It seems the holidays are already knocking at our door and soon we will have, literally, many relatives, guests and holiday visitors knocking too. There is no better time to start getting our rambunctious dogs under control at the front door. Far too often I see dogs and pups bark, climb, jump, scratch, nip, mouth (and in many cases growl and attempt to bite) at the door.
The main thing we must help our dogs understand is how to calm and get right into the action of smelling the guests. And, of course, the dogs can’t do that if they are put away or behind a gate, or held so far back that they never can smell the visitor. If you have a dangerous dog obviously proceed with caution and get help(call me) but if not remember a pup or dog has a biological need to smell a new person entering the home environment. Everything in the canine world is based on touching and smelling. The dog or pup needs to learn to switch from an excitable habit of staring and constant movement near the entryway to actual thinking and investigating with their wonderful noses. This can only be done through great leadership from the owner.
Dog leadership is very easy to define. Dog leadership is also very easy to see. If you truly wish to see dog leadership all you need to do is go to any dog daycare or dog park and watch for the calm, firm yet social dog in attendance. You will soon discover that “Alpha” dog leadership is mostly like good human parenting. It is not what many people imagine as domineering and over-controlling but instead is calm, patient, firm and exceptionally fair about the canine social rules (Alpha/parent or grandparent dogs are excellent peace-keepers among the group and many dog daycare owners love having them in their pack because they naturally help with the rest of the dogs.) (FYI- you can argue about linguistics and labels all you want. For my part I know for a fact that certain dogs with excellent language and social skills do exist and they act cool, calm, and collected, competent, confident, and with great self control. I call them alpha dogs. They do not over-police situations. They do not cause fights – they prevent fights in a fun and relaxing fashion. They are just like great parents.) Fun fact: Scientists have studied and proven that canines make spectacular parents and are often better at parenting than primates!
So, with dog leadership in mind you will have to be pretty firm at first (spatially speaking do NOT let the dog blow right past you or control any space near the doorway) as you teach your dog about the doorway and then very calm right after. Remember, there are no bad or good dogs, there is only reaction and habit and differing energy levels. As soon as the doorbell rings or you hear a knock and your dog starts speeding for the door…stay calm. Be patient as you practice.
Next, move to the door in an assertive manner. No need to run but walk with purpose. Never open the door when a dog’s face is in front of your body and they are forcing their face in the crack of the door. This is when you must claim the doorway and your own dog and back them up at least two to four feet (enough to give yourself some room to open the door and to not let them dominate/claim the door or guest or explode out the door). Picture a basketball player playing defense. The door is the hoop and you want to stop them from driving forward. The main goal here is trying to get the dog to stop doing the overexcited habit of barking nonstop, or moving constantly, or jumping on the guest, or exploding out of the doorway, or trying to attack the visitor, etc.
You have to get your dog’s eye contact for a moment and they have to physically slow their movement way down (it’s best if they stop moving all together). Do NOT pay your dog for eye contact by using a treat! (If a dog does something in return for payment it certainly does not mean the relationship is healthy or respectful) Be comfortable using the leash inside as you practice this greeting initially. If you get eye contact then you can turn around and answer the door. Once you open the door, be prepared for a rise in the dog’s energy and movement again and repeat the above procedure! Then (if they aren’t aggressive) let them go and get into smelling your visitors.
Smelling is an excellent way for a dog to gather information and also calm down quicker. If you don’t get the eye contact or the calmness it means you need help and I’m a phone call or email away.
The holidays can be a ton of fun or they can be stressful…the choice, my friends, is up to you. Good luck and may all your greetings be good ones.
Garrett Stevens is the author of the Hot-Listed book on dog and human behavior DOG MYTHS: What you Believe about dogs can come back to Bite You!
He is the owner of the multi-award winning, Alpha and Omega Dog Training in Tacoma WA (unaffiliated with any other companies)
He excels in dog rehabilitation and is a specialist in canine energy and body language.
Tacoma based, Garrett trains, whispers, and rehabs many dogs and pups a day while also working on his other books and training videos soon to be available to the public.
For more info go to http://www.gstevensdogtrainer.com and buy Dog Myths it will shock you, enlighten you and equip you and your pet to move forward together into the wonderfully calm future!