There are many components to successfully teaching a dog to calmly meet and greet people. Training plans vary depending on your dog’s temperament and in the house vs. outside contexts, among other factors. The plan for a fearful dog is different than that of a socially confident dog than that of a dog who likes people, but not lots of handling.
In any greeting situation, your dog will perform best when he knows what to expect and is conditioned to look to his handler for directives. As always, training within the dog’s threshold levels of arousal, brings results. Otherwise, it can be challenging to see behaviors that we want to reinforce.
In Home Meet and Greet
People entering and exiting a space present social transitions, which push many dogs over a threshold level of arousal. The doorbell is often an antecedent to this transition. Adding to the mix is the frequency of doorbell rings that announce only a package on the front porch. The random nature of this signal doesn’t help maintain the dog’s thinking and learning threshold.
When guests enter the home, the dog is capable of remaining calm and attentive to the handler with a trained in cue chain. With this, he knows what to expect because directives come from his handler. Three separate cues are needed: go to your mat (bed, spot, blanket), lie down, and stay. As the dog learns each cue, you can chain them and begin the process of adding door-answering elements.
At the end, the dog is directed to his “spot” when the doorbell rings and remains there through guest entry and release by the handler. Rather than fixating on the guests, the dog’s attention investment shifts to the handler. These directives with a reinforcement history provide a structure, and the dog knows what to expect.
Outdoor Meet and Greet
Due to increased distractions and changing elements, outdoor meet and greet training is more difficult. Young dogs are often more heightened in their arousal levels outside, and the approach of a greeter adds to that. Poised greetings require lots of practice using cues, classical conditioning, and carefully timed reinforcement. Handlers who are determined to train well are also willing to advocate for their dogs. The first step is to train the dog to sit by the handler’s side in a variety of contexts, including on the leash. Shaping works great to achieve this.
Be aware of which behaviors you are reinforcing. Pulling and jumping in anticipation of a greeting should not be reinforced by allowing the dog to interact with the greeter. The dog learns that these behaviors “work” for access to new people. Most dogs need a gradual program to learn to be approached and remain on four feet. When the greeter says a calm “Hello. How are you?” and refrains from immediately petting, it’s easier for the dog to remain calm, too.
Mannerly meet and greet behaviors are a life skill, which requires a plan, practice, and patience, to teach effectively and in a lasting way.
Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel CPDT-KA, 2020 all rights reserved
Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC