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A shy and unfriendly dog can make interactions difficult.

I want to share a secret with you.

For a long time, I wanted to be more… outgoing in high school, maybe just a tiny bit more popular.

Unfortunately, making and keeping friends didn’t come naturally to me. And, no matter how hard I tried, I always found a way to revert to my previous ‘not so friendly’ self. 

But dogs aren’t like us, right?

As ‘man’s best friend’ they should be outgoing, friendly, and easily warm up to strangers.

So when you have a  dog that has none of the aforementioned qualities, how do you teach him to be friendlier? To be less anxious around strangers and visitors?

In this article, you’ll learn the foolproof way to turn an unfriendly dog into a social butterfly. But first, let us see what is considered unfriendly behavior in dogs.

What is Considered Unfriendly Behavior in Dogs?

Unfriendly behavior in dogs is not just limited to aggressiveness towards other dogs, animals, and/or people. Unfriendliness can also come off as a lack of interest, anxiety, or fear of other animals or humans.  

Understanding the cause of your dog’s unfriendly behavior can help you support his well-being as well as protect the people around him – in case he becomes aggressive.

So, what causes dogs to display unfriendly behaviors?

Why Do Dogs Display Unfriendly Behaviors?

Dogs display different behaviors for various reasons. Only by understanding what causes your dog’s unfriendly behavior can you be able to teach him to be less so. Here various reasons why some dogs are unfriendly:

1. Medical Issue.

A dog that is in pain or suffering from an illness will display more defensive (aka ‘unfriendly’) behaviors compared to a healthy dog.

This may come off as increased aggression or lack of interest in other animals, children, and adults. His concern is that other animals or humans may aggravate the pain he is feeling or they might take advantage of his weakness to harm him.

2. Poorly Managed Temperament.

We do not believe in breed discrimination – yes, some individual dogs are more temperamental than others, but that is as far as it goes.

What we do understand, however, is that a dog’s temperament plays an important role in its overall development.

Just as we have humans that are prone to anger but have learned to keep it under control on one hand. Others that flare up at the slightest provocation on the other hand. And numerous shades of passive-aggressive people in between.

No dog is “born bad” or “aggressive”, however, ALL dogs can become aggressive and display unhealthy behaviors if they are not properly trained and socialized.

3. Isolation.

Dogs that were (or are) kept in a chain or isolated from interacting with other dogs or new people are likely to have unfriendly attributes.

4. Improper Socialization.

Early socialization plays a huge part in shaping a dog’s behavior. However, not all dogs have been in their parent’s care since puppyhood.

There are lots of poorly socialized dogs in shelters across the country. It is neither the fault of the dog or the current owner that the adopted dog was not properly socialized by the previous owner.

I had a dog that would howl and lunge at an approaching dog or stranger not because he was aggressive, but because he was a nervous wreck – a little bit scared and anxious because he had not yet learned how to interact with strangers.

Over time, careful exposure and lots of love helped him.

5. Abuse and Neglect.

Dogs are like children – they see the world as this… magical place where everyone is good.

However, exposure to abuse and neglect quickly changes their perception.

If you have difficulty getting your new dog to ‘warm-up’ to you or strangers, maybe he experienced some harsh treatments, was bullied by other dogs, or didn’t receive enough care.

This can affect his behavior irrespective of what you do to help him unlearn, especially when he finds himself in similar situations.

6. Fear, Nervousness, Anxiety.

Not all dogs are masters of social interactions.

Some so-called ‘unfriendly’ dogs are just scared of social interaction – again, this can be trained out of them or, at the very least, kept under control.

A dog can display aggressive behavior whether on or off his leash. This could be the result of untampered excitement, anxiety and fear, frustration, or pain.

And not all dogs will welcome a stranger (animal or human) running heads on towards them and invading their space – especially when they are confined and cannot escape.

This is one of the reasons why good dogs bite!

7. No training.

Some ‘unfriendly’ dog behaviors are simply acts that we think are wrong, but they (the dogs) do not know so.

Put yourself in a dog’s shoe (or paws), imagine you didn’t know that jumping on people to greet them is inappropriate. All you know is that whenever you jump up to greet someone, you get yelled at, spanked, or pushed away.

After some time you will start ignoring people and growl at them when they come too close for fear of being yelled at or smacked.

However, you would not get smacked or yelled at if you didn’t jump on people.

So you see, teaching your dog correct manners will improve his self-confidence and he might start being nicer.

8. Picking up on nonverbal cues.

Dogs are very perceptive creatures. They cannot talk and they understand little of what you say to them, so they have to read nonverbal cues.

And that includes picking up on how you behave around certain types of people or dogs.

When you are uncomfortable around certain people or animals, you might be giving off signals that tell your dog something is wrong, like a change in pace, stiffer body movement, closed stance, or increased tension on the leash.

This causes a change in your dog’s behavior. Or have you not noticed that when you are happy your dog is happy too?

How do you help an unfriendly dog become more friendly?

