Q. How can I teach my dog to stop going crazy when people come to visit?
When treating a "greeting disorder" there are two issues to address:
1. Practice calm, polite greetings with your dog on a daily basis.
2. Eliminate rehearsal of the wild behavior by getting your dog under control before guests arrive.
First, take an honest look at your own greeting behavior. If you are reinforcing full throttle greetings with a high-pitched voice, lots of petting, and allowing jumping or barking – then stop! It's not fair to engage your dog in daily sky-high greetings and then expect him to be calm with visitors.
Second, get him under control before letting guests in. The doorway is an emotionally charged place where we talk excitedly and are usually so focused on acknowledging visitors; our dogs have carte blanche to misbehave. Additionally, well-meaning friends often make matters worse with, "Oh, it's OK. I LOVE dogs." Pat, pat, pat.
Instead, attach a 6-foot leash to your dog's collar and stand on it with one foot. Make sure the length of leash from your foot to the dog's collar is short enough to prevent doggies from jumping up and engaging in crazy behavior. Hold the other end of the leash and make sure you are steady on your feet. Do not put both feet on the leash, as it is possible that a large, exuberant dog could pull your feet out from under you.
Wild behavior is very rewarding to the dog as he instantly becomes the center of attention. With your foot on the leash you can greet your visitor while keeping the dog under control and out of the limelight.
The foot-on-the-leash technique transfers nicely to the seated position, allowing you to comfortably visit with guests while waiting for the dog to settle. Once the novelty of an arrival wears off and he is calm, you can subtly remove your foot from the leash to give him a little freedom. Leave the leash attached so you can regain control if he lapses into unruly behavior.
The key to getting the dog to settle quickly is to keep your foot on the leash, while keeping your hands and your focus off the dog. Petting and vocalization never has and never will calm an excited dog.
Here's another option: Practice sending him to a back room or crate several times a day for rewards. The next time you have visitors, you can put him in his safe place where he'll happily enjoy a special toy or treat until the coast is clear.
(Editor's note: This is a best-of Carla Jackson column that originally appeared on anewscafe.com in December of 2007.)
Carla Jackson is a professional pet dog trainer and owner of Jackson Ranch for Dogs, a kennel-free boarding and training facility. She specializes in private training, behavior consultations, puppy socialization and day training. You can find Jackson Ranch on Facebook, visit the website, or call (530)365-3800.
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