Ask the AKC Behaviorist: Help! My Dog Growls and Barks at Strangers

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Pekingese dog picture

Pekie, Flickr

Meet Mary Burch, American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen Director and Paw Nation's new expert columnist addressing your questions on animal behavior. Dr. Burch has over 25 years of experience working with dogs and she is one of less than 50 Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists based in the United States. She is the author of ten books including the new official book on the AKC Canine Good Citizen Program, "Citizen Canine: 10 Essential Skills Every Well-Mannered Dog Should Know."

About five weeks ago, I adopted from an animal shelter a Pekingese who had been abandoned. The dog, Devon, who is 3 years old, is very lovable with me and is great with kids, but it took him about two weeks to finally stop barking and growling at my husband. Anytime someone new comes into the house, Devon barks constantly and growls. He also follows me around everywhere I go, and becomes very jealous if I pay attention to our cat or another person. I think someone must have hurt him in some way, or he has seen someone hurt another person, which is why he doesn't trust people. What can I do?

Much of the time, we don't know the history of shelter dogs. We don't have the benefit of knowing if anyone came into Devon's home and did something to upset him. So we work with what we do know, i.e. Devon doesn't like people coming into the home.

Devon may be protecting you or his territory, or he could be fearful of new people. How do your visitors act when they meet Devon? Sometimes, when a dog begins to bark or growl, the visitor goes out of his or her way to make friends with your dog. Some people will reach to pet the dog and others start talking in gushy baby talk. This is weird to the dog.

Try this as a method for getting Devon to meet a new person: Find a friend who is willing to help you, and describe the plan to them in advance. Start with a female friend if Devon reacts less strongly to women than to men. The person will come into the house, sit on the living room on the floor with her back against the couch. She should have a normal conversation with you, but not look at or talk to Devon. With most dogs, in a few minutes, they will approach and investigate the person on their own terms. Your friend should be very low-key and not attempt to quickly reach for Devon.

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