Sadie, my chocolate Labrador Retriever, came into our lives when she was 5 years old. Her elderly owner had passed away, and she had nowhere to go, so we took her in and fell in love with her immediately. Sadie loved everyone and, in typical Lab style, enthusiastically invaded the personal space of anyone who met her, saying hello by sticking her nose straight into their crotch area. While this made perfect sense to Sadie — she was simply gathering information about them through their unique scent signatures — it caused untold amounts of embarrassment for our guests and drew numerous apologies from us. We love our dogs, but sometimes their behavior is not socially acceptable and can be downright embarrassing, especially when guests come into the home. Is your dog embarrassing in front of guests? There are ways you can prevent and change these behaviors.
The best way to deal with any faux pas is to put a management plan in place before you do any training. Think about how you can change your environment to prevent the behavior from happening in the first place. The less your dog can practice the behavior, the easier it will be to change it.
Some management tips include:
For dogs who like to sniff certain delicate areas, hang a bag with an even more enticing smell outside the door, such as liver or a hot dog, and have the person hand feed or toss treats toward the dog on the ground as they enter. This is sometimes called the Go Find It game and is a great way to put a dog’s energy into searching for something else than saying an embarrassing hello.
If your guests do not want to handle food, you can play the game with your dog as your guest comes in. You can also teach your dog a “leave it” cue and then redirect him to something else such as a toy or treat, or you can teach him to target a person’s hands for a treat/petting as an alternative.
I taught Sadie to grab one of her toys and show it proudly to my guests instead of sniffing their “regions of interest.” Any other incompatible behavior like rolling over for a belly rub or running and sitting on a mat can be put on cue. Practice makes perfect!
Humping is another embarrassing dog behavior and occurs when dogs get overexcited or anxious, so try to limit your dog’s arousal levels by teaching calming behaviors including “settle.”
Learn more about dog body language that can help predict when your dog is getting excited, and teach him an alternative behavior before the humping occurs. You can also advise visitors on how to be calm in your home to set your dog up for success and not raise the level of his excitement, frustration or anxiety.
Small children tend to get humped first. If you know you have young ones coming over, have a special toy at the door they can give your dog when entering. If your dog is kid friendly, have two toys so that older children can toss one after the other (while avoiding taking the toy from the dog).
Show younger children how to stand still and “be a tree” to help set the dog up for success and limit his exuberance around greetings. You can show kids how smart your dog is by teaching him another behavior such as walking away and lying on a bed, doing a play bow or some other kind of activity that encourages your dog’s energy to go elsewhere.
One of the biggest faux pas dogs make is when they toilet in a home they are visiting. Be sure your dog has eliminated before arriving at a friend’s home, or ask that the same thing be done before a friend’s dog comes over to yours. Keep your dog in a smaller space, such as a tiled kitchen until he is relaxed.
Avoid vertical surfaces or expensive rugs, and keep your dog tethered to you until he is calm in the new environment, and you are sure he will not eliminate. Explore new environments together to prevent marking in new places. If you know your dog is likely to mark, allow him some playtime in the backyard first before coming inside.
Following these few simple guidelines will set your dog up for success and save you from having to endure embarrassing situations.
Tell us: Is your dog embarrassing in front of guests? Does your dog hump, jump or sniff your company? How do you handle it?
Thumbnail: Photography ©madcorona | Thinkstock.
Victoria Stilwell, renowned dog trainer, TV personality, author and public speaker, is best known as the star of the hit TV series It’s Me or the Dog, through which she reaches audiences in more than 100 countries. Appearing frequently in the media, she’s widely recognized as a leader in the field of animal behavior, is editor-in-chief of positively.com, CEO of the VSPDT network of licensed trainers and the founder of the Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training & Behavior — the leader in dog trainer education. Connect with her on Facebook and on Twitter at @VictoriaS.
Editor’s note: This article appeared in Dogster magazine. Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? Subscribe now to get Dogster magazine delivered straight to you!
Read more about dogs and the holidays on Dogster.com: