Mama Sally: Meeting new people and welcoming guests into your home is challenging for most dogs. When the doorbell rings, it’s an announcement of a BIG present waiting just on the opposite side of the front door! Most dogs are excited when someone is at the door…be it a stranger or family friend or relative. Dogs naturally want to get attention from everyone in their paths, and often the way that they go about getting that attention is often very rude from a human standpoint.
How to do a meet and greet is definitely not one size fits all! This is especially true with dogs who have special needs. For excessively shy dogs, a stranger at the door is their worst nightmare come to call on them. These dogs typically really don’t want to meet a guest, and frankly, unless it’s going to be someone who will have an ongoing relationship with you and be in your home frequently, it’s probably best to spare them from the greeting altogether.
This is clearly going to be the case with any dog who is aggressive! Keep everyone safe, and find a calm and quiet place for your dog to hang out as long as guests are in your home. You’ll need professional help to work through the aggressive issue, and it’s best to let that trainer guide you in the process toward rehabilitating your dog.
But for the vast majority of dogs that I train, including Rugby, are happy to see someone new, and just need help in how to do that with manners. It’s important to be prepared when you know someone is coming over to the house so that you prevent bad habits from getting formed. Allowing your dog to jump all over people while in a hyper-excited state is not a good idea at all. He’s being a bully….demanding to be greeted on his terms! By allowing him to greet when he’s overly excited, in essence, you’re teaching your dog that it’s okay to be a bully and that bully behavior will result in getting him what he wants. That’s not the message you want him to receive!
Always think of calm, relaxed behavior when it comes to your dog greeting people or other dogs. Your goal should be to communicate that calm, relaxed behavior will get your dog everything good, and wild, excited, bully behavior will get him nothing. If your dog is over the moon with excitement, at the very least, leash him when someone new is at the door, so that you have some measure of control with him.
While we were out of town at Grandma’s, Rugby got a few opportunities to greet new guests coming into her home, and that’s what I want to share with you today.
(Click on this link for a short video of Rugby at the front door.)
Rugby doesn’t like any kind of abrupt change, and HATES doorbells of any kind. He’s made peace with TV doorbells for the most part, but if someone rings our doorbell when we aren’t expecting it….boy howdy….you might as well release the Kraken into our house! Rugby will wig out into explosive behavior of the worst kind, and it will continue for thirty minutes or more. We always try to intercept anyone before they can produce those trigger sounds to set him off into oblivion. When I know someone is coming, I plan ahead with Rugby and have him safely ready to go before guests show up.
He’s in his Thundershirt, which helps calm him. He’s wearing his harness, so that I can attach a leash quickly and easily. I take a progressive approach to greeting guests in our house, and when Rugby is calm at one stage, then we move on to the next stage. Until he’s calm, I don’t move forward. I start with him either in his crate, or behind a tall gate where he’s able to see what’s going on, but not able to get to a guest. Rugby’s over-excited behavior can easily and quickly turn into aggressive behavior, so he is never allowed to meet any guest until he is in a very calm state for an extended amount of time.
I let him start out by hearing new voices in the house….even seeing new people, but everyone is instructed to simply ignore him while he sorts out what is going on in the home. When someone first comes in the house, Rugby is barking like crazy, but as everyone ignores him and we hang out, he calms down fairly quickly. This has really improved over the years.
Once he is in a calm state at this point, be it in his crate or behind a gate, I put a leash on him and bring him out to where our guests are, but I ask him to “Place” on a placemat right next to where I sit. That way, he has wiggle room on the placemat, and he can sit or lay down, stand and wag, or express his excitement in some other passive way. Again, guests are instructed to simply ignore him, which is always a huge help. If Rugby is not the center of attention, he feels much safer, and he can focus on listening to any commands I offer as a way of coping with the change of having someone new in the house. If he barks, he gets taken from the room, and that’s not at all what he wants, so he tends to “chirp” with excitement rather than bark.
While he’s on his placemat, I’m quietly talking to him and using bait to draw his attention back to me and away from anyone new in the house. I make sure I offer one of his very, very favorite treats, and he typically is able to focus on me and works to get nibbles of treats for being calm. He is often on his placemat for fifteen minutes or more, so that he’s really calm before I move on.
While he’s calming down, and ready to move to the next stage, I will often give him something else to think about, so I always have some bait, and while our guests are chatting and relaxing, I’m in a corner doing some tricks with Rugby off of his placemat. It really helps him to focus on me, and he’s getting some bait to help him understand that he’s doing what I want. The really great thing is that when he’s performing tricks, it transports him into a different place mentally and emotionally, and that’s a very good thing. He is “thinking” and not “feeling” quite so much, which is just what he needs!
In Rugby’s case, he often needs multiple meetings with someone in order to be really comfortable with them. We go through this process every single time he meets someone, and each time, he calms down more quickly. He’s figured out that the quicker he calms himself, the quicker he gets what he really wants, which is the attention and devotion of someone new in the house! It’s a win/win!!
Rugby James: I’ll tell you sumping….I doesn’t like missing out on anyfing going on in the house!! I likesa snoopervise anyfing new happening, and that especially means when new Uprights come over to my house!
The Mama is very particular about how I meet new Uprights on account of sumtimes I can get rude on account of I gets too excited, and I doesn’t calm down very well. So, I hasta follow the calm rules, and if I can calm myself down at one stage, then the Mama lets me go to the next one. If I calm down quick, I getsa move to the next stage quick, and that’s really what I wanna do!
I doesnt likesa hafta wear my Fundershirt, but it really makes a huge difference to keep me calm. I’m not as barky when I wear it, and I doesn’t feel quite as friskified to be rowdy wif the guests. I likesa have my leash and harness on, on account of that’s a reminder that the Mama is hooked to me sos I doesn’t hasta be so scared. The Mama always gots my back, and she listens to me talk wif my body and face to tell her if I’m doing okay or not. And then she decides from there what to do.
See, when the Mama watches me, she can hear what I’m telling her, so I has learned that I can trust her to keep me safe. Sumtimes, I doesn’t really wanna meet someone, and she listens to me when I tell her that. Sumtimes, I just wanna be in my crate and have music on, but it’s getting better for me to be okay wif sum of the Uprights what come over to the house.
The Mama knows what fings to tell me back wif her body language to help me calm down. And she’s a really good coach to help me along the way at every step we take. She’s always talking to me, and she makes sure to have treats along, sos I can focus on her easier what means that I won’t get as excited over the new Uprights what is in the house.
So….when I say that the Mama and me is a good team togedder, we really are!! We work really good togedder, and that sure makes fings easier at my house….when it really counts!