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Introducing house visitors to our dogs



Background


It is not uncommon for some Romanian dogs to develop small circles of friends with other dogs and people, and not be a general social butterfly. Many guarding and shepherding breeds are built to be like this given a background of guarding a property or a flock of animals with few people ever being seen outside the immediate family. Many Romanian dogs have these breeds in their genetic make-up as these types of dogs were turned out on the streets during the unrest in Romania, and have since been breeding on the streets. Typically though once an introduction has been properly done to a new person the dog will always consider that person part of their family, and be thrilled to see them even if they only rarely see them. The guarding behaviours can develop more as the dog goes through adolescence and the genetic behaviours become stronger.


The dog showing discomfort to people being in the house or coming to the property can be driven by fear as much as a genetic desire to keep the house and family safe. Dogs feeling fear will typically enter a period of flight, where they try and hide, retreating to a quiet part of the house, or fear where they will signal to the person that they want the person to leave and while these signals can start low-level, like an intense stare, a stiffening of the body or a light growl, they can escalate if the dog feels the warnings are not being heeded, leading to more intense growling, snarling, snapping and maybe even a bite. The early warnings must be heeded, and the dog should not be told off for these early warnings as telling them off could lead to a faster escalation.


Preparation


Engagement games are good for using during walks to keep the dog engaged with the walker and enable them to be better managed if something unexpected happens, they are also useful for getting engagement when training in the house. These are simple engagement games and should be taught ready for use when needed.


Look at me – https://thesprucepets.com/train-dog-to-look-at-you-1117297

and Touch – https://preventivevet.com/dogs/how-to-teach-your-dog-to-touch


They are also useful as an excuse to give the dog some praise and treats for doing something well which puts the dog in a good mood.


If our dog is in the habit of barking at people coming to the house like the postman we must work on stopping this, an interruption is needed, like ‘thankyou’ and we call the dog to us and treat them for coming. Barking at passers by and postmen is very rewarding for the dog as it appears to be working, they bark, the person goes away, giving the dog a sense of achievement. A positive interruption as fast as possible is best.


If our dog is reactive to people out and about we need to do some work on this, also usually a fear based reaction, work on getting the dog used to seeing people at distance when they are below threshold, that is they can look at the person and take treats from the carer. Once they are lungeing, barking and tense in their body fixating on the person then they have gone over threshold and more distance must be introduced. We can only train dogs who are under threshold. We want to reward our dog for looking at the people and keeping under threashold.


Teach him the ‘settle’ cue when no-one is there, just get him to lie at your feet and reward well. If he knows how to ‘settle’ he will do it more easily when a visitor is there. See the excellent kikopup video on this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yr1olzgidMw


Meeting on neutral ground


It is best for our dogs to meet new people on neutral ground, they can go on walks with the new person and the carer, the new person should not be in any hurry to take the lead, just be there and part of an experience that the dog enjoys, ensuring it is a good dog walk in any area where the dog is relaxed and can have plenty of sniffing time. The new person should mainly ignore the dog. The carer can be in the middle of the new person and the dog, only swapping positions to put the dog on the inside when the dog obviously doesn’t care that the visitor is there. Once the dog is walking happily in-between then a second lead could be attached which the visitor loosely holds. We could then move on to the guest engaging more with the dog, taking the lead, snuffling in some leaves with the dog for treats or playing tug-toy.


Meeting in the garden


If meeting on neutral ground is not possible, then meet in the garden first. Take the dog out of the way and let the new person into the garden, get them to sit down at the patio table or somewhere natural, then lead the dog into the garden on lead, don’t take the dog near the visitor but just sit a distance away, petting and praising the dog and talk to the visitor. If our dog is settled then we can extend the lead, use a long line if we have one, let the dog just sniff around or sit by you. If the dog is completely unbothered by the visitor then allow him off lead, but be ready to put back on lead if he/she shows any nervousness. The visitor should not engage or make sudden movements. Do the engagement games with your dog to give them praise for behaving normally.


Meeting inside house


Once a successful meet has been done on more neutral ground, the meeting can move indoors. The visitor should move inside first while the dog is distracted, and make them selves comfortable at the far end of the room. Lead the dog in and sit down with the dog on lead as far from the guest as possible. The guest should not talk to the dog, or make eye contact, but just talk quietly and without sudden movements to the carer. The carer should be praising the dog and giving them treats for sitting calmly. If the dog is not calm lead them from the room and do some engagement games to get their focus back then lead them back in. Use the previously taught settle cue and engagement games.


When our dog settles OK then the visitor can treat him: sit sideways on, no eye contact, sitting on the floor can help. Throw a treat behind the dog (still on long-line / lead), the dog will go back for the treat then return to the guest, as close as is comfortable. Keep repeating this, always allowing the dog to retreat for the treat then return to where they are comfortable. Don’t rush this, even if they will go to the visitor for the treat they will be happier not having to. If the dog is calm with the person standing up and walking by them, which could take some time, typically we will need to take the dog out of the room before the guest stands up to move out, we can do ‘drop-by’ treats, where they walk by our dog and throw a pile of treats to them before swiftly moving away. We are teaching the dog that the presence of this person brings good things.


Until we are sure fear won’t take over which could cause the dog to snap at the person keep them on a loose lead, we may feel ok dropping the lead and just letting it drag on the floor, but its there if we need to get them away quickly. If the dog just won’t settle while someone is in the house then we need to focus on outside work first and for people in the house get the dog used to going to a safe place, like a crate in a different room, with a special treat like a stuffed KONG or bone. This action can also be given a cue word (‘safe space’ for example) and practised when no-one is there.


The following is a great game for many scenarios, a cue word can be used instead of a clicker.






Further thoughts

Keep in mind that someone sitting silently is a lot less scary than someone speaking loudly, waving arms around, getting up and moving around a room suddenly. Our guest needs to understand what we need from them.


One successful introduction may not be enough, it may take several introductions to someone before they are completely accepted.


If the dog has had a stressful week due to other events, like some fireworks going off, then its not a good time to introduce our dog to someone new, allow a few days with lots of sleep and mental enrichment to allow the dog to lose stored up stress.


We are not going to go to all the trouble of a full introduction for the gasman coming around, on these occasions use the dogs safe space, or better still have the dog taken out the house. If closing in the crate rather than having open door this must be trained properly. https://www.rspca.org.uk/documents/1494939/7712578/Dog+crates+a+step+by+step+guide+%28PDF+264KB%29.pdf/c8a5cc2a-77fe-7500-a37c-b5ec7945f85f?t=1559127980192#:~:text=Once%20your%20dog%20or%20puppy%20has%20entered%20the%20crate%20shut,the%20room%20quietly%20and%20calmly.


We may want to consider muzzle training just to be completely safe, this must be done slowly and properly, it can take a while, https://muzzleupproject.com/

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