Dealing with Visitors and your Dog
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Dealing with Visitors and your Dog

Dogs
Pet Psychology

Do you have friends, family and tradesmen who dread coming to your house because of the reaction they know they will get from your dog? Either an over-friendly, over-enthusiastic welcome or an aggressive, snarling warning? You can change that.For your dog, someone coming into your house (ie territory) and joining the pack, even temporarily, can be confusing. He will probably want to get there first and see if this person is a threat to the safety of the pack, or to see if it's someone he's met before and wants to say hello to. Either way, this shouldn't be his decision to make - as pack leader, it's your decision. If you know the visitor and are happy for them to come into your house, you need to convey this to your dog so he will realise "if you say it's OK then that's fine by me". The same also applies if your dog is just happy and excited to see visitors - maybe too excited and boisterous, demanding their attention, jumping up etc. It may seem OK if you have a small dog but shouldn't be accepted from any dog, whatever their size and no matter how friendly they're being. Some visitors don't appreciate having your dog all over them but are too polite to say so. If they do want to make a fuss of your dog, there's a right way to go about it so it all stays calm and in control.If you know in advance that someone's coming or you know the person at the door, there's no need for your dog to accompany you when you open the door. This would effectively tell the dog that you're not capable of dealing with the situation and you need his help. Now, there may be some situations when you do require your dog's presence - when there's a stranger at the door or you just want the caller to know that you have a dog - so of course, please do take your dog with you in these circumstances. Otherwise, put your dog in another room or in the garden before the visitor arrives, or before you open the door if someone arrives unexpectedly. Don't worry about keeping someone waiting, you can always call out that you're on your way. As per the "Why Do Dogs Bark?" article, thank your dog for his barking or other reaction when the doorbell rings or when the visitor enters, but from where he is, he can see/hear that you're taking care of the guest and his involvement is not required.Leaving your dog in another room for a few minutes gives him the chance to calm down and also gives you time to explain to your guest what you want them to do next, when they meet your dog. We'll come to that in a moment. However, if the visitor is only staying for a few minutes, is it really necessary for them to meet your dog at all?If your dog doesn't calm down, say after a few minutes, and is barking for your attention and demanding to meet the "intruder", don't leave him to get distressed. Go to where he is, but without making or eye contact or speaking, show your presence and leave again. For example, if the dog is in the kitchen, you can go in, put the kettle on, and come out again. In these situations, always aim to open the door when the dog goes quiet, even if it's just the briefest pause in the barking or howling, simply to show that the door opens when he's quiet, not when he's making a noise.Then you can decide how and when to allow your dog to join you. If you know he's going to jump on everyone in excitement, or are concerned that he'll actually be aggressive, use a lead. As soon as he barks or tries to jump, you can simply remove him again and try again a few minutes later. You should find that you can get a little further and stay a little longer each time before the reaction starts again. This is progress as it means your dog is working out what he needs to do. He wants to be with his pack so you're showing him how he can earn this privilege. Aim for just being able to sit in the room with your visitor, with your dog sitting or standing calmly next to you. While all this is going on, it is essential that you ask your guest to completely ignore your dog - that means no eye contact, no speaking to the dog and no trying to fuss or stroke him. Not yet anyway. It is tricky for people to comply with this, particularly avoiding eye contact, and especially if they're nervous. Ask them to watch your dog from the corner of their eye rather than directly. Once the dog has had a chance to settle - and that might take a while - the visitor can (if they want to) invite the dog to them for some fuss or a treat. Or you could just calmly let go of your dog, still paying him no attention, and see what he chooses to do next. But if the jumping up, barking etc starts again, be prepared to remove the dog again. Don't see this as failure - the dog's just testing what happens at this next stage. However, if you have concerns that your dog will be aggressive to your visitor, do not let him approach them, just settle for being in the same room together for now. Don't try and do too much at once.If it's not going to be convenient to do all this during your visitor's stay or your guest won't comply with your request to ignore the dog, then it really is best to either leave the dog in another room/outside or keep him on his lead next to you so you have control of the situation. If this is a major problem that you need to overcome, you may need to invite willing volunteers to come round just so you can practise, rather than wait until a special occasion. Because if you're worried that your dog will spoil things, your anxiety will pass to your dog and this is asking for disaster.With a bit of work and practise, you can have a dog that your friends and family don't dread meeting but instead they'll say it's a pleasure going to your house because your dog is so polite and well behaved!

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