Learn what to do if your dog is super-friendly, but your guests aren’t comfortable when he greets them. The Dog Trainer has 5 tips (plus a bonus suggestion) for keeping everybody happy.
This week, a question from my Facebook page. Malita writes:
“When friends and family come over (especially the ones with children), they sometimes give me attitude about my dog and the fact that he’s even present. He is especially friendly and just wants to say hello and get the excitement out of his system, and then he relaxes. I feel slighted because we consider our dog (as many do) as part of the family, and I don’t want to banish him somewhere, which will just stress him out. Am I right to say ‘My house, my rules’? Or am I being a jerk by not accommodating my guests?”
If you’re crazy about your dog, it can be tough not to take it personally when other people aren’t so smitten. You feel hurt when you know that your dog’s exuberant greetings are friendly all the way down the line, but your guest seems to be mistaking her for a rabid wolverine.
To be fair, though, many people are uncomfortable for a reason. Little kids and old people, in particular, may feel overwhelmed by a bouncy dog, especially if she’s bigger than, say, a Chihuahua. It’s easy for healthy adults to forget how big a 30-pound dog can look if you yourself weigh 25.
As for the elderly, their skin may tear easily and they may have fragile bones. Achy old dogs aren’t crazy about young pups jumping on them, and neither are achy old humans. And unfortunately, plenty of people have had the experience of being told “Oh, Buster’s friendly” – or “Buster’s fine,” which is pretty much always Famous Last Words – only to find Buster snapping at their hand or sinking his teeth into their ankle.
Plus, you did invite these folks to your house, right? So (let me crib a bit from Modern Manners Guy) you probably should do what you can to put them at ease. Herewith, 5 ideas for keeping your Dogalini and your guests happy. Please note, these tips assume that your dog’s excitement really is friendly, not anxious or aggressive. Nor are they one-size-fits-all – one might work brilliantly for your neighbor’s dog but not for yours. Remember, as a last resort, there’s always bonus idea #6: training.
Tip #1: Get Your Dog Good and Tired Before Guests Arrive
If your dog has had a long hike or a game of fetch, enough to leave her sacked out on her bed, then when the guests arrive, she will probably act less excited to begin with and have an easier time settling down. Exercise alone won’t teach your dog how to greet guests politely, but it will help you set her up to learn. For a healthy young dog who’s climbing out of her skin with pent-up energy, it’s mighty hard to maintain self-control.
Tip #2: Give Your Dog a Toy to Hold
This one can be magic if your dog (a) loves toys, and (b) runs back and forth barking with mad joy when company comes. The doorbell rings, your dog gets wired, you aim a beloved toy in the direction of her mouth or throw it for her to chase. Dogalini grabs the toy, runs a few circles around the guest with it, and then settles down to chew.
Contrary to rumor, dogs can bark while holding something in their mouths. But the barking is muffled (and it sounds pretty funny, if you ask me).
Tip #3: Give Your Dog a Food-Dispensing Toy
I know, I know, I recommend these all the time. And it’s for good reason! A dog who’s settled in extracting food from a stuffed toy or a puzzle toy is occupying his brain and his jaws. He’s not bored, he’s not antsy, he’s not chewing on your guests’ Louboutins or Timberlands – and, best of all, he’s not all up in anybody’s face jumping or barking or licking.
Obviously, if your dog guards his food or toys, the previous two options are not for you. Resolve that behavior problem before you use them.
Tip #4: Meet Your Guests Outside
Think of the buildup when your guests are due any minute. You’re alert, listening for the car pulling up your driveway or for your doorbell ringing. They’re here! Quick, somebody answer the door – you’ve got your hands full with the baby mushrooms on toasted ciabatta with a tomato reduction. Your spouse comes pounding up from the basement, still waving the power drill with which he is assembling your new porch. No wonder Dogalini gets a little overexcited!
Instead, try this. Ask your guests to call when they’re 5 minutes away. (No phone calls by the driver of a moving vehicle, though, please. Either a passenger calls, or the driver pulls over.) You sedately leash up Dogalini and walk down the block, turning back in time to greet your guests in the front yard or on the sidewalk. If Dogalini tends to jump on people when she’s leashed, walk her with a front-clip harness so you can restrain her without causing her discomfort, and try scattering some treats in front of her to orient her toward the ground instead of up. Once the excitement level is down, into the house everybody goes.
Tip #5: Crate Your Dog
I know, your whole point was that you didn’t want to “banish” your dog. Perhaps the crate could be nearby, even in the same room. And you could try leaving Dogalini in the crate only until she’d relaxed enough to greet people without agitation.
Remember: A dog who’s had a good introduction to her crate will not experience it as “banishment” but rather as a comfortable, quiet place to rest. If you have a guest who’s seriously scared of dogs, rather than just annoyed when they get socially enthusiastic, use this formula:
Dog crate + Food-dispensing chew toy = A great way for everybody to feel at ease
Bonus Tip #6: Train Your Dog
By “train your dog,” of course I don’t mean “hammer the spontaneity out of her by punishing her enthusiasm.” Not many things are as much fun as a playful, friendly dog. Dogalini doesn’t have to lose those qualities; she just needs to learn self-controlled, polite behavior in a particular context – to greet people with all four feet on the floor and with minimal or no barking. In an earlier episode on jumping, I explained in detail how to teach your dog that standing or sitting quietly earns her the opportunity to say hello, whereas jumping up will make the people go away again. It takes some patience, some practice, and, as always, plenty of rewards.
Some people will never be happy in the vicinity of dogs, no matter how well-mannered your Dogalini is. For people who just plain don’t like dogs and don’t want them anywhere around – well, Dog Trainer’s got nothing. Maybe you should meet them at a restaurant.
You can follow The Dog Trainer on Twitter, where I’m Dogalini. I’m The Dog Trainer on Facebook, and you can also write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Though I usually can’t reply personally, I welcome your comments and suggestions. And you can find lots more helpful ideas in my book, The Dog Trainer’s Complete Guide to a Happy, Well-Behaved Pet. Thanks for reading!