Written by Christine Durrant, Professional Dog Trainer and Pet Care Consultant
Does your dog jump, bark and rush to the door when company arrives at your home? If so, you may consider taking the time to teach your dog a replacement behavior. This means deciding what you’d like them to do instead. The best place to start is to teach your dog to sit, then to stay. That way, you can have them sitting nicely while your guests enter your home. The time you spend training now will last a lifetime.
Next, it’s important to determine WHY your dog is reacting. If your dog is simply excited; follow the steps below. If your dog is afraid or nervous, you’re going to want to change their mindset from fear to excitement. Basically, turn the arrival of guests into a party instead of a dread. Remember, it takes time and patience to help your dog change their feelings about people, especially if they have had bad experiences in the past.
Please note: This post will not cover aggression. Aggression is an issue that requires in-person, professional intervention and needs to be addressed prior to this type of training. If your dog shows aggression towards humans they should not be greeting guests at your door right now. Please consider a professional, positive reinforcement trainer in your area. A good resource for this is The Association for Professional Dog Trainers at: https://apdt.com/
Once you have mastered sit/stay, here are some ways to better manage the problems you may experience when guests arrive:
Start training NOW. Don’t wait for someone to come to your door. As a matter of fact, please don’t expect your dog to succeed until you have practiced this many, many times in advance. For a complete video of similar training click here.
1. Have rewards and a leash near the door. The rewards will depend on what YOUR dog likes. Most dogs will listen best when treats are involved. (We suggest soft, small treats like Zuke’s or the soft, jerky type sticks). Soft treats have more scent and flavor which means more motivation for your dog. Store the treats in a sealed baggie or pouch in a secret location (out of reach but near the front door) and use them only when working on this behavior. If your dog is not motivated by food a special toy will work just as well.
2. Choose the behavior you want to replace the disruptive behavior with. Some people might just want their dog to stop jumping so they teach the dog to simply stand instead of jump. Others might want their dog to lay on a rug or mat while they open the door and let people in (we have videos covering both). We will use sit/stay for this example as it is a common and fairly simple solution.
To access step-by-step instructions click "read more" below:
1. Choose a time for “training”. A time when you have no distractions, are relaxed and can focus on your dog. 10-15 minutes a day for a couple of weeks is ideal. Train when your dog is hungry and not too excited. If you have a high energy dog, play with them prior to training, this will help them to focus better.
2. Have your treats (or toy) ready (preferably in a pouch or baggy in your pocket or in a treat pouch). You will be rewarding your dog until they are comfortable with people coming into your home. Once they are, it is great to have others offer the reward but in the beginning your dog trusts YOU so you should be the rewarder.
3. Put the leash on your dog and head for the front door as if someone is there. (We are using a leash in this example for two reasons; one so you have better control of your dog and two so they cannot get out of the front door) NOTE: Your dog might think you are going for a walk when you bring the leash out so you may need to do a little work here by simply putting their leash on at random times without taking them for a walk. NEVER leave them unattended with a leash on but do go about your business so they start to disassociate the presence of the leash with always going for a walk. If this is the case, practice this for a few days before proceeding with this training.
4. Have your dog sit or stand near the door (leash on), allowing enough room to open the door but not enough leash for them to go out. (Do not ask your dog to stay yet, they will be too tempted to go out the door if they aren’t familiar with what you expect of them).
5. Open the door and act as if someone is there and welcome them in. You can even say “Hi! Thanks for stopping by” - whatever you would normally do. If your dog comes out of their sit, work with them to get them back. If it’s too hard for them, start with just having them standing. Motivate and reward them.
6. Anytime during this exercise that your dog is calm, quiet, not pulling and has their four paws on the ground REWARD them with a treat and say “good dog” or “yes”! You cannot reward your dog too much when teaching a new behavior. Just be sure you don’t reward a jump, lunge or bark. Timing is crucial.
7. Practice many times, until they are doing it well, then move onto having them sit and STAY while you open the door. Only plan on having them stay for a second or two, working up to longer periods of time while the door is open. It’s important to set them up to succeed. If they aren’t sitting or staying, you have moved to quickly in the training and need to take a step back. Continue this training for several days.
8. Once they are good about calmly sitting/staying while you open the door, you can begin to practice with having someone outside of the door. It’s easier to practice this with a member of your household or someone they know. To begin, have the person wait outside while you prepare for the training. Do NOT have them knock or ring the doorbell at first, that can create a whole new level of excitement and your dog needs to work up to this. You may not always know when someone will arrive at your door but we suggest setting up some scenarios for training prior to so that you can work on the issues and have everything you need available.
9. When you have your dog “ready” (in a sit or sit/stay), open the door and let the person in. Tell the person to ignore the dog, no touching, no eye contact. Allow your dog to smell the person and, as long as they are calm and not jumping up, let them take their time and do their doggy greeting as they wish. REWARD your dog throughout this experience but be very careful to only reward them if they are calm and have all four paws on the floor. If they don’t, use the leash to keep them from jumping and wait until they are calm. Patience is key here. Do not yell, scold or punish your dog for their reaction, be calm and patient and watch for the moments your dog is doing what you want and REWARD them. They need to have time to figure out what we want and it’s up to you to communicate this effectively. If your dog fails (jumps, barks, lunges) WAIT…wait as long as you need for them to be quiet and on all fours. The moment you see this, REWARD. You have to catch the good moments quickly and reward instantly. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Remember: You will get more of what you reward and less of what you ignore.
10. End the session on a positive note. It is not necessary for the person to ever touch your dog. As a matter of fact, if your dog is nervous about people coming in, simply ask people to allow the do to sniff around them. Some dogs don’t want to be pet by every person that comes into your home. (for nervous/anxious dogs be sure the person turns slightly, with their shoulder to the dog and makes no eye contact or sudden movements.) Once your dog has a chance to sniff and explore, reward them and let the person leave. However, if your dog is friendly and eager to meet people, having the person pet them is a great reward! As long as your dog is calm and sitting or standing, the person can love on them and make it a positive experience all the way around.
11. Once you have practiced with people your dog knows and they are doing well, you can work with others. With patience, practice and persistence you will see improvement. If there are times you just can’t do the training, put your dog in another room when guests arrive or use the leash to keep your dog from jumping and charging people at the door and pick up on the training when you have time and patience.
I wish you great success on helping your dog to understand what you want from them!
Christine Durrant, CPDT-KA Professional Dog Trainer and Behavior Consultant