What's the Big Deal?
They race through them to go out, whether it’s the front door, the car door, the crate door or… well, pretty much any door. When someone comes through a door, all hell can break loose! Dogs can transform themselves from a lazy lump on the floor to a jumping, lunging, growling, barking, nipping, spinning, pacing crazy thing in two seconds flat. Why?
Portals to the World
As far as our dogs can tell, everything comes and goes through the door. The door itself is part of many patterns that lead to exciting things such as walkies, rides in the car, playing fetch in the yard.
You are very lucky indeed if you have a dog who can hold it together emotionally when someone comes to the door. Many (perhaps most) dogs have a strong reaction to this very sudden change in their immediate surroundings.
Is it excitement or fear?
Joyful greetings are one of the wonderful benefits of having a dog, but sometimes the level of enthusiasm our dogs bestow upon us can literally bowl us over. A very common complaint is that the family dog jumps all over people when they arrive. What to do? Thankfully, there are many options.
Teach your dog to hold something in his mouth when he greets people. Dogs whose mouths are busy are much less likely to jump. Our older dog is provided a “happy rag” to parade around with when someone comes to the house. You can stow a favorite toy at doorways just for the purpose of keeping your dog busy for that initial period of excitement.
Allow your dog to express his excitement in a more acceptable way. Teach him to spin, to tug, to leap on cue (without body contact)… any behavior that allows him to release his happy energy that isn’t jumping ON people.
Use a body guard. A jumping dog often desperately wants to make body contact. I will hold something in front of me to prevent access to my body. I simply hold the item between me and the dog. I’ve used a broom, shovel, small cooler, boogie board – whatever’s handy. Once the dog settles and is over his jumpy mood, I can put it away. This generally takes less than a minute. The item is not to hit or otherwise punish the dog; it's simply a way to keep paws off you.
Teach self-control. I like to teach dogs to “perch” on a small stool so this becomes the greeting place. Position the stool away from the door to make entries and exits easier. Keeping the two front feet on the perch means lots of attention!
Prevent jumping by tethering your dog. A tether is just a leash or line that’s attached to something sturdy. Ideally, your dog will wear a harness while tethered in order to prevent stress on his neck if he pulls a lot. The tether should be positioned where your dog can see the goings on, but far enough away that he can’t physically access incoming visitors. Before visitors arrive, tether your dog and reward him profusely for any calm behavior when people arrive. Choose something he can work on during this time: a frozen stuffed Kong, a bone.. anything that might keep his attention for a little while.
Our dogs do what works for them. Be sure you aren’t unintentionally rewarding your dog when he jumps on you!
Aggressive behavior at the door.
Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence. Dogs who react aggressively, who display fear or anxiety by stiffening, growling or worse, can be a real danger. Please tune in to an upcoming blog to learn more about this behavior and what to do about it. Better yet, if you have a dog who fits this description, contact a professional dog trainer who uses positive methods. This type of behavior generally gets worse if left untreated.