Dogcharmer: Energetic greetings

How to set a routine to handle turmoil at the door.

Friendly dogs like Reggie may bolt through an open door to find someone to greet. — Courtesy Tom Shelby

Dear Dog Charmer,

We love our new addition, Parmigiano Reggiano (AKA Reggie). He’s a happy pup with lots of energy. He’s great with our kids, other families, and other dogs — all of which was really important to us.

But this friendly dog LOVES to meet and greet people and dogs to say hi. When my younger children forget he’s there and open the door, he will jump out and dart across or down the street to find someone to say hi to. I’m never afraid he’s going to run away or hurt anyone, but it’s not good behavior and I fear I’m scaring the people he’s running toward while I’m yelling at my dog so sternly. And I don’t know how to have him come to me and “correct” him in the moment so he learns.

Do you have any advice on how to get him to stop doing this? I believe he’ll calm down with age, but at only 9 months old, we’ve got some time, and I want to start nipping this behavior in the bud.

Reggie’s dad

Dear Reggie’s Dad,

I call it the Door Turmoil Routine. It’s the lesson to create the routine that eliminates the turmoil at the door, and it’s usually one of the latter lessons. That’s because Reggie first needs to learn to lie down, and to stay while increasing the intensity of distractions through which he stays. This is best done with success building on success. Then he’s taught to go to a “spot,” a particular spot within sight of the door (out of the traffic pattern if possible), to lie down and stay when someone is at the door. After the two-leggeds finish greeting each other, Reggie is released with a word, at which point he can politely and calmly greet the visitor.

All dogs take great interest at the door, or who’s invading their territory. It’s “territoriality,” one of the main reasons man and dog bonded in the first place. What we can barely hear at 25 yards, a dog can hear at 100 yards. As for sense of smell, when Reggie smells the fire hydrant where another dog peed, he knows the age, sex, and health of the dog that peed. So between his heightened sense of hearing and smell, coupled with his “territoriality” instinct, he’s the perfect alarm system.

K-9 territorial responses can vary greatly. I’ve met plenty of owners who yelled through the door at my arrival, “I’ll be right there, just let me put the dog away.” That’s because that particular dog’s territorial response is to bite anyone with the audacity to invade his pack’s territory. It’s why I was called, to mitigate the territorial aggression. The opposite is the very fearful response, the dog that hides when the visitor enters. How do you make a coward brave? Turning a “chickenbutt” into a braveheart can be quite challenging and time consuming.

Thankfully, the great majority of unwanted responses at the door consists of overly happy enthusiasm coupled with obnoxious jumping and mouthing, or the runner who takes off at the opened door to enjoy the unbridled freedom (Reggie).

With a book or the help of a trainer, get Reggie to sit and stay within sight of the door, the “spot,” as someone opens and closes it. He will be dragging a leash throughout this training. When he’s good with that, have a family member ring or knock as you go to the door with Reggie, and praise him for alerting you. Tell the “guest” through the door that you’ll be right there, then you lure Reggie to the “spot” within sight of the door and have him sit (treat) and stay. Then answer the door, greeting the guest (calmly). If Reggie leaves the “spot” and runs to the door, pick up the leash and bring him back to the “spot,” telling him to sit and stay. When Reggie holds the stay at the “spot” while you greet the guest, then that is the time when you can release him with a word (“ok” or “free” or whatever), and as he rushes forward, have him sit at your or the guest’s feet for a second treat, controlling any jumping with the leash.

Overcoming the very enthusiastic dog’s territorial instinct for this routine requires serious effort. Henceforth, assuming someone’s home, NOBODY enters the home without knocking first and waiting for the in-house person to do the routine in the course of answering the door. Even when showing owners that it’s doable by having their dog do the routine for me when someone was at the door, several owners chose to take an easier route by simply attaching the leash to something at the “spot”, and controlling the greeting that way. For this routine, using chicken or hot dogs will make it easier to overcome his territorial instinct and get his attention at the knocking door. This is a hard one. Persevere, and it will be worth it because it sets the tone for the whole visit, a tone of cooperation. Good luck!

The Dog Charmer

P.S. As for the kids “forgetting” and opening the door, I call that “honoring the threshold.” My dog Paula Jean will not leave the porch, yard, house, or open car door unless she hears “OK.” “Honoring the threshold” is for another column. However, until Reggie is taught to honor the threshold, kids being kids and forgetting, I had a client attach the old fashioned chain lock allowing the door to only open a few inches, which served as a reminder to the kids to be aware of the dog before opening the door.

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