Greeting Disorders

Nearly every dog gets excited when people come to visit, but some go completely overboard. They run around in circles, bark their heads off, or jump as high as they can, leaving dusty little paw prints on skirts and jackets. Even people who love dogs don't enjoy being greeted with so much exuberance, and they don't appreciate the intrusion of inquisitive noses into embarrassing places.

Apart from walks and meal times, most dogs don't have a lot of high points in their days, so it's not surprising that they get worked up when visitors drop by and liven things up. It's easy to train puppies to greet people with decorum, but it's more difficult to teach older dogs to behave more soberly. Not only are they set in their ways but also there may be other reasons for their assertive hellos. Here's what they're probably thinking.

"I'm just being myself." Among people, the most socially unacceptable kind of dog greeting is to have a cold nose pushed into a private place. But among dogs, this is simply the way they do things, and they can't figure out why people get so uncomfortable. This is one situation where dogs and people will never see eye to eye without some training, Kovary says. You should never let your dog put her nose in people's crotches, she advises. When your dog makes her move, quickly tell her "off" or "no," and do it every time. "Once your dog has calmed down and is sitting quietly, you can let her satisfy her curiosity by sniffing your guests' hands," she says.

"I'm ambivalent about this." Dogs tend to get most excited when they're of two minds about guests arriving, says Kovary. On the one hand, they're happy and eager to greet the person entering the house. But they're also wondering how this new person will fit into the group, and they aren't quite sure how to respond. So they display a whole variety of behaviors -- jumping up, barking, and so on -- as a way of "testing" how this new person is going to react to them.

An easy solution is to distract your dog as soon as people arrive. One way to do this is to make her lie down straight away. By going into training mode, you will focus attention more on you than on the new arrivals. When she does what you tell her, give her a treat, Kovary adds. It won't take her long to learn that acting calmly and following commands gets her something good to eat. Of course, this will make your dog look forward to visitors even more, but she will also know that gracious greetings bring better rewards than rambunctious jumping.

Some dogs get the message right away, but others need more work. Thomas recommends putting dogs on a six-foot leash before people come over. As guests arrive, you can either stand on the leash or take up most of the slack in your hands. "She won't have enough leash to allow her feet to rise more than three inches off the floor," Thomas says. "There's no risk of her jumping around or sniffing your guests."

Greeting problems can be awkward because you can't deal with them in private -- you have to get used to training your dog at a time you'd rather be concentrating on your guests. But the slight social awkwardness will pay off fairly quickly, especially if you ask your guests to join in. "Try placing a bag of treats outside your front door and put a sign on it that says, 'These treats are for our dog -- but only if she is sitting when you come in,'" Thomas suggests. Most people will get a kick out of joining in, and your dog will learn more quickly as more and more people participate.

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