How to Become Friends with an Unfriendly Dog
If you encounter or own an unfriendly dog it can be a challenge to create a positive interaction. However, it is possible (with most dogs) if you carefully monitor your actions and proceed slowly. When bonding with someone else’s pet it is best to follow the guidance of the owner. When interacting with your dog you want to cherish and encourage small victories, such as a quick snuggle, while not being pushy. Consulting your vet can also help you to determine if there is an underlying medical reason behind the unfriendliness.
Interacting with an Unknown Dog
Get the owner’s permission to approach.If the owner is present, make sure to ask if it is okay to interact with their dog. Some dogs are being trained or are too fearful to be touched, so it is best to check first. If the dog is running unsupervised, then you must follow your judgement regarding to approach or to call an animal rescue for assistance.
- When speaking with the owner you might say, “What a cute dog! Is it alright if I pet him?”
Explore the immediate cause of unfriendliness.When you first notice that the dog is behaving in an aggressive or standoffish way, look around you to identify possible external causes of this behavior. Are there lots of cars around which could cause anxiety? If you determine that you are the cause of the unfriendliness then you will need to approach with even more caution.
- At this point you might ask the owner (if there is one) for any tips about how to interact with their dog. They might suggest, for example, that you keep your distance for a bit.
Approach in an arc.When you do decide to make friendly contact (whether for the first time or after multiple interactions) avoid coming at the dog head on. This places the two of you in a confrontational position and can heighten the dog’s defenses. Instead, come at the dog very slowly and slightly to the side, moving in a soft arc.
Keep your eyes averted.Refrain from making direct eye contact when you interact with an unfriendly dog. Holding a dog’s eyes can be seen as a dominant move and can make them withdraw from socializing with you. Instead, flick your eyes up occasionally but generally keep them elsewhere. It might help to focus on the dog’s ear, for example.
Get on the dog’s level.When you spend time with the dog try to do so at their level. Crouch down or bend down on your knees to face them. This puts you in an equal position with your potential canine friend. It lets the dog know that they have power as well, which takes away some of the pressure of these interactions and allows them to relax.
- Once you get into a crouching or seated position you lose much of your ability to retreat quickly. It is not advisable to assume this position if the dog is acting overtly aggressive.
Be careful when patting.Once you are in position, slowly extend a single hand out, palm up for the dog to sniff and inspect. Leave your hand hovering in air within reach of the dog’s head. Do not immediately move to pet the dog. After the dog sniffs a bit you can then remove your hand and repeat the process.
- When the dog finally loosens up you can move your hand forward for a gentle pet. However, continue to avoid the facial area. This makes a dog feel vulnerable. Instead, gently rub their side or back.
- If at any point in this process the dog bares its teeth, wrinkles its nose, or growls you should retreat and try again later.
Go slowly.Whenever you are trying to befriend an unfriendly dog you must proceed methodically and slowly. You are on their timetable. If you try to rush the process the bond won’t be as deep and the dog might retreat back into aggression or shyness.
Offer treats.If the dog’s owner has treats then ask if you can offer a few to their pet. If the dog is running solo and you have treats, then feel free to offer them as well (with caution). It is best to give an unfriendly dog treats in an indirect way. Toss a few treats to the ground in front of the dog while looking slightly away.
- If the dog begins to associate your presence with food, then you are making progress in the battle of bonding.
Ignore a timid dog.Another option is to pretend that the dog is not there and go about your business as usual. You can do this for a brief time or you can act like this over several separate interactions before you build up to an attempt at petting. If the dog sniffs you, just stand still and let it happen. It is a good sign that they are curious about you.
Interacting with Your Dog
Know your dog’s history.Abuse or lack of socialization can help to create an unfriendly dog. It helps to gather as much information as you can about what your dog experienced in the past. This will allow you to bond with the dog while working on their trouble areas, but avoiding obvious behavioral overt triggers.
- For example, if your dog was physically abused by their previous owner (who was a man) then (if you are a man) you may face an even steeper uphill battle in building trust. Remind yourself of this and be even more patient when initiating touch with your dog.
- If your dog is only unfriendly around food, for instance, then you might want to leave it alone at these times. Try to make bonding inroads during other moments.
Interact in a calming environment.Some dogs are unfriendly because they are suffering from sensory overload. To minimize this and lower everyone’s stress, make your home as soothing and relaxing as possible. Keep the TV turned down low. Avoid blasting the radio. Try not to yell if you need something. Ask other members of your household to help out with this goal.
- Part of this will also push your dog’s “re-set” button and signal that this is a new environment requiring new types of interactions, as compared to their previous one.
Be patient at all times.Your dog will likely make mistakes and these will be tests of your bond and your friendship. You must react patiently and calmly when your dog has a mishap. Offer a gentle but firm “No” and then move on.
