Who’s That Knocking On My Door?

Who’s That Knocking On My Door?

Halloween is coming soon and Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner. All of these holidays mean that you’ll have droves of guests coming to your house getting Fido all worked up. Teaching a dog to properly greet visitors at the door is one of the most common issues that people have with their dogs. We’ve provided an article, originally written by Sue McCabe but edited and modified by Misty Pines, listing different reasons that your dog may want to be over exuberant with their greeting and a few ideas on how to anticipate problems and head them off at the pass. Enjoy the article and have a happy, safe, and stress free holiday season!

In terms of dog/owner frustration and concern, coming a close third place behind recall and dog/dog reactivity issues is greeting guests. Unlike recall or reactivity, training appropriate greetings should not cause as much stress as it seems to. The fact that the challenge is occurring in an owner’s home, means people have complete control of the environment in which they are training. As such, it should be easy to manage their dog’s behavior and retrain a greeting acceptable to all concerned. So why is it such a common challenge then?

Dogs that greet visitors at the door inappropriately typically fall into one of three categories: excited, protective, or fearful. You can utilize techniques learned at Misty Pines to help your dog overcome these challenging situations! Here are some examples for you to determine what type of greeter your dog may be:


The level of excitement and enthusiasm to greet the guest rises to levels beyond the dog or the owner’s control. This quickly results in a lunatic fur ball, abound (literally) with glee, paws akimbo, ready to greet the unfortunate guest, who has no idea they possess such cause for excitement. In turn, the owner, at pains to control their hyperactive dog, joins in the fun, saying the dog’s name over again in an excited voice which winds Fido up more. They often attempt to grab or restrain the dog which only makes things worse.

Your dog will be desperate to say “hi” so watch for signs that he’s given up trying, wait a few minutes more and only then proceed to train him. If he is a jumper, the dog gate becomes a buffer. Guests should walk away and approach the gate again once the dog is calm. Teach him that guests throw food over his shoulder, so wasting time/energy approaching the guest is pointless, as food comes to him, not the other way around. Guests should begin to train calm sit greetings after several ‘free’ treat sessions.

Other helpful hints for friendly dogs:

Utilize a dog gate, tether or “place” command to give your dog a designated place to be when visitors arrive. 
Put a leash and appropriate training collar on (like a scruffy guider!) for extra control.
If you decide to put your dog in a crate, give them something to chew on to keep busy.
Allow physical touch and affection only when your dog is in a calm state- usually after the guests have arrived and settled in.
Prepare a prolonged release interactive food dispensing device, such as a bob-a-lot to keep your dog busy during this exciting time.


These types of dogs believe that their home is their sanctuary. The front door is the portal which divides safety and the big bad work. Such dogs are worried for the safety of their property or themselves. The former feels the need to guard their home or owner. The suspecting visitor has no idea they have been classed as evil as they are met with a dog ready to protect (lunging, jumping barking, growling, and/or biting). Owners of such dogs, in a vain attempt to take control, often shout commands and use physical restraint, finally resorting to locking the dog away from visitors to keep everyone safe.

You really don’t want dogs that guard their property or their owners to approach strangers at your home. Close proximity to guests means such dogs may try to control visitors through their actions (Stalking/lunging/growling/biting). Make decisions for them to demonstrate clearly that guests are non- threatening and are also in control. When such a dog has relaxed, request that visitors calmly approach the dog gate and toss mouth wateringly tasty food over the dogs shoulder. They should retreat, then repeat the approach until the dog is showing relaxed body language rather than reactive signs, when visitors move towards the gate. Guests can begin to request a sit and repeat the treat/retreat training thus controlling the greeting and reward.


Wary dogs are terrified for their own safety. Such dogs run to hide, attempt to go deeper into the sanctuary, shy away, or beg to be left alone. Owners often attempt placation, reassurance and cajoling. They drag their dogs to greet guests, asking visitors to feed, stroke or cuddle them. All the time such dogs believe they are being asked to make friends with someone they perceive to be threatening.

These dogs don’t want to approach guests. They just want to be left alone. Respect this by providing a space to hide in (like a covered crate) while guests visit. Should you chose to change their mind about visitors, do so using treat training, but allow the dog to decide if he wants to take further steps to greet. Ask guests to allow such dogs to approach the dog gate, not the other way around. Have them toss food to the dog, but never force him to be pet. If allowing this cautious greeter to join your gathering, remind guests that most of these dogs want to sniff visitors to reassure themselves that the visitor is not a threat. It is not necessarily an request to be stroked and petted.

Other helpful hints for protective or fearful dogs:

NEVER force a greeting; allow your dog to acclimate on their own time.
Stay calm, and try not to shout. Yelling will often escalate a dog’s stress level!
Ask guests to completely ignore your dog. Lead by example- ignore your dog at this point also.
Make tea, allow your dog to see and hear the guests through the gate. Wait for this new arrival to lose its novelty.
Utilize distance with a secure “place” command or crate to allow your dog to become more comfortable. Separate them from the visitors where they can see, smell, and hear the guests without acclimate slowly.

Occasionally toss food to your dog to help them build a positive association with your new guests.

While I know there will be rare folk whose dogs don’t fall into the three categories listed above, for the average pet dog owner, it’s far more common for one of these behaviors to prevail. For this reason, allowing your dog to greet at the front door is a bad idea for all concerned. Dogs become proficient at behaviors they practice, so if you want your dog to learn calm, controlled greetings, practice this. Manage your dogs behavior and that of your guests carefully.

A simple step which can encourage more appropriate behavior in our dogs, is often one which owners seem most reluctant to take. People are so desperate for guests to like their dog and vice versa, that they continue to put their pets into fail/fail situations- everyone gets frustrated or upset! Take control of greetings so your dog doesn’t have to. Developing a game plan will help you and your dog successfully get through the night.


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