Teach Your Dog To Greet Guests Like a Pro
When you have guests over, what does your dog do? Do they impress all your friends and make you proud? Or, do they bark, jump, and leave you feeling embarrassed that you just can’t get them to calm down?
Our dogs are loved members of our families, and none of us want to shut them away in another room while we have company over. We want them to be able to be part of the memories and celebrations. But, having them harass our guests and cause trouble is no fun. Luckily, with a little practice and patience, all of our dog’s are capable of being cool, calm and collected when the doorbell rings.
Let’s start from the beginning.
Teach a place command
If your dog doesn’t already know a “place” command, you’re missing out on an incredibly versatile skill!
When I tell my dog “place”, what I mean is “Get all four paws on this object and stay there (preferably with a calm state of mind)”. The object can be anything - a dog bed, a cot, a large rock, bench, etc. I prefer the object to be slightly raised off the ground so that it has a very clear boundary that ensures my dog will understand where he needs to stay.
“Place” is one of the most valuable skills I’ve taught my dogs. We use it while hiking to let other people (and dogs) pass, when out and about in public, to maintain control when loose dogs run up to us, while waiting for their dinner … the possibilities are endless.
But, for today we’re going to use it to help work on impulse control at the ever-exciting front door.
Ideally, when your doorbell rings you should be able to ask your dog to go to their “place”, and then answer the door to let your guests in while your dog waits patiently for their turn to say hello. But, they won’t be able to do this right away, so we need to practice.
I’d recommend putting a dog bed or cot somewhere near your front door. You want it to be close enough that you can keep an eye on them and guide them back if they step off. As they get better, you can move it farther away.
First, you want to teach them the command if they don’t already know it. Then, strengthen the command by practicing impulse control and duration. Practice around food, toys, friends, as you walk away, and while you’re doing something that takes a few minutes, like making lunch. After their “place” command is reliable around those smaller distractions - it’s time to bring out the big guns and practice with the front door.
Practice having them hold “place” while you walk out the front door without them, and walk back in…… Always use a leash if your dog tends to make a run for it. Safety is always our #1 priority and we don’t want to take any chances.
Have a roommate or family member ring your doorbell and practice having your dog “place” with the excitement of the sound.
Your goal is to show them the “picture” of sitting on their place around the door as often as you can, and with as many variations as you can.
Make the doorbell as boring as possible.
For most of us, the only time the doorbell rings is when someone else rings it. For our dogs this means something is happening each and every time the doorbell rings. Maybe it’s exciting. Maybe it’s scary. Maybe it’s the pizza delivery guy. Maybe it’s an armed intruder. Maybe it's grandma. The truth is, your dog just doesn’t know. They probably weren’t expecting someone, like you were. And no matter who it is, something is happening.
What this means is that we need to take away the doorbell's meaning. Rather than getting worked up every time they hear it, we want it to be just another boring part of the day. To do this, ring the doorbell (or knock) randomly throughout the day. You don’t want to make the mistake of ringing the doorbell when you get home from work as you walk in, as that adds excitement to it. Ring the doorbell when absolutely nothing is happening.
You may need some help with this. Ask a neighbor to help you out by stopping by to ring the bell and leave (essentially playing ding-dong-ditch) once or twice a day. Have them give you a heads up before they do, so that when the bell rings, you’re prepared to completely ignore it. The key is to act like you didn’t even hear it. You want to show your dog that the sound means absolutely nothing.
Prepare Your Guests.
Usually when we have guests over, the first thing they do is walk in and happily greet the dog. As a dog-person, I tend to surround myself with other dog-people. I’m sure you do too.
Unfortunately, while our dogs are practicing their impulse control, having people stare at them and talk to them doesn’t really help. It can actually make their job a lot harder.
Every now and then we may have people stop by unexpectedly. But, most of the time we know when someone is on their way. Before your guests arrive, let them know you’re working on training and ask them to ignore your dog when they walk in. Warn them that your dog will be excited and ask them to resist the urge to speak to your dog. Tell them that once your dog is calm, you’ll gladly let them say hi.
Use a Leash.
We all use leashes when we go on a walk, but most of us forget that the leash is a tool we can use inside as well.
When our dogs get too excited, our words can go in one ear and out the other. We can use our leash to guide them when they're having trouble focusing, We can also use our leash to prevent them from practicing bad behaviors (like jumping). If you’ve ever tried to hold onto your dog’s collar as they pull, lunge, bark, and jump… you know how much of a struggle it can be. Utilizing your leash can make it much less confrontational and help them be successful in making better choices.
Prevent Bad Behaviors by Managing Them When You Can’t Help Them.
We’re human. We work hard to train our dogs and give them the best life possible. But, we can’t give them all of our attention 100% of the time.
Most of the things our dogs do at the door (the things we don’t want them to do) are rewarding to them. For example, most dogs jump on people because they want attention. And most people react to being jumped on by putting our hands on the dog to coax them off of us while talking to them. Although the words we say are usually along the lines of “get down”, all our dog hears is us giving them our sole attention while being pet. Of course they’re going to continue to jump on us!
When you can pay enough attention to your dog to work on their manners and hold them accountable, by all means practice. But, when you can’t, prevent the bad behaviors from being practiced by putting your dog in their crate or in another room before your guests arrive.
Just like with us humans, you can’t break a bad habit by continuing to practice it.
Ideally, here’s what your guest greeting routine should look like.
You know your guest should be arriving around 1:00. About a half an hour before they’re due to arrive, you let your dog out to go potty and then prepare by putting your leash near the door or putting it on them to let them drag around. You’ve already let your guest know that your dog has a history of getting excited when people come over and you’re working hard on teaching them manners. You’ve let them know that when they arrive your dog will be on “place” and needs to stay there until they are calm and you release them to say hello. You’ve also asked them to help your dog out by not looking at or speaking to them, as you know this makes it harder for them to be calm.
When the doorbell rings, you tell your dog to get on their “place” by the door, and you put their leash on so you can help them if they struggle with excitement. Answer the door and let your guests in. Hold your dog accountable for holding their “place” command while your guests come in and get settled. Once your dog has reached a calm state of mind, calmly let them off place to say hello. Voila, you’re well on your way to a well-mannered dog.