How your crew greets visitors can cause you stress or make you proud. Do you avoid having family over for fear of the barking that can ensue? Do you make workman call first so you can block your crew away from the doorway? And forget about parties, it’s just too much to deal with, right? Well, it can be better with some work on your part if your primary issue is barking and not aggression.
Alert barking, which is what this is, is a normal behavior in most dogs, especially guarding breeds, which is what most of my own crew is. I am not going to lie to my readers: as mentioned in my book, I have not really trained out barking at visitors with my crew. But reasons for that is a simple one. It’s not laziness. It’s just that I don’t really have many visitors that are not “dog people” and my crew is pretty comfortable with “dog people” right away.
For service persons, I simple baby gate them in rooms that said service persons will not be in. Occasionally, if the service person professes to be a “dog person” and I believe him, I will let Merlin in with us because he has been voted “most likely to bark at length if not permitted to greet visitors”. Merlin has a lot of opinions and he loves people so he is fine after greeting them with his opinion.
I actually have very successful parties despite mostly ignoring visitor training with my own crew. The reason for that may also be helpful for some of you. Once past the 3-4 visitor mark, my crew ceases to use barking as a greeting. Instead, they anticipate attention and potential food dispensing from any newcomer so they are on their best “we are too cute to ignore” behavior.
I always ask friends who my crew is familiar with to be among the first few to arrive at the melee and that helps my crew to feel more comfortable and helps to sets the stage for success. I have even had a successful Pampered Chef party with a PC rep who was afraid of dogs with this formula. Congrats to Dee for handling Siri (90# of Rottie mix!) being nosy while enthusiastically showcasing her wares!
So how is it possible to minimize the visitor barking? Easy. Will work for food is the motto of most dogs I know, especially those with this issue. You goal is to give your dog something else equally rewarding to do other than bark.
One of my very favorite food rewards to use for this issue is peanut butter. If you are allergic to peanuts, other nut butters work just as well as does soy butter. The sticking quality is what you need for a lengthier positive connection between said visitor and the yummy food reward. Any nut butter cannot be immediately swallowed so basically, you get more bang for your buck.
I have training tubes that can be filled with peanut butter and dispensed directly from the tube in order to minimize any mess that using peanut butter on a spoon can cause. They can be purchased directly at any R.E.I. store or you can buy them online. They are made for camping. What a great idea!
It’s difficult to do step by step training in this venue for this particular issue so I won’t attempt it. Steps are very much based on the individual dog. But if you keep certain things in mind, perhaps these tips can help.
-You must practice this with one dog at a time until each is pretty predictable. Then start with the two that are best at it together and progress from there. As long as your crew gets along well together, once at the all together point of training, you can use some competition to get the slower on the take pups to be faster at being quiet.
-You should practice associating the doorbell with peanut butter (or other food) before you need it. It takes time. Be patient and very consistent.
-You will need a helper or two. You cannot ring the bell and feed the dog at the same time!
-The peanut butter starts before the doorbell rings and until the door opens. There should be no ringing (or knocking) without food happening.
-It is important to talk to your dog while practicing this in order to keep the connection going. Use your best happy voice to verbally acknowledge staying with you/the peanut butter as well as choosing not to bark. Eye contact with you is a very rewardable behavior as well.
-If your dog heads towards the door at any time before the visitor enters, use your best happy voice to get his attention back on you. If he ignores you, get closer.
-Do not bribe him by placing the treat in front of his face but instead, prompt a head turn towards you and reward that, then head back away from the door
-Once your guest is in, you can allow your dog to greet your guest if he is not barking.
-You can give your guest treats other than peanut butter to offer your dog. Think high value such as boiled chicken, hot dogs, liver, etc.
-You can also implement a time out (just the removal of attention, nothing scary) if barking is excessive.
-Never use a negative word or tone to try and “correct” barking. Attention is still attention and negative (no, bad, etc.) attention still maintains or increase the behavior (barking).
One thing that I have found that helps with group greetings to visitors is allowing one dog at a time in to greet until every dog that can be there is present. This tends to take the excitement level down to a manageable level. You can use baby gates or simply another room to separate dogs until it’s their turn to come in.
You can also simply train your dogs, again one at a time, to go to a special place such as a mat, crate or dog bed when they hear the door. Then you have the option of inviting them from said place to come and greet guests on your pre-trained terms. Again, this will not happen over night and you must be patient.
Courtenay in British Columbia is a Manners Minder aficionado. I admit I have not yet tried this wonderful machine but it’s not for lack of wanting to. It is not cheap but it’s helpful for this sort of thing if you do choose to train the “go to place” for door manners. Courtenay did this and it worked well for her.
Crystal in Indiana, PA has also trained her dogs to go to a place when visitors arrive, though her method differs. She has the crew first go to her couch and when they are calm, they are permitted to come and greet the visitors. Once they do this, they are sent to go lay in their individual places. When she has visitors that are staying a bit longer, the dogs are given Kongs or other high value distractions while they are in their spots.
Training dogs, especially a multiple dog household, to be calmer around visitors is not the easiest behavior to train but it can be done with patience and vigilance. Having multiple dogs at all requires both so give yourself credit for this feat and believe that you can persevere!