When the doorbell rings, what goes on at your home? Do your canine companions become a gaggle of canine lunatics? When friends visit, do they make a beeline for the dogs – no matter what signals your pampered pooch sends?
In this post, we’ll give you suggestions for what to do if your canine companions aren’t at their best when meeting and greeting unfamiliar people or visitors to your home.
But before we get into suggestions, let’s first pause to see things from a dog’s point of view. Can you imagine how you’d feel if you were standing in line at the grocery store–suddenly a stranger walks right up to you and loudly exclaims “well hello there!”, wraps you in a big bear hug and plants a wet one on your cheek! Unless you’re really mellow, you’d be some combination of startled, surprised, or scared. Yet many of us expect all dogs to accept any unfamiliar person who approaches calmly and comfortably.
It’s important to remember that dogs (and cats) know who they know. Even a reptile can recognize individuals. I used to pet sit for Elsa, a 4 ft. long Iguana who hated me, and tried to knock my head off with her tail every time I went to care for her. She was sweet and even cuddly to the gentleman she lived with … at least to the extent an Iguana can be cuddly…. but to me, not so much.
Rescue dogs that I’ve placed years ago clearly remember me when we meet again…. so we’ve got to start this discussion with the assumption that your pooch keeps a running list of “known” humans.
There are many, many reasons your dogs may be less than gracious hosts when unfamiliar humans arrive at their home. No matter what the cause of a problem, I have a mantra when it comes to helping people modify their pet’s problem behaviors…
Don’t let your pet practice any behavior that you do not want to continue.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a porpoise, a panther, a person, or a companion pet… we all get better at behaviors we practice. SO, all advice starts with …. don’t let your problem greeter practice being a bad greeter. If your dog snaps at strangers and you continue to allow that behavior, they’ll become very good at getting people to go away by snapping at them.
Six Simple Steps to Encourage Good Dogs to be Great Greeters:
1. A little bit of planning goes a long way. Before company arrives, plan a walk and potty break for your pack, 30-60 minutes before guests arrive.
2. Each dog in the family should have their own “bedroom” or space, consisting of a comfortable crate or bed to call their own. Each “bedroom” should be in an area that is physically separate from your main living space.
3. Provide something enjoyable for your dogs to do while in their “bedrooms”. Once your dogs have had a chance to potty, and shortly before your guests arrive, confine each dog to their “bedroom”, leaving them something to chew on- a marrow bone, pupsicle, or favorite toy.
4. It’s OK to skip the doorbell. If doorbells trigger your dogs to bark, put a note on your doorbell asking your friends to just come on in.
5. Get guests onboard to help you train better behaviors. Once all your guests have arrived and settled in, you may want to let some or all of your pack join in the fun. But first, you must give your guests instructions for interacting with the dogs… particularly dogs needing to improve their greeting skills. Ask all guests, no matter how hard it may be, to completely ignore the dogs- literally pretend like they’re not there.
6. Humans can quickly be taught new tricks. Have a bowl of your dog’s very favorite treats accessible to your guests. Instruct your guests that if a dog approaches calmly and politely, they may drop a treat near the dog. However, and most important, they need to continue to avoid direct eye contact or other interaction with the dog. Over time, even shy dogs learn that humans are really just XL treat dispensers. If a guest is a regular visitor, your pampered pooch may even, eventually, add them to their “list” of known people.
A Few More Tips for Responsible Pet Parents:
DO pull out of the mix any dog that can’t settle down quickly after being allowed to join guests. Calmly call (or carry) your over-excited pooch back to their bedroom. They can get another chance later. Just one rambunctious dog can keep the whole pack on high alert!
DO NOT allow any aggressive dog, or dogs with a history of biting people to be around visitors at all. We can assist you individually at Noah’s Ark to develop a plan for dogs that have a “felony” on their records.
DO allow a shy or timid dog their safe space. If your shy dog is still visibly uncomfortable, even when being ignored, gently take her back to her “bedroom” where she’ll feel safe and relaxed.
DO NOT let a dog out of a crate until they’re relaxed and quiet. In order to join guests, each dog must start out in a calm mental state.
DO limit the number of canine guests permitted to mingle when you have visitors– especially if you’re trying to teach better manners. If you have a big pack, work with a couple at a time.
What about unexpected visitors at the door?
If the approach of the FedEx truck, or a UPS driver in uniform sends your dog “to the moon”… try this:
Run each dog to their “bedroom” or crate with an excited voice and a “let’s get a treat” cue. The first time or two you may have to carry each dog to their crate and throw in a treat, but believe me, you’ll soon have your dogs running to their bedrooms at the sound of the doorbell. You can always practice this “trick” in advance with friends so that you don’t keep anyone waiting!
What about a one time visitor like a repair man?
If you’ve got one or more dogs that don’t greet strangers well, the same strategies apply as with known friends. Put dogs up in their “bedroom” to physically stop them from practicing undesirable behaviors like barking and lunging.
What about Halloween Trick or Treat Visitors?
If you’ve got a dog that stays super excited all evening by Halloween activity…. don’t fight it, plan ahead. Rather than yell at the dog every time the door bell rings, plan ahead but putting your dog in a separate part of the house so that they don’t repeatedly practice a behavior you want to “extinguish”. Ideally, instead of feeding dinner, get a big bison bone from Noah’s Ark and give your favorite pooch their very own Halloween treat!