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Fear of Strangers

Dear WOOF:

We have a 4 month old German Shepard puppy that we've had for about 4-weeks now. He's great with us, however he seems to have a huge fear of strangers. If people come to our house he won't turn his back to
them and if they get up off the couch he barks at them. He acts extremely afraid. Also when we take him for walks he doesn't like to pass people on the sidewalk. He puts the breaks on and again shows a
great fear towards strangers. The worst was when he growled, while on the leash, at one of the neighborhood children who was about 4 feet back from the dog. I had to pull him away.

Again, I think he's afraid. We are a young couple and in the next few years would like to have children. We don't  want our dog to be afraid or aggressive towards children. We really don't have any small children in our family to socialize him with and a now I'm apprehensive to let the kids be near him. Do you have any suggestions on how we can begin to socialize this dog with other people, and especially children?


The behavior your pup is showing is indeed rooted in fear, and is more than likely the result of a lack of social exposure during early puppyhood. There are other factors that contribute to the development of a sound social temperament, but one of the most impactful is early and proper socialization.

Science has shown that there are several developmental stages that a pup goes through within the first 12 weeks of life that significantly impact social behavior (attraction or fear) in adulthood. For the
purposes of your situation, I will focus on the period between the 6th and 12th weeks of age. Within this 6 week period, the optimal time to transition pups and expose them to new experiences is from 6- 8 weeks, when they are most adaptable to social bonding within the "human" world at large - including strange humans of all shapes, sizes, colors, and ages (kids too!), as well as other dogs and pups, environments, etc. During this time, the pups willingness to confidently approach strangers, investigate novel environments (including new objects) peaks, and is the reason that this is widely accepted as the ideal time to socialize them in a broad ranging way, outside of the environment they have been in up to this point.

From your email, it looks as though you brought your puppy home at about 12 weeks of age. Many people (unfortunately including some breeders) are unaware of the importance of proper socialization during this period of development and a problem is not realized until the pup is in a situation with something or someone it is experiencing for the first time, where the effects of a lack of proper socialization become evident.

None of this means that you can't help your dog become more sociallyconfident, but it is critically important that you get into a good positive reinforcement puppy socialization class as soon as possible.
You must make sure that you are in the hands of someone knowledgeable that can give you suggestions for socializing him when you're not in class as well. Training will be very important beyond a puppy class
too, but again, make sure that you are working with a qualified person that will guide you in using behaviorally sound, positive reinforcement training techniques.

If you are in the Metro Detroit area please contact us directly at or call 248-244-1372  for more information on class schedules.

If not, contact us for a referral to a qualified professional in your area. There are more articles at on finding a good positive reinforcement trainer, and an article entitled "Beware
Positive Reinforcement" that you may find helpful.

Wishing You the Best,

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