For everyone who could use a few pro tips on training a dog to behave when guests visit, this one's for you.
Any certified professional dog trainer will tell you that one of the most common requests from dog parents is to be able to include their pups in festivities with friends and family - and, of course, to know they'll stay calm and be on best behavior when guests arrive.
That's not too much to ask, right? Here at Mighty Paw, we feel the same way. We want our dogs to be part of everything, from holiday celebrations to gatherings anytime throughout the year.
How can you help your pup feel comfortable enough around guests?
We've pulled together simple training steps and pro tips to help you help your pup become more comfortable co-hosting with you (or at least, peacefully coexisting with the festivities).
The best starting point is your dog and how your dog probably sees visitors now.
Visitors from your dog's point of view
To help train your excited dog to be cool and collected around visitors, it's good to understand what all the excitement is about from your pup's perspective. Most dogs love predictability. Any new people or happenings out of the usual routine in your home are a reason for your dog to go into "what's happening here?!?" mode.
Depending on your individual dog and the type, size, and energy of the new person, your dog may feel afraid, happily overexcited, or compelled to tell you all about "the happening" and alert the whole household.
If you can figure out from your dog's body language and behavior where your dog is coming from, you'll be able to better judge the degree of reassurance and positive reinforcement your dog needs.
Translation: a fearful dog usually needs more practice with more high-value treats around new people, while a dog who is joyfully overexcited needs to learn to tone it down a bit.
First, refresh with some training tune-ups
If your dog already has a good foundation of basic training and manners, you're off to a great start! Take this opportunity to do a refresh on having your dog sit, stay, lie down, and other fundamental skills your dog knows and reward your pup generously.
That way you'll have a strong repertoire of positive, alternative behaviors you can count on and reward well when you need them as replacements for things like jumping and barking.
Steps to training your dog to greet visitors
A big part of teaching your dog to remain calm around guests is about what you do: have a plan and set up your pup to succeed. That means thinking about what trainers call "management" - all those things you can do to manage the environment and how your friends and family gathering will play out. Good management preempts potential problems and makes it so much easier for your dog's training sessions to pay off successfully in real life.
Tips for keeping your dog calm around guests
Think through your management plan.
How will guests arrive and where will you greet them? The front door is usually a hot spot for dogs, especially if the area is tight. Do you want to greet your guests outside or in a wider entryway or will you want to use management tools like a baby gate to give your dog a view of festivities from a safe, comforting space to start?
Burn off excess energy early the day of your get-together.
It's much easier for your dog to relax if your pup has done plenty of walking and sniffing or energy-burning play prior to any guest arrivals. Good physical and mental exercise earlier in the day sets both your dog and you up for success.
Decide what you want your dog to be doing.
Here's where your dog's basic skill set comes in. If you're going to have your dog anywhere near your guests' point of arrival, decide in advance which good behaviors you want to ask your dog for to replace unwanted greeting behaviors, and be sure to have plenty of high-value treats ready.
Choose replacement behaviors that are rock solid for your dog. They can be anything from a "sit-stay" to "go to mat/bed" that's comfortable and dependable for your pup.
Clicker training is key to reinforcing positive behavior
At the heart of successful training is reinforcing positive behavior you want to see with rewards like treats and praise! Never scolding or reacting negatively in any way for unwanted behaviors which is counterproductive. Dogs do what works for them, so they quickly learn to keep doing what snags more treats, attention, or whatever their favorite rewards may be!
How dogs' brains work
The trick is to reward your dog immediately after doing the good thing you want to see more of from your dog. Dogs' brains connect whatever they did the nanosecond before with the reward. So if, for example, your dog successfully does a "sit" but has to follow you to the kitchen to get a treat, your dog learns that going to the kitchen earns the treat and the "sit" is long forgotten.
That's why positive reinforcement trainers recommend using a clicker or a marker word like "yes!" immediately - with a clicker being the most clear and precise - then following quickly with the treat. Most humans just aren't crisp enough with the treat delivery, and dogs can much more easily and quickly connect their behavior with the clicker or marker + treat sequence.
Have your treats at the ready in a treat pouch (there's a reason you'll notice trainers using treat pouches) or pocket, so your dog gets the 1-2 connection of clicker or marker + treat.
Staying calm after the greeting
Once you and your dog have greeted your guests calmly, how do you keep your zen vibe going?
Ask your guests to ignore your dog while in training
Bring your friends and family in on what you're doing by letting them know in advance of visits that you and your dog are working on polite greetings and general guest manners. Explain your process and ask them to ignore your dog and follow your lead on any interaction. You may also want to ask your guests to avoid high-pitched or excited greeting voices even with you; low-key entry is the best way to set the tone for all that follows!
Training of all kinds works when everyone is consistent with your training plan. Your guests will appreciate that you're working with your dog to keep them from being the object of your dog's exuberance or boisterous alerts!
Products that can help your dog stay calm
The act of chewing is a natural self-soother for dogs. As your pup chews, serotonin and dopamine are released, both neurotransmitters that relieve stress and promote staying calm around triggers - like visitors, for example.
- Try giving your dog a long-lasting chew that will keep your pup contentedly busy and distracted while the biology of chewing works its magic. A couple dog parent favorites we created with single ingredients include our Cow Kneecap Chews, made with high protein 100% grass-fed beef, and our Mighty Paw Naturals Bully Sticks, also made from 100% grass-fed beef and rich in protein.
Both are also great alternatives to potentially dangerous bleached rawhide chews containing toxins.
- Create a cozy spot in advance on a bed or mat a bit away from the hubbub, maybe protected by a gate or other boundary, where your dog can settle in and chew away contentedly while everyone visits.
Another dog owners' favorite for natural calming is our Mighty Calming Treats. It looks and tastes like a treat, while the all-natural ingredients include melatonin for healthy sleep patterns, L-tryptophan for relaxation, chamomile for a sense of calmness, and ginger and passion flower for immune and mood balance, all working to support your pup's calm behavior.
- Try giving calming treats alone to your pup or together with a long-lasting chew next time you're expecting guests or anytime you anticipate triggers of all kinds).
Practice makes perfect
As with any training that's changing an established behavior, practice, practice, practice! Repetition with high-value rewards for good behaviors is the surest way to make your dog's good manners second nature even under stress.
Well in advance of any gathering, enlist a friend to practice arrivals with you and your dog repeatedly till your dog gets comfortable with people coming to the door, then coming in, as your dog is rewarded for alternative positive behaviors and remains calm.
You can tailor your practice to what works best with your dog, like avoiding the dreaded doorbell for now if that's too much. Be patient - getting comfortable with guests is a gradual process and different for every dog!
We hope these tips help you enjoy wonderful, relaxing gatherings with friends and family during the holidays and throughout the year - including everyone's favorite family member, of course!
As always at Mighty Paw, our commitment is to provide dog parents with high-quality products that are safe, durable, and practical for everyday use. Whether you're enjoying get-togethers at home or heading out for adventures, we've got you covered.