Read time: 6 mins
01 Jun 2023
Inviting guests to your home should be a pleasant experience, but unfortunately for some pup parents this kind of occasion only brings stress.
If this sounds familiar to you, you’re in good company. A dog that shows no emotion when a guest arrives is rarer than a four leaf clover.
As a team of pet parents here at Butternut Box, we know that it can be near-impossible to tell your dog that they can’t lick every new human that walks through the front door.
We’ve put together a guide to help you understand what may be causing your dog to react in a certain way when guests arrive, as well as training techniques to help make them cool as a cucumber when the doorbell goes.
Before trying to change your dog’s behaviour when guests visit, it’s important to understand what the root cause of their trigger is.
If they’re a rescue, they may have had a traumatic experience in the past which continues to affect them. Or, they may have simply not had much experience with guests, pandemic lockdown dogs in particular can be affected by this.
Having patience and understanding is a crucial part of progress. You can’t expect your dog’s behaviour to change overnight so try to persevere even at the most trying of times.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of despair when guests come to visit and you can barely exchange greetings due to your dog barking over you. The unconditional love starts to get a little... shall we say, tested.
Excessive barking at guests is most often due to one, or a combination of, the following things:
As annoying as we may find it, dogs simply regard barking as their job. They’re protecting their home and everyone in it from what they believe to be an outside threat. Making noise is their way of alerting you and asserting their position as guard dog.
Who is this strange human and why are they in my house? Dogs often experience fear when visitors come and as a result will respond naturally by barking, our equivalent of shouting help.
Lack of socialisation
Socialisation is an integral part of a dog’s growth. Exposing them to new people, dogs and surroundings from an early age will ensure that they are well-equipped for social situations. Dogs that aren’t familiar with this will struggle when guests visit.
Excitement and overstimulation
If you have an already friendly-to-the-extreme pooch, it’s likely that they will be sent into overdrive when a guest arrives. It's a new human for them to get attention from after all, how could they be anything other than ecstatic?
Thankfully with dedicated and regular training, it is possible to stop your dog from barking at visitors.
It is impawtent to try and expose your dog to different visitors, dogs and situations as early as possible, ideally when they’re a young puppy (providing they’ve had all of their vaccinations). Where possible, you should try and do this on a regular basis, this way your pooch will start to recognise that it’s a completely normal thing to happen.
Positive reinforcement is the most effective way of training your dog to be well-mannered around guests. Make sure you reward your dog for good behaviour with attention, praise and treats so they know that they did a good job. Remain quiet and calm when practising positive reinforcement. This will teach them to behave in a similar way for future visits.
Begin by exposing your pooch to positive, short interactions with trustworthy visitors, such as a family member or friends. Gradually increase the duration or intensity of these visits over time. Eventually, your dog will be comfortable enough to have unusual visitors in the house, such as tradesmen.
Seek professional help
Sometimes at-home training can be really effective, and other times it can prove to be useless. If your dog has severe behavioural issues it might be necessary to get help from a professional dog trainer. We would definitely recommend it if you don’t start to see improvements from your own training.
When dogs jump up on guests this is usually due to excitement, especially in ultra-friendly pooches. If your pup sees you and your visitor making a fuss of one another, hugging and laughing, they just want to join in on the fun.
To prevent your guests from being knocked off balance, there's a few things you can do.
Ask your guests to ignore your dog
More often than not, when dogs jump up on guests it’s because they are seeking attention from them. Both you and your guests should ignore this jumping and turn your back away from your dog. Wait and give praise when your dog has stopped jumping.
Teach alternative behaviour
If your dog knows the basic commands of sit, stay and wait, you can use these to your advantage when they’re jumping up at guests.
When they jump up, calmly but firmly ask them to sit and stay. Make them wait for a few seconds and then reward them with praise and a treat. Perform this command each time they jump up to help your pooch understand how to behave in this situation.
This ones a biggie. Barking and jumping can be difficult behaviour to contend with, but when your dog starts to nip or worse, bite people, some sort of intervention becomes necessary.
It is regarded as an extreme behaviour which will likely require a substantial training programme. We would recommend trying all of the techniques listed above, like positive reinforcement, but it can be difficult to practise exposure with guests when your dog is prone to nipping. Nobody particularly wants to risk losing a finger.
For this reason, if your dog is nipping at visitors it is best to get a behavioural trainer involved.
There are a few different things you can do in advance of guests arriving to try and make the experience as seamless as possible:
Take your dog on a long walk before guests arrive to tire them out and send them into snoozeville. They’re much less likely to kick up a fuss if they can barely keep their eyes open.
Mental exercises can be just as effective at tiring out your pooch. Put their senses into overdrive by doing things like hiding treats around the house, or in a snuffle mat.
Create a safe space
Regardless of how well-versed your dog is at hosting visitors, it’s good to have a dedicated safe space for them to go to if they start to feel overwhelmed. This could be a crate, bed or their favourite spot on the sofa. You should also provide water and toys for them near this safe space.
Use a barrier or gate
This is probably the quickest and most simple solution for keeping your dog separate from the front door. You should still carry on training your dog to behave appropriately around guests, as gates can be a cumbersome solution.
Communicate with guests
Dogs are extremely intuitive, they can easily sense when someone around them is anxious or fearful and this can act as a trigger for some dogs. Prevent this from happening by letting your guests know well in advance that you have dogs, as well as anything they should avoid doing (shouting, sudden movements etc).
Embrace the calm
In all the excitement, it’s easy to forget the need to remain calm for your dog’s benefit. Doing so will encourage them to copy your behaviour and settle down.