How to Help an Unfriendly Dog.

Photo by Jeffrey F Lin on Unsplash

1. Get Your Dog Checked by The Vet.

First off, you need to be certain that your dog has no health issues.

Some common sources of health issues that can cause a dog to display unfriendly behaviors include dental disease, soft tissue injuries or infections, abdominal pain, or arthritis.

Neurological issues such as loss of smell, sight or hearing, and cognitive decline can also make dogs less friendly.

A medical examination will rule out or treat underlying medical conditions that might be causing unfriendly behaviors. And, this can only be done by scheduling a visit to the vet.

2. Understand The Situation.

If the vet has cleared your dog of any health issue, the next thing you have to do is re-evaluate the situations in which your dog behaves unfriendly. Is he unfriendly with everyone (including you) and other animals?

You need to know this because not all dogs behave the same in all circumstances. Some dogs may be perfectly fine in the car or at home, with a trusted person, or might be fine with everyone (animal inclusive) after proper introductions.

You also need to recall when the behavior started: has he always been unfriendly or is it a recent behavior? What changed between then? Did a new person come or did his favorite person move away?

The answers to these questions will help you solve your dog’s unfriendliness.

3. Minimize Stressors.

Stress can make anyone do some terrible things that they later regret, even the professionals.

Dogs feel stressed too!

Unfortunately, they do not know how to get rid of that stress – I doubt they even know that it exists.

However, you can help your dog deal with his stressors by giving him a personal space to retreat to when things get too much to bear. A quiet spot where the dog can retire to rest his head does wonders to a dog’s stress levels.

But, if it were that easy none of us would be stressed, right?

You also have to identify and get rid of his stressors. If playing with children wears him out, then reduce the time he spends with them. Get rid of the loud, disturbing noise or move him to another room where there is less noise. Do not let your dog stay alone for too long. Etc.

A thunder shirt or calming pheromones can also help put your dog at ease. Regular exercise and a calming dog bed also work wonders on doggy stress.

4. Gradually Work On His Fear.

You must manage a dog’s fear of strangers (humans and animals) carefully in order not to worsen his phobia. The reason is that dogs have different reactions when they’re afraid.

One dog may retreat to a corner or hide behind his owner when a stranger approaches. Another may growl, snap, or air bite just for the stranger to keep their distance.

Teaching a dog the proper way to handle fear takes time and consistent training. And, trust me, poor training is worse than no training. If you know you won’t be up for it, then by all means get the help of a behaviorist!

5. Let Visitors Know What to Expect.

When meeting someone new, let the person know what your dog is like and tell them to ignore the dog.

For your dog’s safety and that of the stranger, they should not make any attempt to pet the dog. Heck, they should avoid eye contact with the dog for most of the meeting.

Have the visitor toss some tasty treats on the floor close to your dog 15-20 minutes into the visit. Do this consistently with different faces and your dog will slowly begin to associate strangers with rewards and he’ll behave better.

Always allow your dog to approach (and smell) a stranger on his terms. If someone tries to approach the dog tell them to stop – dogs have teeth and they use those when they feel threatened.

You must make sure a dog doesn’t attack someone out of fear. So, if you notice growling or whining (no matter how subtle), then let your dog go to his comfortable spot to relax until he feels like interacting with the visitor – or not.

Depending on the severity of your dog’s phobia, it might take several visits and multiple controlled exposures to the feared situation for your dog to start warming up to it.

So, don’t force anything!

6. Pharmaceuticals?

Depending on how severe your dog’s unfriendly behavior is and the implication of such behavior (is he at risk of hurting himself or others), your dog may need medications.

However, you need to first discuss your dog’s behavior with your vet. They’ll tell you what medication to use (if it is even necessary) or recommend a behaviorist who specializes in behavioral problems such as unfriendliness in dogs to help you.

Before we move to point #7, I have a small request.

If you’ve enjoyed this article so far, feel free to share with your friends – you never know who might need it.

Thank you!

7. Try Obedience Training.

As mentioned in the previous point, consider getting the help of a certified dog behaviorist or trainer. They will work with you on your pet’s fear or anxiety around strangers. This is very helpful in managing the behavior and reducing stress.

And lastly,

Be calm!

As we previously mentioned, dogs pick up on non-verbal cues. You might unconsciously tense up or tighten your hold on the dog leash because you are expecting your dog to jump on strangers or a pack of dogs.

Try to stay relaxed, upbeat, and friendly when meeting new people. Just like shy people, some dogs take time to fully accept a stranger into their life. So don’t force it as this can result in fear-biting.

With simple commands such as ‘sit’, ‘stay’, and ‘leave it’ your dog can learn to remain calm in most situations, which will help you stay calm too.


Photo by Joe Caione on Unsplash

Unfriendly dogs can be challenging for owners to deal with, but with patience, help from vets and trainers, you and your dog can learn to manage his unfriendly behaviors.

Because trust me, it is either that or they will be back at the shelter where they will most likely be euthanized.

You don’t want that!