It often took several months of regular meetings before she would let a new person pet her.

Case in point, we have a gardener who comes over every two weeks. He was determined to befriend Misha. Every visit, he brought her treats. It took well over a year before she did anything but bark, grab the treat, run, eat, and then bark again.

It took almost two years before she willingly approached him.  Seriously.

Dog Walks Were Something Else

There was a time  when we took our walks, I had to be aware of approaching people. She might try to flee depending on if they were carrying something scary like a back pack or she might try to take out their ankles.

You never knew what her reaction would be.

She was a “tad” protective of my space.

Improvement Came Slowly

I worked with her as much as I could. I took her on daily walks so she could get used to the idea that other people used the sidewalks, too.

When people came over, I tried to find the best way to introduce her.  She does better outside, so I started to bring her out front for the meeting.

I took her to every family party that I could. Exposure was so important, according to her veterinarian. She need to be around people so she could get used to strangers.

Each party we went through the same experience. When a new person showed up, she’d go into Barky McBarkster mode taking several minutes to calm down.  Eventually she did, but it was a noisy ordeal for all.

A Funny Thing Happened When My Dog Turned Eight

dog hiding under bed
My dog hides from people

I noticed about a year ago that I could stop and talk to neighbors and Misha would do…nothing.  She waited patiently like a good dog.

I really didn’t realize how much she had improved until we had unexpected company this month. Old friends from out of town.  We hadn’t seen them in a decade.

Misha overreacted at the door, of course. It took a couple of minutes to get a leash on her, get her away from the door, and let them in.

She barked a little bit when they were inside.  We sat down in the living room.  I kept her leashed as a precaution.   Then, she did the unexpected. She quieted.  Slowly, she inched over and smelled their shoes.

The dog who won’t let strangers touch her was getting a neck massage by the end of the visit. She had made friends.

Anomaly or Behavior Change?

After this visit, I took Misha to a family birthday celebration. We were sitting in the backyard when the first “stranger” guest arrived. And, what did Misha do? Nothing!

She didn’t bark. She didn’t attack.

She cautiously walked over (on leash) and sniffed the person. I gave my usual warning as Misha got closer.   But, it wasn’t necessary.  Misha allowed this stranger to pat her head.

As the others arrived, she did really well. She was eager to sniff out each new guest.

She was well behaved. Her barking at a minimum.

Is it Age or Exposure?

I’m as surprised at you are at her transformation. She’s still reluctant to meet strangers, but she no longer defends my space from these transgressors. She is allowing new people into her world.

Why is that?

Is it because she is now 8 years old and has matured?

Is it because she has slowly over time learned that it’s okay to meet new people?

Or, did we just have a good week?

I don’t have the answer. But, I’m thrilled to see this positive change in her behavior. I’d love for her to be a normal dog and make friends.


Do you have a dog that is afraid of people?  How do you handle this prickly situation?  Tell us in the comments!
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8 thoughts on “My Dog is Getting Used to People

    1. Debi, Dogs are really a lifetime commitment. Misha has always had some issues, so it’s great to see that after so many years she is coming around.

  1. I think it’s a combination of it all. Perhaps as she aged, her trust factor in you, along with her confidence in herself allows her to not be so afraid with everyone and all those strange and new situations. Hurrah to you for sticking and staying – looks like you will be a social pet parent extraordinaire in the future. Good job!

    1. Thanks Groovy Goldendoodles! I think you are right. It’s does support the theory of reinforcing positive behavior. Instead of withdrawing her from the world, I kept putting her into the social situations that she was uncomfortable with–always with a warning “Don’t pet my dog. She’s afraid of people!!”. Eventually, it took hold.

      Now if she could be nicer to the veterinarian we’d really make progress 😀

  2. Oh, I hope that’s not an anomaly and is a combo of age and training. We have the same issue with our Rita. She’s very reactive to strangers in our home – especially men. We’ve worked with her a lot and she’s a little bit better, but still… certain men she REALLY barks at when they come in, which makes it stressful to entertain. She’s 6 now… so maybe we only have 2 more years of that?? 🙂

    1. Jackie, me too! All I can say is you’ve seen improvement, so keep at it. What you’re doing is getting through to her. Hopefully, it won’t take 8 years like my dog.

  3. I say it’s exposure for sure! Kudos on your success with Misha. It took well over a year for my dog Phoebe not to be terrified of my husband. It was so disheartening; I adopted this dog and when I brought her home discovered she was terrified of men! We worked hard on it and she finally came around, thankfully. My other dog is 8 and she was always great with everyone, I think because we socialized the heck out of her. She loves meeting new people.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

    1. Cathy, That must have been heartbreaking to know Phoebe was afraid of your husband! I’ve heard of dogs being afraid of men. It seems more so than being afraid of women.

      Misha has always been skittish. She is slow to trust, but when she does you can’t get rid of her. She doesn’t really have a thing against men. She adores my nephew. But, she is scared of my oldest brother.

      He has never done anything to her, but she flees when he is around. She gets nervous if someone mentions his name.

      It’s only been in the last few months that she’ll come back into the room if he is here. She will let him pet her, but she stretches her legs really far making sure not to get too close…and he has to have treats.

      We take the progress where we can get it.

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