How Can I Prevent My Dog From Getting Overly Excited When Guests Arrive?
Expert advice for people with dogs who jump, bark, and generally go nuts when people come over.
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Q: I’m looking forward to hosting a dinner soon. However, I’m a little concerned about the greeting behavior of my high-spirited pups, who tend to bark, jump, lick, and generally carry on when someone new comes through the door. Most of my friends and family are dog-friendly and don’t mind the fuss, but a few just don’t like dogs all that much, which I completely understand. In the past, I've tried redirection, keeping the dogs confined in another room (this works for the greeting issue, but not the barking), and having a dedicated dog person monitor the dogs. Do you have any other tips?
— Stressed-Out Dad
A: Having guests is a real challenge for people with friendly, exuberant dogs. The good news is there are a lot of ways to ease the social awkwardness when enthusiastic dogs collide (sometimes literally) with humans. You’re definitely on the right track with your plans to manage the situation. The smallest details can make a big difference, so by tweaking what you’re already doing and adding some new tactics, we can develop an approach that will help your dogs be their best selves. Here are some ways to tone down your dog's overly excited greeting style:
Redirect Your Dog With An Irresistible Item
This is a great strategy, but it only works if what you offer is amazing enough to keep their attention. For toy-motivated dogs, a game of fetch or tug as visitors arrive may help them channel their excitement. Also, using top-quality, rarely offered treats or chews that the dogs care about can make all the difference. A list of options that may refocus even the most social dogs’ interest includes real bones; Kongs stuffed with steak, chicken or peanut butter; Greenies; bully sticks; and stuffed cow hooves. (A caveat: Check with your veterinarian to find out what items are safe for your particular dog, and which should be avoided.)
Briefly Confine Your Dog In Another Room
Consider putting your dogs in another room until guests come in and are seated. The whole entrance thing — seeing new people as the door opens, then seeing them cross the threshold and enter the house — can be especially stimulating for dogs. Some can greet guests far more calmly and politely if they don’t witness the actual arrival. It’s common for dogs to be less excitable when they come out of another room and see people sitting down.
Try Using a Gate
Some dogs are able to greet guests in a calm way if they first see them from behind a gate, which prevents them from rushing up to the newcomers. Once the novelty wears off, they can greet more politely. (However, perhaps out of frustration, some dogs get more revved up if they’re gated-off from visitors. Test this with your dogs in advance to find out how they respond.)
Train Your Dog to "Go to Their Spot"
There’s often so much focus on what we don’t want our dogs to do that we miss opportunities to teach them what we do want. How would you like your dogs to greet visitors? With that picture in mind, actively teach them to do it. One option is to train them to sit and stay in a specific spot when visitors arrive. Make it a comfortable place, such as a dog bed or bean bag. If visitors want to greet the dogs, they get to interact; if the visitors choose not to, then the dogs stay quietly in their place. Begin teaching them the behavior (going to their spot) when there are no distractions, and work up to more challenging and exciting situations.
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Karen B. London, PhD
Karen B. London, Ph.D., is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. She writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life.