Does your dog go into crazy overdrive when guests come over? We see this often, with symptoms ranging from barking, growling, biting, hiding, demanding attention, jumping up and licking, to racing around showing off. It can be stressful both for you and your dog! Here are some tips to help you understand why they may be acting this way and how to help them behave calmly and politely around new people instead.
5 QUICK TIPS TO ADDRESS CRAZY VISITOR BEHAVIOUR – but remember to seek help if your dog’s behaviour is extreme. This is general advice.
- When the doorbell rings or when the visitor knocks, what is your own reaction? Are you relaxed and feeling positive and in control? If you are stressed or excited your dog is likely to copy! Show your dog there is nothing to be worried about and that you can and will handle the arrival of a guest (the scary threat here to kill you all or the exciting person here to give pats depending on your dog). Take your time – don’t rush to the door or try to nervously or angrily hush the dog or you’ll make things worse. They need to associate people coming over with positive calm vibes.
- Once you arrive at the door, send your dog away and back from the door. You need to “claim” your guest and prevent your dog from getting to them. Once they have already jumped or licked or nipped your guest it’s too late, you need to prevent it happening in the first place. Face your dog and challenge them to physically move back away from the door at least 2-3 metres. Think big – stand up tall and be calm and powerful. Do this and wait for them to accept and settle BEFORE you open the door. Be patient and insist.
- Ask your guest to say hello to the rest of the family first and save your dog’s greeting til last. Ask your guest to greet them calmly (good luck). Learning patience and “waiting your turn” is a universal skill that your dog should be practising in many situations not just at the door. (This may be a clue!) When your dog is waiting calmly and politely, invite them to say hello calmly and politely. It shouldn’t be up to your dog to enter a guest’s personal space on their own terms. They need clarity on this initially or they will have no idea when it is appropriate and learn bad habits. If they revert to silly behaviour once they are allowed to say hello, firmly send them back out, wait for them to settle behind you (not in front of you) and start over. If you have an aggressive and/or anxious dog, don’t let guests approach them (keep your dog behind you) and don’t force them to endure pats. I’d hate it if someone touched me without my permission. It goes both ways. Insist on polite behaviour but maintain the distance. There’s no rule that says “One must be touched”. I’ve been in plenty of social situations that I have thoroughly enjoyed when I haven’t touched anyone or been made a fuss of – your dog should be ok with this too. In any case, you should be making these decisions regardless of whether your dog is friendly or not.
- If your dog doesn’t have enough self control to do what you ask on their own, use a lead! Think of it like holding a young child’s hand near a busy road – essential until they no longer need support. Fade the lead away when it is no longer needed and good habits have been established.
- The symptoms are what we normally want to stop – barking, spinning, jumping etc – but these behaviours stem from an overstimulated, dominant or anxious mind. Focus on slowing things down and on helping them reach a calm stable state of mind. Saying sit or using treats won’t calm a dog’s mind or impress them. Nice manners and good social skills aren’t achieved through teaching dogs mechanical actions or bribing them, they are achieved through gaining their respect and trust and having a good attitude. Loving effective leadership and taking control of certain situations in a calm and assertive way will help your dog relax, feel safe and want to co-operate.
If you want to read more about this I’ve explained more below 🙂
Interestingly, hyperactivity is often misinterpreted as excitement or happiness, when in fact, it is an extremely common side effect of anxiety. We find many owners misinterpret this and accidentally reward it. Start your training for this early, even if it doesn’t seem like much of problem yet. It may be cute to see a puppy bouncing all over the place and jumping up but we encourage you to start building the habits you want later NOW.
If your dog is happy to see someone, that is healthy and normal! We’re not saying to stop them being happy to see new people. It’s when they become over the top that it isn’t healthy. A good way to work out where this line is, is to observe your dog in this situation and see if they are mentally relaxed and able to calm down easily and quickly – within a few seconds. A balanced dog can be very physically active and happy but will still be mentally relaxed and have good self control. If your dog seems mentally tense, or is unable or unwilling to calm down quickly and easily, I would suggest you make some changes. The skills they are lacking in this situation, such as self control and respect for personal space, will almost certainly be needed elsewhere also.
If you feel you and your dog would benefit from in-home dog training, Get in touch with SitDropStay in your area.
