Keeping Your Dog Calm When Guests Come to Visit

Behavior & training
dog looking out the open front door

Does your normally well-behaved dog lose his mind when guests come to your home? If so, you’re not alone. This is one of the most common complaints I hear from dog owners all year round.

Visitors from Your Dog’s Point of View:

Guests are a break in the normal routine. Depending on your dog, the guests might be perceived as friends or as trespassers, but in both cases they are a change; something different. In either case, it’s important to teach your dog what you want him to do when visitors come to the door.

Your ultimate goal will be to have your dog sit at the door while you answer it. When you invite your guests in, he should not jump on them and, ideally, should greet them calmly. Does this sound like it’s too much? It’s not impossible. It will take some work, but you and your dog can do it.

First, Start with Some Training Tune-ups

If you haven’t been practicing obedience skills, do some dog training tune-ups to get the two of you working together again. Make sure you spend some time working on the sit command. Remember that the sit command means self-control, so spend some time practicing in different situations; especially at the front door.

Practice teaching your dog not to dash through open doors as this will also help teach your dog to be calm at doors. Practice the watch me command also, so you can gain your dog’s attention when he’s distracted.

Six Steps to Train Your Dog to Greet Visitors

Once you and your dog have brushed up on the training tune-ups, he’s ready to move on to learning appropriate manners at the front door.

  1. Recruit a family member, friend, or neighbor to help you.

  2. Have some good, high-value treats in your pocket.

  3. Hang your dog’s leash over the doorknob or have it somewhere close to the door.

  4. Ask your helper to ring the doorbell or knock on your door.

  5. Follow your dog to the door and call out to your helper, “Hold on, please, while I leash the dog!”

  6. Then leash your dog, ask him to sit, and open the door. If your dog breaks the sit, ask your helper to close the door and begin again.

When your dog can hold the sit when your helper steps into the house, praise him calmly, pet him, and give him a training treat. Ask your helper to ignore him as attention from her right now would be distracting. All rewards should come from you. Then have her go back outside and repeat the exercise.

Several training sessions with different helpers will build on this foundation. Additional training steps include inviting the helper inside, closing the door behind her, walking with her into the house, and inviting her to have a seat as you also sit and have your dog lie down and stay at your feet.

If at any time your dog gets distracted, ask him to sit and do a watch me. Use a treat to help him do the watch me. Praise him and pop the treat in his mouth as soon as he makes eye contact. Then repeat the part of the exercise where he got distracted.

If you take these training steps one at a time, and don’t go on to the next step until the one you’re working on is solid, then your dog should come to understand that you want him to be calm with guests in the house. How soon this happens depends on your training abilities, your dog’s motivation to cooperate with you, and how distracting your helpers are.


Teach Your Guests to Ignore Your Dog While He’s in Training

You need to teach your guests to ignore your dog – completely! – with no talking, petting, or food. Any attention from a guest is a positive reinforcement of the rude behavior you’re trying to reverse. Right now all of the attention must come from you. This is going to be hard, but you need to convince your guests that this is important so your dog can learn good manners.

Giving Your Dog a Time Out is Okay

If your dog gets overly excited when a guest is in your home, give him a time out. Put him in his crate in a back room away from the noise and confusion. Give him something to chew on, or at least a few treats, when you put him in his crate. This time out is not punishment; he’s done nothing wrong. Instead, you’re just giving him time to calm himself.

Most dog owners find that over time, with training practice, their dog can spend longer periods of time with the guests. However, if the get-together is loud or active there will come the time during the party when your dog will need a break. Giving him that time out can prevent problem behaviors, so be generous and do it for him.