Boxer Central – Greeting People at the Door

This week’s most popular question on Boxer Central’s ‘Ask Erica’ segment has been about jumping at guests when they arrive at the front door. Boxers are nothing if not exuberant, and the vast majority are very friendly and highly sociable with people. In fact, a new study was released recently showing us that dogs in general actually prefer the company of people versus dogs! Assuming your dog is friendly with people who visit your home (and if he’s not, please contact a professional, positive trainer), it typically doesn’t matter what kind of ‘punishment’ you use to dissuade excitable greetings; pulling them by the collar, kneeing them in the chest, yelling ‘no’ – all common attempts, none of which are generally very effective, either in the moment or on an ongoing basis. The scientific definition of a punisher is that the punishment is effective to reduce the frequency or intensity of the behaviour going forward, with the goal being that eventually, the behaviour stops altogether. Most owners will tell you that no matter what they do at the door, the dog is just as excited and gung-ho every time someone arrives at the door, which means that no matter what you’ve been doing, it’s not working. Typically, the joy of seeing a new person is just so powerful, there’s very little you can do to squash your dog’s sense of joy – but what if we gave them a behaviour that was acceptable, and instead of punishing it, we rewarded it?

One of the most common mistakes dog owners make is asking a dog to stop an activity, but not replacing it with a new one. The phrase I always drill into all my clients’ heads is “Don’t do that, do this instead” when they are talking to their dogs. In other words, ask your dog do stop doing the inappropriate behaviour, and ask him to do something appropriate – without leaving him to make his own choices about what is right (it never is!). Some dogs (and I’m not mentioning names here Pearson!) are just great dogs, who are responsive and relaxed and can easily master a Sit and Wait at the door until the person is ready to say hello. Most are not, and end up looking like they’re sitting on a washer on the spin cycle until the person goes to say hello and then they explode with energy and you wonder what the point of having them sit was. So, in cases where a dog is so excited, but that excitement becomes jumping and bumping and nose kisses, I teach the dog an incompatible behaviour that still allows them to be excited. In other words, I ask them to do something that lets them wiggle around, but also means they can’t do the new behaviour and jump on the person at the same time.

For most Boxers, toys, especially squeaky tuggy toys, are one of the greatest things on earth. Try setting aside one of their favourites (something that makes a sound, and that is long enough that the dog can grab it without jumping, while you are still standing and holding it – like a Kong Wubba), and when a person comes to the door, squeak the toy to get your dog’s attention, and encourage him to play a little gentle tug with you while the person comes inside and settles in (if he tugs too hard, just let go – he’ll be right back again nudging you to grab it and won’t tug so hard next time because he wants you to keep playing). Once the person is settled in, let your dog have the toy on his own, or go and say hello. The alternative can be, for dogs less toy motivated, getting handfuls of small treats and tossing them backwards into your house when the person is coming in the door, luring your dog away from the door and keeping him busy at the same time. Your dog will enjoy this game, and it will soon come to be expected – my own Boxer Toby’s first response when people arrive is to go and get his toy, which he shows off to me and my guest.

Whenever you teach a new skill, it’s very important to set your dog up for success, and train the new behaviour in easy situations first. Begin by starting this when no one is actually at the door, but knocking the door yourself (or using a smart phone app that makes a doorbell sound), then going through the new routine. Then start by having anyone who lives in the home knock or ring the doorbell when they get home from work or school – this is more true to real life, but if you make mistakes, they’ll be more forgiving, and frankly they are actually less exciting for the dog than a person who is new, or that the dog doesn’t see very often. If jumping remains a real issue in the house even long after the initial greeting, teach your dog that jumping up gets them the opposite of what they want – distance from the person they are jumping on. Dogs typically jump for social reasons, and because they want to smell your face and see what you’ve been eating (like dogs who know each other well and lick each others faces), so you can throw out the window any ideas that this is related to dominance. The well known idea of turning away from a jumping dog is partly correct, but I find the dog learns faster if you turn around AND walk away, even if just for a few seconds. When the dog does approach and doesn’t jump, give him plenty of love and affection. If done consistently (without the person pushing the dog, yelling, kneeing etc), the dog will quickly learn that jumping leaves him standing alone, but that all fours on the floor get him love and attention!

Start easy, be consistent, keep it simple, and ALWAYS reward good behaviour (which we usually miss, because they are finally quiet and gentle!)!

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