If your dog is aggressive to visitors, don’t worry – help is at hand. It’s a stressful and difficult situation in which no one is happy – you, your dog, or your visitors! So let this article explain a bit about why the aggression is happening, what you can do about it, and what to get your visitors to do.
Why is my dog aggressive to visitors?
Simply put, your dog is protecting your house. In a more lengthy explanation – dogs are pack animals. They understand that the pack has a territory (in this case, your house), and that the territory needs to be protected from invasion. They see all of your visitors as being up for suspicion, as they may be friend or foe! Your dog has taken it upon his/herself to protect you on the occasions that they conclude that the visitor is foe (this might turn out to be every occasion that you receive a visitor!), because they believe that it is their responsibility to protect the pack and have made the decision that aggressive behaviour is the only option.
Why do they think my visitors are a problem?
If you trace the relationship between dogs and humans back, you’ll see that they have gone through multiple ages with us. Ages in which we were living in settlements and feared attack and invasion on a daily basis. At these times, a dog was a great companion, because their ears and sense of smell would pick up that someone was coming long before our human senses notified us. As soon as we heard a bark, we’d be up at the windows or battlements, ready to defend our home or castle. The dog would see this as us taking over, and know that they had done their job and could ‘stand down’.
Times have moved on for us, but our dogs don’t know this. They are still using the same instincts they used when we needed their help. So it’s not their fault that this behaviour is now causing a nuisance, because we now react to it in a different way. Rather than leaping to the window, we ignore their concern, or worse – shout at them to be quiet, and get panicky when they don’t (they will see this as you joining in to scare off the visitor, and being fearful of their arrival).
How do I stop my dog being aggressive to visitors?
Fortunately, we can go back to the same instinct that was in play in history. And when our dog shows us their concern, we can acknowledge it, and when we are happy that there is no problem, let them know. A simple “Thank you (insert dog’s name)” in a positive voice lets them know they’ve done the job of letting you know, and they can now stand down.
When it comes to allowing the visitor in – pop your dog out of the way. It isn’t their responsibility to assess whether this person is friend or foe, but if they are in the hallway when you open the front door, they will think that it is. Help them to understand their responsibility by calmly popping them into another room. “Thank you Bob, come on – in here” – if Bob doesn’t go in voluntarily, gently put him in there and close the door. Let your visitor into the house, and wait until Bob is quiet before letting him out.
If their aggression is severe then bring your dog into the room on a lead. If they bark or try to lunge, take them back to the room again and close them in there for a few minutes. Repeat this as many times as it takes until they will come out of the room calmly.
What does my visitor need to do?
If your dog is aggressive to visitors, it’s not just about your dog’s behaviour and your behaviour – it’s also about what your visitors do. Please give your visitors the following instructions:
- Whenever you come round, I will start with the dogs in another room, so please be patient for me to answer the door.
- We will wait until my dogs are quiet before I bring them into the room.
- When I do let them in, you must totally ignore them.
- Ignoring includes not making any eye contact, as well as not speaking to them or stroking them.
- If you want to stand up/go to the loo etc, please let me know so I can calmly secure the dogs before you stand up.
- If you feel that you cannot do any of these things, let me know and we’ll meet somewhere else.
Other things you need to know about dog aggression to visitors
Something that’s important to bear in mind is that it’s not just about what you do when visitors come around (as described above), it’s about what you do at all other times, as they are always looking at you to find out who is the decision maker – you or them! There are lots of other blogs on this website which will help. Or you can read “The Dog Listener” by Jan Fennell, or get a qualified Dog Listener (like myself) to come and help you.