Stranger Danger!

Good, bad, or just silly?  I’ve got the full spectrum covered in my house.  Yesterday my brothers came over for dinner (if you can’t tell, I hang out with them all the time) and while we were out in the yard I looked at Maggie and thought she most certainly was thinking, “Stranger danger!  Stranger danger!  There are strangers, there is danger!”  (Yes, this random thought is what sparked the idea for this post.)

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Now, my brothers at this point most certainly should not be considered strangers to Moo, but she keeps her distance and even lets out a throaty little half growl/half bark every now and then when they first come over.  After oh, say, two hours, she will settle down and let them pet her, but even then you can see that she is in flight mode in case they try anything funny.  Part of me finds this just plain silly because the other dogs, whom she looks entirely up to, adore my brothers, I clearly adore them, and if it’s true that dogs can sense if a person is good or bad (which I 1,000% believe it is) then she should know they are about as good as it gets.  The other, bigger part of me, is completely heartbroken.  Here is a dog that was so damaged in her first year and a half on Earth that even after living with me for over a year still is scared of strangers.  She has improved vastly, a year ago she literally would have lost control of her bowels if a strange man had come over, but she still has so far to go.  Will she ever rid herself of this intense stranger danger?

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Then we have the middle child, Tag.  Middle in age, and always middle of the road in personality, she is the perfect cross between the two extremes that I call Buddy and Maggie.  Tag is never one to be scared necessarily of a new person, but she usually hangs back to see what Buddy and I think of them.  Tag (short for Tag-a-Long) is the epitome of a follower.  If we like them, she likes them.  If we trust them, she trusts them.  When people are over she generally prefers to sit by me (not to toot my own horn, but this dog will never, ever love anyone the way she loves me) but if someone wants to engage her in a game of catch, or better yet a belly rub, she is all for it.  Happy-go-lucky Tag will always just go with the flow.  Stranger indifference?

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And of course, there is Buddy.  Buddy has literally never met a stranger.  In fact, back in the day when Buddy and I were a couple of single kids, livin’ the good life, my house got broken into while I was gone one night.  I’m still pretty sure Buddy reached up and opened the door for them to come in.  Another time I was playing catch with Buddy in the front yard when he saw a woman pushing a stroller on the other side of the very busy street and took off at a dead sprint.  Why?  He obviously needed to introduce himself and make friends with her.  Talk about a near heart attack.  We joke that Buddy loves everyone else more than he loves us because as soon as someone comes over to the house, he smashes himself up against them and moans and groans with delight from the attention he gets.  Buddy would probably be happiest living in a frat house so that he could constantly be surrounded by hoards of people to dish out the attention that he so loves from strangers.  Stranger danger?  You gotta be kidding.

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So which is the best?  Is there a right or wrong?  For the most part, I think Tag probably wins in this department.  I don’t have to worry about her bolting down the street to say “hi” to someone, but I also never have to worry about having people over and if it will upset her.     Do your dogs have stranger danger?  Are they at either extreme of the spectrum?

15 thoughts on “Stranger Danger!

  1. Eddie is happy to be petted by anyone but won’t seek out his pettings. Gambit believes in strangers, but if he’s met you or someone you are with, even if you were not interested in him, you are his BFF for life and he will go crazy trying to go up to you. My previous dog came to us afraid of strangers and it took her about 7 years to warm up to our neighbor who she saw frequently. While he’s the nicest person there is, her description of the scariest person (male, tall, hat, loud voice) described him perfectly.

  2. I recently posted about Ru’s Stranger Danger…he definitely believes that everyone is a stranger until they win him over with treats and possible belly rubs. It’s been a very slow process to teach him to trust.

  3. My two boys are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Ollie, my Jack Russell, is extremely outgoing and our dog we can take anywhere to socialize with anyone. Balton is our once foster, now adopted-by-us dog, who has intense stranger danger on leash and in our home, created somewhere in a life before us. We’ve worked hard to manage it (with some early mistakes along the way) and after A LOT of positive interactions, he can expand his social circle (it took 6 weeks of coming over every day before my dog walker could take him out, and he had been in our care 5 months prior to that). However, he doesn’t go into flight mode – he is reactive.

    The reality is it’s something he will probably never outgrow, and he’s going to require a lifetime of training and management in his encounters, which is why we adopted him – ultimately, he needs a family able to see him for who he is and be able to help him work through some of the more difficult stuff. But also, someone who is able to accept that he can’t be placed in situations that make him so uncomfortable that he needs to react. So, if we have visitors over he may forevermore be the dog people don’t get to spend time with (guests tend to be no good at following “ignore the dog” rules, which is helpful to no one involved), who has to stay upstairs with a frozen marrowbone or spend a weekend at daycare, and that’s okay. When he feels safe and comfortable, he’s a joy. He is so devoted to his people, and he loves to play at the dog park and daycare when he’s in an off leash, neutral setting. It’s a different world for him, but we’re able to offer it, and the good quality of life he deserves. It took a long while to be okay accepting that, but he’s worth it.

    It can be hard to have a dog that isn’t naturally sociable, and no, she may never completely rid herself of the stranger danger, but if you continue to help her feel safe, she will continue to make progress, as evidenced by progress he has made in the last year. Fortunately, you do have other social pupperflies in your home that it’s kind of okay if Maggie isn’t!

    • Wow, Balton sounds a lot like Maggie, maybe even more extreme. To be honest, the reason we ended up “foster failing” with Maggie is largely due to the fact that I just didn’t trust anyone to understand her and always set her up for success the way I knew we would. Balton is very lucky to have you! And yes, I am thankful for my two other, more social pups!

  4. Tedasgo is so unconcerned with strangers, she just doesn’t have the time or the energy anymore to want new friends. In her past she was always happy to welcome someone new into the mix if the person was first approved by her Nic! Patrick is very unsure of anyone new to him that is taller than he is so children are always greeted with a happy dance. Tall men are particularly scarey to him. He is very unsure of most new things to him, not just people!

  5. Animal Behaviorists believe that a dog will establish how they handle people and other dogs and sights and sounds very early in life from the day they are born through the first 15 weeks or so into their life. This is a crucial time in their social development and often there is no social development or scary development as is most likely the case with Maggie. She may never be 100% comfortable with strangers or may take some time to get used to the same people over and over again. The good news is that you’ve got her in a safe and loving environment and you are working with her every day. One of the animal behaviorists noticed that one of her dogs was getting “weird” around men so for the next six months, whenever she introduced a new man to her dog, each man gave the dog a tennis ball which, of course, the dog loved. Maybe when your brothers come over they can give Maggie a special toy that she will only get to play with when they are around so she associates good things with them.

    • {Palm slap to the forehead} How did I not think of this?!?! I am absolutely going to start this the very next time they come over. Unfortunately all toys are scary to Maggie, but they can certainly give her some treats. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this!

  6. I love your descriptions of their views on strangers! Kaya and Norman are definitely most like Buddy and I have to work on keeping them calm around new people and visitors. Norman loves to lick feet and flop onto his back, while Kaya has only just learned not to jump up. Norman tries to meet every person in a store when I take him shopping, like he’s ticking them off his list. I think they would happily let burglars through the front door:/

    • Gosh, sounds like someone forgot to tell Kaya and Norman that they are supposed to be vicious pit bulls! (Kidding of course!) Your two are so beyond adorable that I imagine no one complains too much if they get a little lick or jump 🙂

  7. Melvin has jumped into cars of strangers. His philosophy, open door = come on in! Jake is much more choosy. He will either watch and seemingly ignore or he’ll scurry around and grunt in a way that seems to say ‘get out’.

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