How to Stop Dogs From Growling at Strangers in 3 Easy Steps

Follow our step-by-step guide to train your dog or puppy to stop growling at strangers or people passing by rewarding habits of good behavior.


Aggression is very serious, especially in larger dog breeds that could potentially do damage with the smallest bite. From the little information I have on your actual situation, I’ll give you my opinion on puppy growling at strangers – what’s going on and how to possibly fix it in 3 easy steps.

How To Make Your Dog Stop Growling

Step 1

First, you need to “prime” the clicker – click and treat, click and treat. Do this until you feel that your dog understands that the click means a treat will follow. Read up on clicker training to understand more of what it’s all about.

Next, walk into safe situations that you know will trigger the growl, maybe at a park where there are a lot of different kinds of people, as well as children.

When your dog shows his teeth and/or growls, you will call his name – experiment with calling it sharply or sweetly – whatever works. When he turns to look at you (stopping the growling), you will click, treat and praise. Good boy!

TIP: If it’s hard to get your to turn his head because he’s focused on a stranger, show him that you have a treat. Use a smelly and yummy treat that’s sure to get his attention. If you can get him to turn all the way around to face you, even better. Make it fun, call him like you’re starting a game, squeak a toy, anything you have to do to distract him for an instant.

A big misconception that I deal with all the time is people thinking that treating a dog after a “bad” behavior reinforces the behavior. Well, sure, it does – but in this case, you are clicking and treating the dog for turning her head toward you and stopping growling at a stranger. Dogs connect the reward with the last behavior they perform.

Step 2

Of course, if your dog is brilliant (and many dogs are), he will eventually connect his growl to his name being called and the turn of her head, then getting a treat. Because of this, the second stage of training this behavior out of him (which you will start as soon as he understands the first part, which should be very quickly) is to call his name and then ask to perform an additional behavior before she gets the click and treat, like a sit or a down.

Step 3

In this stage, you will ask for even more – first the turn, then the sit, then maybe a paw shake. What you’re trying to do is build the dog’s confidence around strangers. Dogs get excited when they complete a task well and are praised for it, and their self-esteem rises.

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Giving a puppy good experiences

These mini training sessions will distract your puppy from their anxiety and give them something positive to focus on, something that your pup can feel good about – success, treats and her owner’s praise. Play ball in the park with him (on leash), show a good time around strangers and, most of all, show him that he doesn’t have to focus on them.

Eventually, you will start experimenting with strangers approaching your puppy, petting him, taking his leash and so on. Click, treat and praise. Don’t rush into this, because if you’re afraid of your dog biting someone, then you’re transmitting that vibe from your end of the leash to his end, and that’s a recipe for disaster. Wait until your puppy seems relaxed and is doing well with ignoring strangers. If he’s relaxed, you’ll be relaxed and the strangers will be relaxed. It sounds very “new age-y,” but it’s true.

It’s well known that dogs pick up our energy. If you tense up when a stranger approaches, knowing that your dog is going to growl, he feels you tense up and growls. The energy feeds on itself. When a stranger approaches, take a deep breath and lower your vibe. Focus on relaxing. Do a two-second meditation. Your puppy will feel the change and his anxiety will diminish. You’ve got to do all of this before the growling becomes habituated – then it will be much more challenging to deal with.

Ideal puppy’s Behavior

What I’d like to see is a dog or a puppy who sits calmly at your side whenever you stop walking. This way, if you’re talking to someone, your dog will understand that he must sit and wait, that it’s not a stressful situation where anyone is in danger and that he’s not to try to be the boss and make the stranger leave. Your puppy needs confidence in himself, and confidence in you as an owner that you have everything under control.

Many puppies aren’t truly being aggressive. They more likely to be anxious, lacking confidence and feeling out his world the only way he knows how. It’s up to you to show your dog a different way to channel his feelings. Tell him no, he cannot go to the mall with those older dogs, but he’s welcome to have a nice slice of hot dog for his attention and a sit.

More On The “fear imprint period”

There are stages of puppyhood that are important to recognize, and this behavior might just be part of her natural emotional growth. It’s important to know that at around 9 months old, dogs go through a second “fear imprint period” (the first being around 8 to 12 weeks). The second “fear imprint period” isn’t a time when a pup becomes fearful for no reason – it’s a time when experiences that frighten the dog can become imprinted for life. For example, a puppy in the second fear imprint stage that is frightened by popping balloons may become overly afraid of the sight of balloons for her entire life.

The second fear imprint period is tied to hormones – basically, your dog is becoming a teenager (in human terms), and you know how teenagers can be. A kid is happily playing with Barbies one minute, and the next she’s sulking in her room and obsessing about going to the mall with some older boys who don’t go to her school. Strangers? OMG. Un-cool! Talk to the paw. Or whatever the kids say these days.

This imprint period is also an important time for an owner to introduce new things and experiences to a dog and make them a normal part of a dog’s life. This includes strangers. It’s possible that your dog has started her second fear imprint period, and has become a grouchy tween that’s starting to become intolerant of new people.

It’s eminently satisfying for your dog when someone backs off when she growls, reinforcing the behavior. Hey, growling works! I’m wondering what you do when she growls. Correct her? Apologize for her? Stop my puppy from growling? Pat her and tell her it’s going to be okay? All of those things are intuitive behaviors on our part, but none will work to solve the growling issue, and may only reinforce it, as you may have learned already.

Puppy Socialization – An Important Part of Puppy Training

Part of training a new puppy is taking the time to get him used to being around new people, places, and animals. We’ve all seen shy dogs who are scared of their own shadows.

Puppy socialization is an important tool for preventing this dog behavior problem. Since a fearful dog is much more likely to bite a someone or attack another animal, it’s important not to neglect socializing him.

Prevent this problem with these five puppy training tips. Time spent now will help your new friend to grow up to be a happy, friendly pet.

Don’t Bring Him Home Too Soon

Avoid the temptation of bringing that little ball of fluff home as soon as he hits six weeks of age. Puppies learn manners from their mom and from their littermates. A couple of extra weeks spent learning how to be a dog can make all the difference in your pet’s behavior as he grows up.

Stay In Control When Introducing Him To New Situations

You need to show your puppy that you’re the one in charge, especially when meeting someone new. If someone gets close enough to make your puppy hide behind you and growl, nicely ask that person to back off. This teaches your pup that you are the pack protector so that he doesn’t try to take on that role.

Ask Permission Before Letting Your New Puppy Greet Someone

Walking with your pup on a leash is a great way for him to experience new people and new places. Most people love puppies and are more than happy to stop and pet one. But remember that everyone loves dogs, so don’t allow your pup to just run up to somebody and jump on him.

This is also a great training opportunity for teaching him the sit-stay command, as well. He doesn’t greet anyone until you release him.

Watch out for small children. A small child may squeal or chase your pup, which may terrify him. Always be in control of the situation.

Don’t Soothe Him Or Coddle Him When He’s Scared

All you’re doing is reinforcing his fear. Talking to him soothingly or holding him makes him think there’s something to be scared of. If a little kid’s bothering him, make the kid stop. Your pup needs to know that, as the alpha dog, you will protect him.

What Signals Are You Sending?

Your companion is watching how you react to every situation, and he takes his cues from you. If you tense up whenever another person or dog approaches, he’ll tense up as well. Instead, show him how much you enjoy meeting new people, going new places, and doing new things.