Let your dog approach you first.While you are interacting in your home leave your dog alone for the most part (at least until they start to shed their unfriendliness). Expect your dog to approach you at random moments to ‘check you out’ by sniffing. It is best to stand still at these times and let your dog complete the inspection.
- For this to work you truly will need to stand still. Don't make a movement. Don't try to pet your dog. Don't reach out.
Provide positive encouragement.It is hard to be positive if your dog resists touch, but you can still be a supportive presence in their lives. Instead of offering a hug directly to them you might hug one of their toys before setting it down in front of them. Don’t be afraid to use treats as well. Most dogs respond positively to small pieces of chicken or other tidbits.
- You can gently toss the treat to the floor or you can place it in your open palm for your dog to take.
Enjoy low-key activities.Exercise can sometimes loosen up an unfriendly dog but it can also stimulate aggression in some cases. So, use caution and stick to low-key options for the best results. Take your dog on a long walk or hike. Play Frisbee in your backyard. Just lay around and watch the sun set.
Participate in an obedience class.Learning new things together can bond you to your dog. However, you must keep the stakes low and make any classes that you take a laidback event. Finding and enrolling in a local obedience class is one way to possibly change your dog’s outlook. A Certified Dog Trainer can often craft unique activities that will highlight your dog’s unique strengths while working on their weaknesses.
- To find a good obedience class you can check your veterinarian or you can call your local pet store. You can also look online by typing in your city's name and "obedience classes."
Watching for Warning Signs
Pay attention to body placement.If the dog that you are interacting with starts to crouch down, as if preparing for an attack, then you need to back off immediately. Or, if the dog is behaving loosely and then stiffens suddenly it is possible that they will respond aggressively as well. Lowering their head or moving around behind you for a better angle are also negative signs.
Watch the teeth and eyes.A dog that is pushed beyond its limits will most likely start to growl and bare its teeth. This is a warning that often comes immediately before a biting move if left unheeded. You will also see the dog attempt to make and hold direct eye contact with you. Break this contact while keeping a close watch on the canine.
Look the dog’s tail.A happy, friendly dog will usually be wagging his tail and wiggling overall. The tail moving in big, uncontrolled circles is generally a positive sign. If the dog starts to position their tail in a more stiff way this is a sign of building tension. The tail might still be moving or “wagging” but this is a movement borne of agitation and not a friendly wag.
Consult with a veterinarian.If you’ve been working with your dog and just can’t seem to break that bonding barrier then it may be time to talk with your vet. They can suggest some behavioral tricks that may help you. They can also look into possible medical causes for any persistent unfriendliness. Your dog may be in pain due to a seizure disorder or other condition and this could be the root cause of the problems.
- Even a change of diet has been shown to lessen the anxiety in some dogs, leading to a more positive experience for their owners.
QuestionI rent a room. The homeowners have an adult, female pit bull. It's always barking at everything and wants to eat me. How do I get it to just leave me alone? I want to hit it!wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt might just be territorial. The dog most likely doesn't want to "eat you." She may just be protecting what she sees as her territory. Try talking to the owners about it. Also, don't hit it. It will definitely make matters worst.Thanks!
QuestionWhat do I do when the dog attacks?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThat depends on the dog's size. If it's a small dog, you have absolutely nothing to worry about: most small dogs have all bark and no bite. If you're dealing with a larger dog, Wikihow's article on how to handle a dog attack may be useful.Thanks!
QuestionWhat if the dog is barking at me?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerStay still and wait for the dog to stop barking. Let the dog come to you. Offer treats if that's OK with the dog's owner.Thanks!
QuestionA dog I approached first wagged its tail, then tried to bite me. Why did that happen?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou may just be scaring it, or it might have been trying to play. Put your hand out and let the dog smell your hand. Talk to it with a calm, reassuring voice. Don't wear sunglasses and hats, and don't hover over the dog.Thanks!
QuestionWhat should you do if a dog tries to bite you?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIf a dog is acting openly aggressive it is best to not approach it. Give it a bit of time to calm down and then reassess the situation. Look for bodily signs of aggression such as growling and respond accordingly. If you are bitten you will want to treat the wound and possibly receive medical attention, depending on the extent of the bite.Thanks!
QuestionWhat should you do if the dog runs from you?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt really depends on the particular situation. If you are outside and this is an unfamiliar animal to you, then it is probably best to call for help or get other people to assist you in following the dog. Running is a sign of fear, however, so you'll want to be very careful when approaching for a second time. If this is your pet, then you may just want to give it some space. You can always try again once everything has calmed down.Thanks!
- Dogs observe how humans interact. Be calm and friendly with those people and pets around you and the dog will start to trust you more as a consistent presence.
- Talking in a soothing tone can also help to relax an unfriendly dog.
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