Ask yourself – does your dog actually have enough self-control to self-pacify (calm themselves down without help)? It is up to you (as their guardian) to help them learn this – unfortunately, it doesn’t magically develop all by itself. I like to think of self-control as a muscle in their brain; you need to use it regularly for it to stay “fit”. Repetition, consistency and effort is involved. You need to practise with and support your dog – at home and when out – to resist temptation, learn patience, and that just because they want something, doesn’t mean they can necessarily have it. Teach them to accept that you make decisions for them sometimes and that this is not negotiable. I cannot overemphasise how important it is to help your dog get a handle on this. Similar to raising children – if they don’t learn this early on, life can becomes a series of tantrums and is very stressful for all involved. You wouldn’t allow your children to jump all over your guests, pull their clothes or to interrupt and demand attention, so don’t let your dog. Your dog should be able to wait politely until everyone else has been greeted (all the humans including children), and once they have shown good manners then they can be invited to come and say hello, have a pat and a cuddle etc.
Does your dog respect personal space in general? This is a foundation skill that I urge you to establish and maintain. I encourage you to teach your dog not to enter someone else’s personal space unless they are calm, and they receive an invitation. Ask your dog to stay right back from your guests until they are calm and wait to be invited over to say hello. They will learn quickly that the more quickly they show manners they faster they are rewarded and included. Be consistent.
On the flip side, are you allowing or encouraging your guests to enter your dog’s personal space when they haven’t been invited by your dog? This is a two way street – be mindful that this can be seen as rude, scary or inappropriate by many dogs. Personal space is really important to dogs just as it is to us, and some need a lot more than others. It is particularly important to ask your guests to leave your dog alone if they are nervous or scared. Offering them treats and trying to be liked or accepted by being “nice” is unnatural and suspicious to dogs and will usually make things worse. Show your dog that you are willing and able to control who enters their personal space or they may feel pressured to create theses boundaries themselves. If you had a 2 year old child with you, would you let a stranger just walk over and touch them? The trust your dog has in you needs to be earned.
How do you feel when you let guests in to your home? Whether you realise it or not, your own behaviour is constantly sending messages to your dog. Your dog will begin to form associations with the energy that is created here, beginning from the second the doorbell rings or someone knocks. Many dogs know we are expecting someone even before this. Work on being relaxed and powerful when greeting guests so your dog can feel secure and understand that you are in control. Don’t rush around, stress out and yell at the dog even if they’re playing up or you’ll most likely cause your dog to think the guest is the reason for the stress. Even stressing about how tidy the house is or the particular feelings you have for each guest can affect this! How you feel is how your dog connects the dots.
Take note of the body language as the guest enters. If your dog is physically in front of you and is the first point of contact, then you are accidentally communicating 2 things – that they have a decision to make about the guest, and they are also more important in the hierarchy as they will be receiving acknowledgement/attention before you do. Once you are at the door, send them back! Your dog should learn to wait well BEHIND you as the guest comes inside, and until they are calm and invited by you to come forward to say hello. Your ability to ‘guard’ your guest speaks volumes about who you are to your dog. Think of it as a great opportunity to impress them.
Allow your dog to feel they are helping. Dogs love having a job and feeling valued, so turn answering the door into a structured routine where your dog can predict what to do and feel appreciated. When someone arrives, dogs usually get to the door first, and that’s fine. Thank your dog calmly for letting you know someone is there and then give them the next direction. “Thanks guys. I’ll take it from here. Please go and wait behind me until I invite you over”.
If you have a guard dog, and the person at the door is scary or you DON’T want them coming in, simply don’t ask your dog to change position – allow them to stay in front. They will understand.
How does the ‘visitor’ greet your dog? Notice how your guests enter also as this helps set the mood for your dog! Their energy and body language is like a handshake. Ask your guest to walk straight through – say hello to the dog last, when everyone is relaxed. A good rule of thumb for your guests to follow is no eye contact, no touch and no attention during the initial greeting. This is normal and healthy in the dog world.
Are you up for the job? The role of buffering your pack from outsiders and making a decision at the door as to whether to let a stranger in is usually reserved for pack members who are ‘higher’ in rank or have a stronger presence, which makes sense! If you try to control them at the door and can’t, work on trust and respect in general.
Practice! Habits are formed through repetition and consistency. Understand that your dog needs support and leadership through this process and that you have to take control, or your dog will. Show them the behaviour you want, and then insist this happens until it is automatic. Commit and follow through every time until new habits are established.
All dogs are different and although there is usually a lot of common ground, if you’re struggling, symptoms should be addressed according to the individual dog. Try the tips provided, but if you need more specialised help (some situation are more complicated), a professional behaviourist or in-home dog training will quickly identify what is needed.