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TL;DR;

Young dog is so attracted to other people that it becomes unsafe. He rushes to greet them, apparently expecting reward, and we have trouble controlling him. What can we do, apart from isolating him from people?

Longer version

We got this puppy from a shelter when he was quite young, about 8 weeks old. He's now approaching 6 months. He's reportedly a German shepherd x husky, quite large and strong for the age. Normally he is compliant (again, within the bounds of his age), understands and follows basic commands.

We live in a very dog-friendly neighbourhood; there are about two dozen dogs on our block alone. Everybody here are used to dogs on the street, and many are friendly/attracted to them. The majority, especially those who own dogs, follow the usual courtesies: they ask for permission to pet the dog or give him a treat, and give him space. A few, however, are too friendly; they come right over, start hugging the puppy, dole out treats, and generally create a commotion. Our pup was subject to such behaviour from the very first days we brought him home.

Initially we didn't try to prevent this from happening, trying not to alienate the neighbours and provide extra socialisation for the dog. However, it's now becoming problematic, as the pup expects almost everyone he meets to give him treats, hug him, and dance around all happy, to the point where he's ready to dash across the street if he thinks he sees someone familiar (which is often not the case).

We've realised our mistake, and we're trying to limit the enthusiasm of the people we meet on our walks, at the cost of making a few enemies out of the former "friends" of our pup. However, the dog is still too attracted to those he already knows, as well as other, unfamiliar people.

Is there anything we can do make our puppy to ignore/be wary of people he meets on the street? The usual game of "what's this?", "look at me", "here's a treat" doesn't work when he gets too excited and wants to run towards the (potential) source of good things.

Obviously, we don't want him to be aggressive or scared of people, just a little bit apprehensive or suspicious. Also obviously, we can't ask random folks on the street to stage performances and wave sticks/throw stones at him.

What are our options?


This question seems related, but the answer is the opposite of what we're trying to achieve.


I'm sorry, I couldn't resist adding a picture, but it might partially explain people's affection for this guy when he was younger.

enter image description here

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You need to train the people instead of the dog. As you correctly realized, your dog only reacts quite naturally to his environment. Meeting other people was always rewarding to him. If you manage to remove the reward from the situation and make it boring, he'll adapt his own behavior.

You should speak to the people who always greet him and explain to them that your dog needs special training and that they can help you with the training. If those people are children, explain to them that your dog is in school now and he needs to learn instead of play, so they are not allowed to play with him on a walk.

What you expect from people meeting your dog is:

  • Don't look at the dog
  • Don't speak to the dog
  • Don't pet or feed the dog.

In short: people should completely ignore him and just continue walking down the street as if the dog isn't there at all. You should continue walking down the street as if the other person isn't there. Make the encounter as boring as possible.

This training will take a long time. People tend to "forget" instructions they don't like, so you might have to remind them whenever you see them from afar. You could also put a dog vest or a bandana in a flashy color on him to signal when you're training your dog and when it's allowed to approach him.

Since your dog is very excited every time he sees someone, the first step of this training will take a long time. If a dog is overexcited or scared, their brain shuts down the higher brain functions that are needed to learn. When he manages to stay calmer, he's able to learn much faster.

Once you reach the stage where he stays calm enough, you can start talking to the people you meet, but they must still ignore your dog. Maybe first stay on different sides of the street, then later (when your dog stays calm) they can come to you and you can talk for a while, ignoring your dog the whole time.


Some background:

In theory your dog would learn faster if he got somehow punished for running to strangers. But the situation isn't as clear-cut in the brain of the dog. He may misunderstood the reason why he's getting punished or he may misunderstand that the people are attacking him. Punishment can lead to more problems than you have now.

On the other hand, rewarding wanted behavior also accelerates learning. But which behavior do you want to reward? If your dog pulls on the lead as soon as he sees another person, the only behavior you can reward is the pulling.

If your dog is obedient enough that you can order him to sit down and wait after he sees someone on the street that is the ideal behavior to reward. But from your description I doubt your dog is in any state of mind to follow commands in that situation. But it's always a good idea to teach sit and wait to any dog to increase their patience.

If none of the above are valid options, the only alternative is to remove the reward (pets and treats) from the encounters. Unfortunately that way it will take longer for your dog to learn that encounters are boring.

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  • Not the answer I was hoping to hear :) but I'm accepting it since it seems to be the only solution.
    – mustaccio
    Aug 31, 2022 at 14:08

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