This article is about what to do specifically around the time when a visitor comes to your home if your dog is showing aggression towards visitors. However just doing this on it’s own is not enough – this will only manage the situation and keep your visitors safe and your dogs out of trouble. If you have a problem with aggression towards visitors, you need to implement this advice immediately, AND you will also need to seek further advice on how to ensure your dog does not think he/she needs to protect the household in the first place. I can do this for you, if you are in my neck of the woods, or recommend someone to you if you aren’t (more on that later).
Prior to your visitor arriving
If it is a planned visit, you can calmly pop your dog in a room out of the way 5 minutes or so before your visitor is due to arrive (or have them call you before they come and ring the doorbell). This should be into a room that you do not immediately need access to when your visitor arrives. Also prior to their arrival, brief your visitor that you need them to ignore your dog.
If you’ve already popped your dog out of the way, all you need to do is go and answer the door and bring your visitor through to an area that you can all sit down and relax. If you dog barks during this time call out “Thank you” and his/her name in a matter of fact tone.
If you weren’t expecting this person to call by (e.g. it’s a delivery driver), or you’d lost track of time and hadn’t popped your dog out of the way yet, call out “Thank you” to them in the matter of fact tone, and then call them positive into the room you are happy to leave them in for a little bit. If they won’t go in there voluntarily then calmly put them in there. Don’t say any more to them at this point. We want bringing the visitor into your home to be as calm as possible.
Obviously, if it’s just a delivery driver, once they have dropped off the goods and you have closed the door and your dog is quiet you can just let them back out again. Don’t interact with him/her until she is calm though.
Brief your visitor
You might well have said it all to this person before, but at this point remind your visitor that you want them to totally ignore your dog when you bring them through. Clarify that this includes not making eye contact. Also pick your battles, if your visitor is very feaful of dogs then they aren’t an ideal candidate for the next bit. It’s okay to make the decision to keep your dog out of the way while you are working on improving their behaviour. Dogs are more likely to show aggression towards visitors who make them feel in some way confronted, which is why totally ignoring them is very important.
Wait for quiet
Under no circumstances should you let your dog our while they are barking/scratching etc at the door. Translate this behaviour to “Let me at them, I’ll sort it” – if you let your dog out while they are in that frame of mind it’s very possible that there will be a negative outcome.
Attempt to bring them in
I use the word “attempt” intentionally, because you are only going to bring them into the room if they are calm enough and don’t react negatively. As we don’t want them to hurt/scare your visitors, the safest way to do this is by attaching a lead to your dog. Then begin walking in the direction of the room your visitor is in. If your dog pulls, calmly turn and walk the other way. Keep changing directions towards and then away from the room your visitor is in until your dog doesn’t pull towards them.
Note: any barking/lunging while you are going through the above process, calmly put your dog back in the room on their own and shut the door. Go back to the ‘wait for calm’ step above, and work back through.
Once you have calmly got them into the room sit down, a nice safe distance away from your visitor and keep hold of the lead.
Keep it calm
No one is to interact with your dog in any way until he/she is clearly very relaxed (lying down on the floor as if going to sleep) and has been that way for a few minutes.
If things calmly down really quickly and your visitor is feeling brave, he/she can softly call your dogs name and make eye contact, giving them a soft smile. If there is any negative reaction from the dog, calmly walk them back out of the room.
Absolute must NOTs
A dog who has shown aggression towards any visitors must not be approached by a visitor under any circumstances. No matter how many times that have met that person before. When a dog is approached they can feel confronted by it, and may feel that they have no choice but to defend themselves – no matter how ‘friendly’ they usually are to this person – (trust me, dogs can be friendly to people they fear out of self preservation, just as humans can, and you may not be able to identify that signs that your dog is more stressed than normal)
It is also not recommended that your visitor makes sudden movements without alerting the person who is holding the dog. E.g. if they wish to use the toilet, ask them just to let you know, so you can be ready to calmly walk the dog out of the room if she/he reacts to them standing up.
If you follow all of the above points to the letter you will minimise your chances of your dog biting a visitor. However, as I pointed out in the opening paragraph, this is just a management technique. To truly address this behaviour you need to help your dog to understand that this just isn’t necessary. They will understand that when they see you step up and take the Alpha role – in a way which totally makes sense to them (they are many methods out there that don’t actually do this sufficiently in the dog’s eyes). The method that I know works time and time again is the one that I teach, Amichien Bonding – I have been helping owners to overcome dog behaviour problems for nearly a decade, and I know you can resolve this situation if you take a consistent approach. I cover all of Essex and the surround counties, up to East London. If you would like to learn how to properly address this behaviour (and have the added bonus of it naturally resolving all other niggly behaviour) then get in touch.
If you are outside of my area, I can recommend that you go onto Jan Fennell’s website to search for your nearest Dog Listener. It is an international organisation, so there are Dog Listeners all over the world!