A puppy growls at a stranger.

As a new puppy owner, one of your top priorities should be socializing your pup so they learn how to interact appropriately with both people and other dogs. As such, you’ll want to take care to train your puppy not to approach strangers.

One of the primary reasons to avoid strangers, that many people don’t think about, is that it could put the puppy at serious risk. They may even become a target of theft! It’s heartbreaking to hear stories about beloved pets getting stolen, but it’s a sad reality that dog theft is becoming more and more common. While it’s impossible to guarantee that your pup will never be targeted by a thief, there are measures you can take to reduce the risk.

Here’s how to start training your puppy to not only be more polite around strangers but also more safe:

Why Teach Your Puppy Not to Approach Strangers?

Many people believe that the best method of how to socialize a puppy is to expose them to as many people as possible. After all, the logic goes, the more people they meet, the less fearful they will be of strangers later in life. 

However, this line of thinking can actually do more harm than good. In fact, one of the most important things you can do is teach your puppy not to approach strangers except for under certain circumstances, such as when you give them permission. 

While puppy socialization is important, it’s also critical for them to understand how to act in their own interests in a public situation. There are many reasons a stranger could pose a risk to pets and owners, and it’s also important to respect the boundaries of people out in public.

  • You Don’t Know Who They Are: One of the main reasons you shouldn’t let your puppy approach strangers is because you don’t know who they are. Sure, they may seem nice enough, but you have no way of knowing if they’re actually safe or not. There have been cases of people pretending to be friendly in order to kidnap children or harm pets, so it’s always better to err on the side of caution.
  • Your Puppy Could Get Hurt: Another reason to keep your puppy away from strangers is that they could get hurt. Even if the person approaching them doesn’t mean any harm, accidents can happen. If your pup is startled or scared, they could bite or scratch the person, which could lead to legal trouble for you down the road.
  • You Could Get in Trouble Too: In some places, it is actually against the law to allow your dog to approach strangers without permission. Laws and policies varies from place to place, so be sure to check the rules in your area before letting your pup approach someone uninvited, especially when off their leash. If you do get caught breaking this law, you could face sanctions from the property owner, be fined or even jailed. So it’s just not worth the risk.
  • It’s Not Fair to the Stranger, Either: Finally, it’s important to remember that not everyone loves dogs as much as you do. Some people are scared of them, and others simply don’t like them. If your puppy approaches someone who falls into one of these categories, it can make them very uncomfortable — and possibly even cause them to lash out. So it’s really not fair to put anyone in that position in the first place.

Socializing Puppies Is an Important Component of Teaching Controlled Approaches

The goal in teaching puppies to not approach strangers is not to make them fearful. Rather, the puppy should understand that there are social boundaries on both sides of the equation. A stranger doesn’t want to be forced to greet a puppy, and despite the puppy’s enthusiasm they may find they don’t like how the stranger responds to them, even if the stranger is trying to be friendly.

To teach proper social behavior in public, the puppy should first learn to be comfortable and calm around new people, and then they must learn that there are only certain times and places where it’s ok to approach someone they don’t know.

The following pointers can help go a long way toward reaching your goals:

  • Start Early — The best time to start teaching your puppy not to approach strangers is when they’re young. Puppies have a natural curiosity and are likely to approach someone unless they’ve been taught otherwise. As your puppy grows, they’ll be less likely to listen if they’ve already developed habits. So, start as early as possible.
  • Be Consistent — Whenever you’re around strangers, make sure you’re consistent in your commands. If you tell your puppy “no” sometimes, and don’t say anything when they approach people other times, they’ll get confused and won’t know what the correct behavior is. It’s important that you be consistent so that your puppy knows what you expect from them. Wait for them to demonstrate the desired behavior before giving them permission to meet someone.
  • Reward Good Behavior — When your puppy behaves the way you want them to around strangers, be sure to give them lots of praise and treats. This will reinforce the desired behavior and make it more likely that they’ll continue doing it in the future. Dogs love positive reinforcement, so make sure you give them plenty of it! 

Benefits of Teaching Your Puppy Not to Approach Strangers

The biggest reason to teach your puppy not to approach strangers is that greeting someone requires a type of social permission that puppies won’t recognize unless they are taught. In other words, they have to learn that in order to be able to approach someone and meet them, they first have to have self-control and exhibit the expected behaviors. Even then, they may be denied the chance to meet someone for any reason, not the least of which is because they need to get on with their walk.

“Not everybody has the opportunity to be raised with a dog,” emphasizes Certified Professional Dog Trainer Siri Zakaras, “so they may not understand that your dog running towards them is a sign of excitement.”

There are many other benefits to teaching your puppy to keep to themselves in public, including:

Benefit #1: Fewer chances of your puppy getting hurt.

Puppies are naturally curious creatures, and they often don’t know their own strength. If a stranger is not expecting a dog to jump on them and start licking their face, they might get knocked over or scratched by accident. In some cases, people might even react negatively out of surprise or fear, which could result in your puppy getting hit or kicked. By teaching your puppy to stay away from strangers, you can help keep them safe from harm and from harming others.

Benefit #2: Fewer chances of your puppy getting lost.

If your puppy approaches a stranger who then decides to take them home without asking you first, you might never see your furry friend again. While most people are good Samaritans and would return a lost dog to its owner, there’s always the chance that your pup could end up in a shelter or with someone who is not capable of taking care of them properly. By teaching your puppy not to approach strangers, you can help decrease the chances of them getting lost and ending up in an undesirable situation.

Benefit #3: Less stress for you as the owner.

If your puppy is constantly pulling to meet strangers, it can be embarrassing and stressful for you as the owner. You might find yourself apologizing profusely or even avoiding bringing them into social situations altogether so that you don’t have to deal with the embarrassment of having a dog who is difficult to control. Teaching your puppy not to approach strangers will help reduce the stress in your life and allow you to enjoy social situations together with less risk of stress.

Stop Your Puppy From Approaching Strangers in 3 Steps

  1. Start socializing your puppy early. The more comfortable they are around people, the less likely they’ll be to get overexcited and want to approach strangers.
  2. Make sure your pup always has ID tags with current contact information. That way, if they do happen to get lost or stolen, you have a better chance of getting them back home safe and sound.
  3. Train your dog to not approach strangers unless given permission, even if the person seems friendly. This training could be as simple as teaching them the “sit” or “stay” commands and keeping the puppy at heel until the situation passes by. Over time, the puppy will learn cues and also come to understand that in most public situations, they are not to greet random passersby.

Get Help Training Puppies to Be Reserved Around Strangers

No one wants to think about their precious pup being stolen, but it’s important to be proactive in order to reduce the risk. By teaching your puppy not to approach strangers and socializing him or her as much as possible, you’ll help keep your furry friend safe and sound. By starting early and being consistent with your commands, you can help your puppy learn the appropriate behavior around people they don’t know. And don’t forget to reward them for good behavior!

A good way to start this training is by socializing your puppy with different people in a controlled environment, like one of the puppy obedience training classes we provide. We can help your puppy learn to remain calm and in-control around other people through behavior shaping, and then we can work on teaching your puppy specific cues to wait patiently or to greet someone politely when given permission.

If you have any questions or need help getting started, please don’t hesitate to contact us at one of five locations in the Harrisburg area. We’re here to help you and your pup every step of the way!