How to Have a Well-Mannered Dog with Houseguests

Behavior and Training  •   Jasey Day  •   Nov 23, 2016

Envision your dog sitting politely to be petted by company, lying serenely on a dog bed while you visit with your friends or share a meal, and being a part of a happy gathering. Ahhhhhh. Sounds heavenly, doesn’t it?  It is.  Start with the tips below.

Give attention for the right behaviors: Most houseguests’ reaction to a leaping, shaking, agitated, excited and barking dog is to touch the dog to soothe the dog into a calmer state. However, this actually teaches the dog the wrong thing – “act super crazy and then you’ll receive affection!” Instead, you want to teach your dog that only relaxed, polite dogs receive cherished attention from these interesting guests! 

Ask your guests to only pet your dog when your dog has all four paws on the ground and is quiet. If your dog stops acting polite before (as a hand reaches toward your dog) or during some attention, all attention from the guest must stop immediately. Your guest may "stop" by pausing the petting, stepping away from the dog or even leaving the room for a few seconds! Attention only resumes when the dog provides the good behavior again. Thus, when the dog is calm again, petting may resume!

Manage the situation. Have your dog on a short leash, such as a 4-foot leash, when you have callers until your dog is a pro at being a well-mannered host. The leash allows you to keep your dog near you so that you can reward your dog for good behaviors (use treats or kibble!) and monitor when the dog receives interaction from your fascinating guests.

If you cannot manage both the door and your dog on leash as newcomers enter your home, have your dog crated when you first let in your guests. Then go get your leashed dog and your treats. If you need a break from training or if you think your dog is getting mentally exhausted from trying so hard to be “good,” then give your dog a break in a bedroom or a crate for part of the visit. 

Teach your dog to stay on his mat. See this blog for how to teach your dog the “go to your mat” command. You can use this during visits in the living room or kitchen, on a back patio, or during meals at a table. After you start to master the “go to you mat” command, continue to use treats during longer sessions on the mat so that your dog does not break out of his mat position.  Also remember that staying on a mat will be harder when treasured guests are near, so you may need to keep him on a leash while he is on his mat and reward (using treats, kibble, or affection) your dog more frequently.

Reward with treats. Treat your dog for moments of stillness and peace. If your dog chooses to sit politely and relax, treat your dog. If your dog glances calmly at your guest (instead of trying to drag you across the room to the guest), treat your dog. Remember, dogs repeat behaviors that are rewarded. Over time, as your dog masters his best behavior, you will gradually use fewer treats to reward your dog. 

If your dog can handle that, have your guest deliver a treat to a calm dog with a flat palm. You could then work up to your guest petting your dog's chest; have guests avoid over-the-head petting, which often excites dogs.

Be consistent. Ensure your rules for houseguests remain uniform. Do not let that one guest who says, “Oh, it’s okay if he jumps on me!” ruin all your training. You will send your dog mixed messages and dilute any preliminary training if one person allows your pooch to jump, bark or act wildly in exchange for interactions.

Practice. Invite visitors over often – even just for 30 minutes - to keep your dog’s skills fresh. Reward your friends with a meal or some snacks for helping you train your dog!

It's worth putting in some time to have this well-mannered pup. Happy training!

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Jasey Day

About the Author
Jasey Day

Jasey Day currently owns two exuberant yellow Labrador Retrievers, has earned 50 competition titles in dog sports, and has worked for the American Kennel Club since 2007. She has taught family pet obedience classes since 2004 and currently teaches at CareFirst Animal Hospital in Raleigh, NC.