Everyone dreams of having that perfect pup that approaches people calmly and sits politely to say hello. Sadly, what may end up happening with many dogs is over-excitement at the sight of another dog or person. Luckily, there's an effective way to fix this!
For starters avoid setting your dog up to fail. If your dog does not have the skills to greet politely, they should not be allowed to greet other people or dogs on walks yet. That's asking for trouble. Instead, set up a controlled environment that you will use to help teach your dog or puppy how to greet others. It's much easier to do it this way than to try and teach your dog this lesson while they're out of their minds with excitement and you can't reasonably expect the other dog parent to do you the favor of standing around while you get your dog under control and ready to greet!
What you'll need:
Your dog, of course!
A leash, I'm a big fan of slip leads because of their zero fuss nature, slip it on, slip it off!
A few friends or family members (that your dog doesn't know).
Another dog, you can start with just people at first if your dog is highly "other dog" motivated.
If you have a pup that gets super excited when someone rings at the door, this exercise will help with that as well! You can Practice this at the front door to start and then move to other areas such as the yard, around the corner, or at a park!
Here's what you gotta do:
Have a friend come over and role play as an unannounced visitor. Especially if you normally crate your dog or put them outside to get the door, your dog's gonna know what's up so pretend you have no clue that your friend is coming over.
Knock Knock: (Keep a small bowl of treats outside and have your visitor have one ready)
Step 1: When your friend knocks on the door, ignore your dog if they become excited. Calmly proceed to grab their leash and ask them to sit, once sat, place the leash on your dog and go get the door. (this is why it's important to set this up, it might take you a good minute or two to get your dog to calm down enough to leash them. You don't want an actual visitor waiting outside forever!) You can also leash your dog beforehand and just skip to the next step. But the leash routine detailed here will help your dog understand that when someone knocks, we can only open the door (which they really want) once they calm down enough to get their leash on. If you feel this will be too much for your dog, just leash them beforehand and come back to the leash routine later. It will be helpful during times when you do have an unexpected knock at the door.
Step 2: Once your dog has their leash on, proceed to get the door and greet your visitor as you normally would. Your dog will likely want to jump all over them or at the very least be hyped up and might whine or bark, have your visitor ignore your dog until you get them under control.
To get your dog under control:
Using the "tug and release" method (see below) pull your dog away from your visitor and ask them to sit. Your dog might ignore you at first, keep at it until they do as their told. Once sat, their springloaded legs might just pop back up again, have them sit again, and again and again, as many times as it takes.
NOTE: Those of you with more mellow dogs or young puppies should have an easier go of this. Those of you with more....spirited dogs, hang in there, stay calm, and believe in your dog! Remember that dogs learn by paired association and repetitive reinstruction. If your dog is truly overwhelmed and won't sit, make the goal be to have them stand calmly to receive praise and treats. You can work up to the "sit" later.
Step 3: Once your dog is able to calm down (either sitting or standing), they might be panting a bit, that's ok. Have the visitor calmly approach your dog and say "good dog" and give the treat. No petting (yet) no squeaky voice, no loud body language, just "good dog," then treat. let your dog sniff on the visitor, their reward for making it through the lesson! Have the visitor remain calm. Chit chat lightly with them as your dog happily sniffs. Just be sure to "tug and release" any time they try to jump up. Be sure to praise your dog when they sniff the visitor politely instead of jumping up. Praise should be calm and short. Have your visitor leave, wait five minutes, and come right back for another visit!
Step 4: Repeat this exercise as many times "in one go" as possible, at least 5 times. You'll notice it will get easier and easier for your dog to sit calmly and be polite with each go-around. You can work up to letting the visitor pet your dog once they are able to be calm. If the petting ignites your dog's over-excitement again, have the visitor leave immediately and try again in 5 minutes. The next day (or even later that same day) have a new visitor come by and repeat this exact same exercise as many times as possible.
The "Tug and Release"
This is a leash handling method used to help get your dog closer to you and away from whatever is setting them off. It can be used in any situation where you need to get your dog under control. To be clear, a "tug" is a continuous force pulling your dog towards you that relaxes once your dog moves in your direction, it is not a "yank". Yanking or snapping on the leash may hurt your dog.
Once your dog becomes excited and moves to the end of the leash, you'll want to eliminate the tension they've created by tugging them back towards you. Once your dog moves close to you again, release the leash so it relaxes between you.
Talk your dog through it. When you tug, say "steady" or "easy" (whatever you want to say). When you release, praise your dog for keeping the leash relaxed.
Repeat as many times as it takes for your dog to calm down and quit running to the end of the leash. The more you repeat it, the more your dog will understand that you find this behavior unacceptable. Prase your dog for taking calm steps forward with a relaxed leash.
If your dog gets excited when family members come home, do the exercise with them too. Talk to your teenagers or spouse or parents or whoever about playing the "visitor" when they come home so you can get even more practice in with your dog. They don't have to knock through, just make sure you have the dog on a leash before they walk inside. The person arriving home should behave exactly like the "visitor" in the exercise above.
Once your dog has practiced this enough times to "get it right" and be calm around visitors to your home, it's time to take the exercise outside! Go for a walk with your dog and have a friend positioned around the corner ready to"run into you" on your walk. Just repeat the same exercise, make sure your friend has a treat handy if your dog is treat motivated. For this exercise have your dog sit (or stand) and calmly wait for your friend to approach. If your dog gets too excited and won't sit still, have your friend stop walking. Get your dog under control again and then your friend can proceed. Once your dog is a pro at greeting on walks and successfully passes their exercises, you can throw in a friend's dog if you like! Just follow the same steps. It's best to try this with a more mellow dog that won't react to your dog's excitement.
The best way to get an excited dog under control is to be persistent and to be calm and praise/speak calmly. This goes for everyone involved in the training process. Always praise your dog for good behavior, regardless of whether you asked for the behavior or not.
I hope you find this post helpful in teaching your pup some polite greeting skills! If you'd like a demonstration with a trainer to get you started, feel free to reach out anytime to book a workshop!