ThinkstockHaving guests over can be stressful if your pets aren't properly prepared for company. Consider Jackson the Papillon who shakes, cowers and paces when company arrives. Or Katie the Westie, who growls and bares her teeth when table scraps fall near her. Or Bosque the Goldendoodle, who jumps, barks and causes general mayhem every time the doorbell rings.
Here are five common behavior pitfalls and some quick tips for managing - or avoiding - each of them.
Problem #1: Fear of People
If there have been more people in the house than normal, this can cause fear and aggression to escalate. A stressed-out dog may snap at or bite a guest, which is why it is so important to help your dog manage his fears.
Solution: If your dog is most anxious when guests arrive, having visitors greet him in the right manner can have a calming effect. If he is overwhelmed by extra people in your house, create a getaway space for him where he can be safely separated from the crowd. And for a big party or event, consider taking him to doggy day care or boarding him. Of course, if your dog is aggressive toward or overly fearful of people, it's important to get professional help, starting with your veterinarian.
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Is your dog already the excitable type? Then having a party may increase his enthusiasm and activity level. Barking incessantly, jumping on guests and racing around your house are just a few of the problems you may face with a bulldozer-type dog.
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Solution: Put a front clip harness or head halter on your dog and attach a leash before guests arrive. With the right equipment, you can more easily control your dog's forward motion and prevent him from assaulting friends and family as they come through the door. If possible, greet guests outside. Most dogs are able to calm down more easily when greeting in an open area, like your front porch, rather than a closed in space, like the entryway. Promote calm behavior by rewarding your dog with high-value treats for behaviors like sitting, looking at you and keeping all four paws on the floor. Once the initial greeting is over, most dogs will settle down, especially if given a food puzzle or toy to keep them busy.
Every time the doorbell rings, your dog sees it as an opportunity to make a run for it - and if you are having a party, it can seem like there's always someone at the door. It's no wonder dogs attempt to escape. Bolting out the door equals freedom to run and explore, but it can easily end in disaster.
Solution: To prevent door dashing, clip a leash on your dog or put up a doggy barrier before you open the door. In addition, train your dog to wait at all doors in a calm manner, a behavior that takes only a few steps to teach. Practice this during the year when you are having company over.
Dogs that are growly over sacred possessions have significant problems when there are more people to guard those things from. Prized items are often, but not always, food: I worked with a Cocker Spaniel who would become growly over things like used Kleenex and gum wrappers.
Solution: If your canine happens to get into something he shouldn't and is guarding his ill-gotten treasure, don't confront him; instead, distract him. Successful distractions include ringing the doorbell, opening the fridge, starting the car or putting on your shoes - all of which signal something exciting about to happen. If other people are around, have someone else grab the forbidden item when the dog moves toward the distraction; if you are home alone, contain your dog in another room or behind a barrier before retrieving the prized item. Keep all tempting items, including the garbage can, out of your dog's reach. When you're serving food, consider putting your pooch in a dog-proofed area away from the table or buffet - and separate your dog from guests when feeding him his meals. Do not give your dog items likely to incite guarding, like pigs ears. Finally, talk to your veterinarian about ways to properly address your dog's guarding behavior.
Dogs will chew on just about anything. One Labradoodle I trained would pull items like Native American artifacts and framed pictures off the wall to eat. Canines need homes as doggy-proofed as possible.
Solution: If your dog is a notorious chewer, supervise him carefully and interrupt any attempt to chew on nondoggy items. Provide ample chew toys to gnaw on instead, and praise appropriate chewing. If supervision is not possible, place him in a doggy-proofed area when not being watched.
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