Want your nervous dog to feel relaxed around strangers? Try this trainer’s clever tip

Puppy sniffing woman's hand in the park
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Just like us humans, every dog has their own unique personality. While some are social, laidback and take great delight in receiving affection from anyone who's happy to give it, other dogs are shy, wary of strangers and prefer to stick close to their owners.

If your pup falls into the second category, learning how to calm a reactive dog when they encounter people they don't know can certainly be helpful. However, as you probably already know, when it comes to dealing with anxiety in dogs, preventing certain behaviors from escalating is always easier to deal with than trying to cure them once they're well established.

Thankfully, expert trainer Adam Spivey has come to the rescue with a very clever tip that you can use to help your dog feel calmer and more relaxed when people they don't know approach them. You can check out Spivey's advice in the Instagram video below or keep reading for a summary of his advice.

According to Spivey, in order to help your dog become less nervous of people it doesn't know, those people need to act as if your dog isn't even in there.

"If your dog is nervous of strangers, if your dog reacts when strangers try to interact with them, the way you help your dog to become more comfortable is by getting these people to act as if your dog doesn't exist," explains Spivey.

"Every time somebody forces themselves on the dog, touches that dog on top of the head, holds their hand out for that dog to sniff, stares directly at that dog, interacts with that dog, speaks to that dog when the dog is uncomfortable, that dog in that moment knows that you don't understand that it's uncomfortable and this destroys the trust," says Spivey. 

On the other hand, Spivey says that if you as the owner say to people "please don't interact with my dog, my dog is nervous of people" and you tuck your dog behind you as somebody approaches you so that you can block any unwanted hands, your dog can relax because they've encountered a stranger and nothing bad happened.

Over time, the repetition of this reinforces to your dog that new people are nothing to fear. "Eventually, your dog starts to see people coming up or people in its personal space aren't actually a threat, aren't actually bad, and this is how your dog starts to relax."

Training a nervous dog takes time, patience and consistency. If you feel that after several months of working with your pup that they're still struggling to relax around strangers, we recommend reaching out to a professional trainer for some 1:1 support.

For more great tips and tricks, check out our guides to how to stop a dog from jumping up and three reasons why your dog's recall isn't reliable (and what to do about it).

Kathryn Williams
Freelance writer

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has been a member of the PetsRadar family since it launched in 2020. Highly experienced in her field, she's driven by a desire to provide pet parents with accurate, timely, and informative content that enables them to provide their fur friends with everything they need to thrive. Kathryn works closely with vets and trainers to ensure all articles offer the most up-to-date information across a range of pet-related fields, from insights into health and behavior issues to tips on products and training. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with her family (which includes one super sassy cat), drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.