Entertaining guests in your home often makes people become more aware of their dog’s behavior toward visitors. Many dogs have difficulty in this situation, and may experience over-stimulation, high arousal, over-excitement, and even stress. However, there are some things you can do to make sure everyone enjoys the visit. Many of these focus on proactive management of situations.
Let’s start with the doorbell ringing and entry of the guests. If you know that your dog is likely to be overly friendly, jump up on the visitors, bolt out the open door, or feel uncomfortable with guests arriving, avoid having your dog in the entrance way while the guests come in. There are many strategies to keep your dog away from the door while you are greeting your guests, and your plan of action can be thought out well ahead of time. When guests arrive, you may want to have your dog in the yard, crated or in another room. You can have a family member hold the dog on its leash a distance away from the door, or if alone, tether the dog’s leash to a solid stationary object. Using a baby gate will prevent your dog’s access to the door. You can also train your dog to go to a mat away from the door and stay until released. This one will take some practice ahead of time, to ensure that it is reliable. To handle unexpected visitors, you may want to put a note on your door or call out to them to give you a minute while you deal with your dog. You can then place your dog on its leash, unlock the door, stand back from the door with the dog, and call out for the guests to open the door.
Once the guests are in your home and the initial excitement has settled down somewhat, if the dog appears comfortable and eager to greet, bring your dog into contact with the visitors in a controlled manner. You may want to have the dog on a leash, if your dog will be difficult to control. Instruct your guests to interact with the dog calmly, rather than getting the dog over-excited with too much attention, petting, and stimulation. You could ask your guests to ignore your dog’s pushy, attention-seeking behaviors such as jumping up. However, it is ultimately your responsibility to ensure that your dog is appropriate with the guests. They should not have to tolerate being jumped on or otherwise being bothered by your dog. Keep your dog an appropriate distance away from the guests, and reward the dog immediately and generously for keeping its 4 paws on the floor or sitting down during the interaction. To ensure that your dog can remain calm and under control when engaging with guests in real life, it is necessary to train for this highly distracting situation, by regularly arranging practice set-ups with friends and family.
When you are busy with hosting duties, it is often difficult to supervise and train your dog. At these times, it may get away with misbehaviors which are often rewarding, and increase the likelihood of engaging in similar behaviors in the future. You do not want the dog to continue to practice misbehaviors, as “practice makes perfect”. Therefore, when you are busy and not able to adequately supervise or train the dog, you must ensure that it is prevented from engaging in misbehaviour.
While the guests are in your home, monitor all interactions between your guests and the dog, to ensure that both are appropriate and feel comfortable. This is especially important if children are involved. Children can be overwhelming when interacting with dogs, and often handle them roughly and create high arousal and excitement with their voices and movement. Even adult visitors can be overwhelming to your dog. Always allow your dog to choose whether he wants to interact with a guest or not. Do not force your dog to tolerate being approached, patted or handled by guests if he appears to be uncomfortable. Some dogs feel threatened by visitors in their home, and if we try to force those dogs into interactions they would rather not have, they may be pushed into sending a stronger message to keep the visitor away by growling, snapping or biting.
Having several visitors in your home can be stressful for your dog, even if it is friendly toward people. Ensure that your dog always has a quiet retreat area where it will not be bothered, if it feels like it needs to rest and take a break from the action. Following these tips when having guests can keep your visit enjoyable for all involved.
Cheryl Wittevrongel is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) and Certified Behavior Consultant Canine (CBCC-KA), in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.