How to Keep Your Dog Calm When Guests Arrive

How to Keep Your Dog Calm When Guests Arrive

The holidays can be stressful enough with out-of-town friends and family visiting. An overly excited dog doesn’t make life easier! Dogs are naturally curious and social animals, which means they can get overwhelmed and overstimulated with the sudden influx of people and activities. It's important to manage their behavior to ensure a peaceful and enjoyable holiday for everyone.

I am dealing with this myself as I have a 9-month-old Weimaraner who is extremely friendly. He tries to jump on people, and it’s challenging to keep him under control! So, I thought I’d share my management tips. Each dog is different, and what works for one may not work for another, so feel free to adapt these tips to suit your dog's personality and needs.

Please share what works for keeping your dog calm in the comments. This is such a common problem! Your experiences and tips can help other dog owners navigate the holiday season with a calmer, happier pet.

Tips for Keeping Your Dog Calm Around Holiday Visitors

1. Lots of daily exercise.

A tired dog will be at least slightly calmer and better behaved at the door than a dog who hasn’t had enough exercise. Unfortunately, it’s generally not enough to take your dog for a long walk the morning your visitors will arrive. It’s more effective if you can take your dog for a long walk every single day so he has less pent-up energy in general. Regular exercise helps reduce anxiety and restlessness in dogs.

Other tips: Take him to daycare a few days per week, take him running, use a doggy backpack, visit new places to tire him out, or work on obedience training. Incorporating different forms of exercise and mental stimulation can keep your dog engaged and less likely to act out when guests arrive.

2. Come up with a game plan and practice.

It’s helpful if you can write down exactly what you want your dog to do when people visit. Then slowly work up to that point. Clear and consistent expectations help your dog understand what behavior is expected of them.

For example, if you want your dog to stay on a dog bed in the other room when people arrive, you would have to practice this in less “exciting” scenarios over several weeks. Start with simple, low-stress situations and gradually increase the level of distraction as your dog becomes more comfortable with the command.

For example, will he stay on his bed when you ring the doorbell yourself? How about if another family member rings it? Or a delivery person? You would want to work with your dog during “less exciting” situations first. Eventually, you could practice with out-of-town relatives arriving. Consistent practice helps reinforce the desired behavior and makes it easier for your dog to follow commands in more chaotic situations.

Here are some things you can do in the meantime ...

3. Leash your dog at the door.

Sometimes, simply putting a leash on your dog will make all the difference because you can use it to maintain more control and firmly remind your dog not to jump. You can also keep him closer to you versus running up to greet people. Most people tend to greet dogs in an excited voice, which just makes the dog all the more excited! Using a leash helps manage your dog's movements and reinforces calm behavior at the door.

See our post: How to Stop a Dog from Jumping

4. You could put your dog in a kennel or in another room.

My puppy is so excited at the door that I actually just put him in his kennel when I know someone will be visiting. He stays in there with a hollow toy I can stuff with peanut butter and treats. That keeps him busy for about a half-hour, and then I take him out to greet everyone on a dog leash. This allows your dog to settle down before being introduced to new people.

This is just easier because it allows me to focus on my guests versus trying to make my dog behave. It also gives my dog some time to get used to the sounds and smells of who’s visiting but from a distance. Creating a calm environment before the introduction helps your dog feel more secure and less reactive.

If you have a dog who is fearful or overly protective, putting him in a crate for some downtime is probably a good idea. A crate provides a safe and familiar space for your dog to retreat to when they feel overwhelmed.

5. Head out for a walk together.

If you have visitors who would be up for a walk, this is a great way to introduce people to your dog, especially if they’ve brought their own dogs along. Walking together creates a shared activity that can help both dogs and humans bond in a relaxed setting.

When my parents recently came to visit, I had my puppy in his kennel for the first half-hour, and then we all went for a group walk together. I didn’t allow Remy to greet my parents until after the walk because then he was much calmer and could greet them without jumping. This approach helps burn off excess energy and provides a structured way for your dog to meet new people.

Tip: This is an especially good idea if you have a dog who tends to urinate when he’s excited or nervous. It allows you to do the greeting outside! Outdoor greetings can be less stressful for dogs who are prone to excitement urination.

6. Use highly valued treats to reward calm behavior.

Once the initial greeting is out of the way, it helps to have highly valued treats your dog is willing to work for. You can use them to reward your dog for any good behavior such as sitting, lying down, staying on a dog bed, or simply being calm. This positive reinforcement helps your dog associate calm behavior with rewards.

This is a good time to practice commands like “go to your bed” or “stay.” Consistent use of high-value treats reinforces the desired behaviors and helps your dog understand what is expected of them during visits.

7. Ask visitors to ignore your dog.

Finally, and perhaps the most difficult of all, it is very helpful if people can truly ignore your dog. I know it’s almost impossible to get some people to do this. It might be because they don’t quite understand what you mean. Explain to your guests that ignoring the dog initially helps them calm down faster and prevents overstimulation.

I tell people not to acknowledge my dog at all for at least a half-hour. Don’t even look at him, I say. When people can follow through with this and truly not acknowledge Remy, it makes an incredible difference for helping him calm down much faster. This strategy allows your dog to adjust to the presence of new people without the added excitement of direct interaction.

8. Create a calm environment.

Before your guests arrive, make sure your home environment is as calm as possible. Lower the volume of any loud noises, such as the TV or music, and try to maintain a peaceful atmosphere. Dogs are highly sensitive to their surroundings, and a calm environment can help them stay relaxed.

You might also consider using calming aids, such as diffusers with calming pheromones or calming sprays, to help your dog feel more at ease. These products can be particularly useful for dogs that are prone to anxiety or overexcitement.

9. Offer a safe space.

Ensure your dog has a designated safe space they can retreat to if they feel overwhelmed. This could be a specific room, a crate, or a quiet corner with their bed and some favorite toys. Allowing your dog to have a space where they can escape the hustle and bustle can help them feel more secure and less stressed.

Encourage your dog to use this space by placing treats and toys there and praising them when they choose to retreat to their safe spot. Over time, your dog will learn to associate this area with positive experiences and will be more likely to use it when needed.

10. Maintain a routine.

Dogs thrive on routine, so try to keep their daily schedule as consistent as possible during the holidays. Stick to regular feeding times, exercise routines, and bedtime schedules. Consistency helps your dog feel secure and reduces anxiety caused by sudden changes in their environment.

If you anticipate disruptions to your dog's routine, plan ahead to minimize their impact. For example, if you know you'll be busy with guests during your dog's usual walk time, try to take them for a walk earlier in the day to ensure they still get the exercise they need.

What tips do the rest of you have for keeping a dog calm and controlled around visitors?

Let us know in the comments!

Jul 10, 2023 Lindsay Stordahl

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