How to Train Dogs to Behave When Guests Come to the Door

By: David Codr

Published Date: January 3, 2018

For this Omaha dog training session we helped three dogs learn to behave at the door; 7 month-old Corgi puppy Micky (left), 2 year-old Corgi Kevin and Penny, a 2 year-old Sheltie (not pictured); all of who get excited and need help learning how to behave at the door when guests arrive.

The dogs were in the kennels the I arrived due to Micky and Kevin’s potential to nip guests. I decided to use this opportunity to show the guardians how to let a dog out of a kennel in a way that trains a dog to be calm.

I recommended that the guardians start letting the dogs out of the kennel this way from now on. This is a great way for them to practice self control which will help Micky and Kevin immensely with many of their dog behavior problems.

I sat down with the dogs and their guardians to get more info on the dog behavior problems and the dog’s background. I learned that Kevin was adopted by the family, but returned to the breeder as he was more of a handful than the family expected. The family brought Micky home after Kevin went back to the breeder. The reason I mention this is the family was concerned at how lovely Penny was behaving when Kevin was in the home.

Anytime Kevin came into the room, Penny would leave it; often going under the kitchen table alone. Since dogs are social creatures, this is always a concern for me. During the session, I noticed the times where Kevin was absent, Penny moved into the room and seemed more relaxed and at ease.

The guardians had started to let Penny up on the couch to give her a reprieve from Kevin. Normally I suggest dogs all have the same rules, but in this case, allowing her on the furniture was a good idea. Not only did it offer her some refuge, it actually enhanced her status. For dogs, the higher you sit amongst your peers, the more rank or social status you have.

Now before I go any further, its important to note that Kevin wasn’t acting aggressive to Penny, but he was very in her face and did some behaviors that could be considered on the periphery of bullying. Not anything outrageous, Id liken the behavior to a herding breed dog who was lacking rules and structure.

I made a number of suggestions on ways to help the dogs see the humans as authority figures. Emphasizing rewarding the dogs when they engaged in desired behaviors will go a long ways towards helping the dogs learn how their family members want them to behave.

I also showed them how to add structure to petting to help motivate the dogs to want to please their human counterparts. I also suggested some rules and showed them how to enforce them.

Next I went over ways to disagree with unwanted behavior and how important it is to disagree right away if they see Kevin trying to block off Penny, get in her face, steal a toy or interact with her in any way that is dominating or inappropriate.

Penny is a gentle soul who is a little upside down with Kevin’s behavior. While he wasn’t doing anything super bad, the combination with a sensitive dog was having a negative impact on her self esteem and confidence.

One of the issues the family was having with all the dogs was the dog’s behavior when guests arrive at the door. Teaching a dog to behave at the door is all about practice and communicating to a dog what we want them to do.

I like to do this by breaking the activity into small steps and practicing each one over and over until the dog knows what you expect from it for that step. Once you have gone through all the steps individually, then you can start to practice them together.

Because teaching a dog to behave at the door is a more advanced technique, we put two of the dogs away so that I could show the family how to do this with Kevin who was the most rambunctious when people knock or ring the bell.

By staging guest arrivals with members of the family, the guardians can practice this door exercise without the pressure of it being a real guest waiting in the cold. If the family practices this with each dog 5-10 times, then brings the best two dogs together, they should eventually be able to get all three dogs to stay behind an invisible boundary ten feet from the door when people knock.

At the end of the session I spent some time discussing Kevin and his place in the family. As I mentioned before, his behavior was not anything egregious, but it was having an impact on Penny. The breeder reported he didn’t have issues when he was returned to her which the family understood meant that the problem was a result of their home situation.

I never want to see a dog re homed, but the fact of the matter is some dogs are better fits in different homes. I didn’t see anything that told me Kevin can’t continue to live in the house, but to do so in a way that helps Penny feel confident and secure, they will need to change how they live and lead the dogs.

If the family adopts the changes I suggested for a month and still see Penny self isolating, we will need to either schedule another follow up session to address any lingering issues, or the family will need to decide once and for all if Kevin is in the right home. He is young enough to find a great forever home if the family decides they can’t give him what he needs.

These are hard decisions to make. The family wants what is best for their dogs who they love. That said, its important to take Penny’s quality of life into consideration and the fact that the breeder is willing to find Kevin another home if they decide that is what they need to do.

To help the family remember what we covered in this in home dog training session, I filmed a roadmap to success video detailing all the dog behavior tips I shared with them.

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