Helping Dogs Cope With Visitors to Your Home

Dogs can have many different reactions to visitors, from excited piddling and jumping to fearful growling and anxiety to barking and aggression. Every dog owner should take steps to train their canine companion to react appropriately when guests arrive, and there are several ways to help dogs have better "company manners" when greeting guests.

Socialization Is Essential

Many dogs react poorly to visitors because they aren't used to being around strangers. Proper socialization and training from an early age – either from puppyhood or as soon as a dog is adopted – will help dogs learn how to behave around guests both in the home and outside. Arranging group training sessions, taking walks through busy areas, visiting dog parks, arranging puppy play dates and occasional doggie day care can all help dogs become more socialized and accepting of others. The more accustomed a dog is to strangers, the more they will be accepting of house guests.

Helping Dogs Cope With Visitors

There are several ways to help dogs adjust to a visitor's presence without bad behavior. Effective options include…

  • Providing the dog a safe space and training them to use it.
    This can be a crate, bed or just a corner of the room where they know they are safe. This should be the dog's established space, and they can be rewarded for using it with a treat or chew toy. The dog should be trained to go to that spot with a simple command, which can be used whenever a guest arrives.

  • Reinforcing all training commands, especially "stay" "down" and "no".
    Reinforcing training helps keep the owner in control of their pet. Focusing on commands that will be important around guests will help the dog remember its manners and exhibit proper behavior when guests visit.

  • Leashing the dog when a guest arrives.
    Using a short leash can remind the dog about proper behavior and keep the owner in control to minimize jumping or other poor behavior. Keep the leash near the door and train the dog to accept it whenever someone knocks or the doorbell rings. This will also help keep the dog under control so they do not run out the door when it opens.

  • Greet guests outside first, then move inside.
    Very territorial dogs may do best when guests are initially greeted outside in a neutral area. Then the guest can enter the home and get settled, and after a minute or two the dog and owner can go inside. When the dog sees the guest is already part of the territory, dominance issues may be diminished.

  • Be confident when guests arrive.
    Dogs take behavioral clues from their owners, and if an owner comfortably greets a guest with a good tone of voice, the dog will know this is a person to be trusted and welcomed. A hug or handshake can also help give the guest a touch of the owner's scent, which will help the dog feel more comfortable.

  • Introduce the dog properly.
    Dogs get to know newcomers through sniffing, so allow the dog to greet guests in their own way. Permit the dog to approach and learn about the guest so they can accept the visitor more readily. The owner can guide a guest's hand to the dog's nose for a formal introduction and scent mixing the dog will understand.

  • Minimize guests at first.
    If a dog is exceptionally nervous or has bad behavior around guests, avoid having a big party or many people over until the dog learns better manners and is more accustomed to the activity. This will help the dog get used to having different people around and it will learn there is no danger from guests.

  • Reward good behavior.
    When a dog responds to commands and reacts appropriately to a guest, reward that behavior with a kind word, pat on the head or tasty treat. This will reinforce the dog's good behavior for future visits.

While not every technique will be effective with every dog, using several tactics to help them get used to guests will help the dog develop better manners for every stranger they interact with.

Helping Visitors Cope With Dogs

There are times when a guest's behavior can cause a dog even greater anxiety or may send mixed signals to the animal. To keep everyone at ease…

  • Forewarn guests about any possible poor manners from the dog, emphasizing that the animal is still being trained and isn't always used to visitors. Show the guest what verbal commands or hand signals should be used so the dog gets consistent clues about how to behave.

  • If the dog is sensitive to certain stimuli, let the guest know and request that they not contribute to the animal's anxiety. For example, strong perfumes or aftershaves can heighten anxiety in dogs, and asking a visitor not to wear any can help minimize bad behavior.

  • Let the guest reward the dog's good behavior with a few kibbles or treats to share with the dog. This will also help the dog recognize the hierarchy of visitors so they behave accordingly when anyone comes to visit.

  • If the guest is frightened of dogs or has severe pet allergies, it may be best to crate the dog or keep them in a different room or outside while the visitor is present. Limiting interaction can smooth over very awkward situations with ease.

It can be embarrassing and uncomfortable when a dog is rude or aggressive toward a visitor, but with consistent training, proper socialization and good techniques for coping with guests, every dog can have suitable company manners for greeting and interacting with visitors.

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