Knock-knock, bark-bark: How to Keep your Dog Calm when Visitors Arrive
It might seem like an impossible task: getting your dog to stay extra chill when visitors come by the house. It’s not! Having your dog politely greet visitors rather than barking and jumping on top of them is an attainable and worthwhile goal.
Dogs are Natural Protectors
As mentioned in How Dogs Communicate with Us, dogs will bark when a stranger comes to the door as an alarm for the rest of the household. Your dog is saying "I'm not sure who this is, but I'm here to protect you."
It’s easy to be a bit annoyed by barking, but in your dog’s mind there’s a perfectly good reason for doing it. Your job is to train your dog to do something else when visitors come to the door.
As dog owners, we are continuously training our dog through our actions. Whether or not you mean to be training, your dog is learning from you. With such an attentive student on your hands, you can take advantage of your dog’s eagerness to learn and begin teaching him better manners.
Training your dog to obey your commands and behave politely is all about persistence and timing. Your dog won't magically be perfect at everything right away. You must be determined to work with your pooch, and together you will start to train your dog to follow your commands reliably.
Sit and Stay by the Door
One method you can try is practice sessions with your dog. Inevitably when a stranger comes to the door unannounced, it will be difficult to actively train your dog without everything going haywire. Instead, you can practice beforehand and begin to reinforce the proper behavior.
Start by walking your dog to the door. Tell your dog to sit, and then to stay. When he does so, reward him with either a treat, a pet or a toy. You are going to slowly teach your dog that a “sit-stay” at the door is exactly what you’re looking for.
The next step is to open the door and see how your dog reacts. If he breaks his stay, close the door and try it again until your dog can hold his stay while you open the door. If you’re nervous about losing your dog when you open the door, snap a leash on at the beginning of the exercise for extra security.
Once you've conquered that step, it's time for the doorbell. You can try both knocking and ringing to condition your dog to both. If your dog can stay in place with the noise, he’s almost an expert. Remember, positive reinforcement is the best way to successfully train a dog. Don’t be shy about giving treats and/or verbal rewards when your dog does something right.
Now it’s time to add a second person to the mix. When the new person approaches, your dog will likely stand up, squirm, jump or bark. Go slowly. Ask the visitor to please wait patiently until you can successfully get your dog to sit and stay. Do not let the other person in the house until your dog has shown the obedience to sit and wait while the person approaches the door. Your pooch will slowly learn that the only way to meet the new visitor is by sitting and waiting patiently. If you have a willing visitor, practice this exercise a few times. You can even give the visitor a treat to hold discreetly in their hands. When your dog is waiting patiently, the visitor can reward him by entering the house and giving him a treat.
When you're finished, give a release command like an excited “ok!” This lets your dog know that his job is done.
This isn’t a quick fix, but the dividends will pay off for you in the future when guests come over and notice how polite your dog is. It’s also nice to not have to squeeze out the door to greet a delivery person because your dog is going berserk in the background.
If your dog likes to jump on visitors, attaching a leash during the training exercise will be a big help. Managing your dogs jumping is as easy as rewarding him when he’s got all four feet on the ground. If your pup jumps, gently correct him, place him in a sit-stay and reward him. The excitement of visitors can be hard to overcome, gently guiding and correcting your dog with a leash can make the whole scenario much more manageable and set you up for a successful training session.
The “go to your place” Method
Another training option you can try is the "go to your place" method. If your dog has a crate or a bed they most enjoy cozying up to, you can make this their "place” their “room” or their “bed” the command word is up to you! Treats come in extra handy for this technique.
A treat I love to use at home are treats from Organix. My dog Ava goes crazy for them, and it's a treat that requires some chewing, which I always appreciate.
Take a treat in your hand and show it to your dog. Once they are interested and following your hand, lead them over to their “place.” You may have to reach your hand in to get them to enter if their place is a create. Once your dog enters, reinforce the command by saying “good go to your place!” and reward with a treat. The idea is to let your dog know that the command words means going to their safe place, and then being rewarded with a treat. Once you’ve taught your dog where to go and your pup reliably obeys, now you can try this out when a stranger comes to the door.
When there’s a knock at the door, and your dog gets up and starts barking say, "go to your place!" At this point hopefully, your dog knows how tasty that treat is going to be after going to his place, and he will gleefully obey. This is not likely to happen on the first few tries, but if you work hard enough at it, your dog will learn to love going to their place no matter what the distraction might be.
Persistence is key
Dog training takes time, patience and persistence. If done correctly and consistently, your dog can learn a new trick every day! Work on these commands that we taught you in this article and with just 10mins a day, your dog will be an expert greeter in no time.
Check yourself at the door
If your dog is jumping on you when you come home, be careful not to pet the dog while he/she is jumping on you. Many of a dog’s behaviors that drive us crazy, are behaviors we actually trained him/her to repeat. Instead, try not to give your dog any attention until he/she is calm. Rewarding calm behavior teaches the calm behavior to return - not the jumping.