top of page


​**Dogs Greeting Humans Politely

​Being able to greet humans appropriately and calmly is one of those behaviors that seem to apply circular logic: he has to be calm in order to greet, but he has to greet in order to calm down. {grin} With patience, you can do this, I promise!

Please note: This article addresses dogs who are happy, but not well-mannered... if you think your dog might pose a threat, get the help of someone knowledgeable in behavior to help you.  if your dog is reactive/aggressive toward people knocking on the door, please start by forming a Changed Emotional Response (CER) to the situation. A CER is simply the process of associating something that scares the dog with Good Things, so that the scary thing "takes on" the qualities of the Good Thing... and, hopefully, the dog will no longer be afraid (click here for more). And, adding management protocols such as a stationary board and muzzle will help to keep everyone safe!

These beginning exercises assume that your dog is happy, but overly-exuberant, and not aggressive or reactive. You'll find exercises designed for defensive dogs toward the end of this article.

​Aggressive/reactive: the dog may have started out being exuberant, but has progressed into defensive/frustrative behavior, either because of methodology or undersocialization (not being allowed to socialize), or both.

Overexuberant: I use this term as it's usually used by people who might not enjoy 100 pounds of slobbering love to come barreling down on them just as they've closed the door of their vehicle (and cut off the escape route)... this dog is just too damned happy for anyone's good. lol Zoe can be like this... she's so happy that she scares people. It's unintentional, of course, but still. lol

​Front Door Greetings

​Many owners' biggest obstacle is finding people to use in the actual exercises... the easiest way to do this is to:

1) Start with the people living IN your home.

​Honestly -- your dog will learn much more quickly if he's given the opportunity to learn the exercises without the added stress of having strangers knocking on the door. And, it will give you (and everyone else living in your home) this same opportunity -- it's always a good idea to work any kinks out of the plan prior to incorporating people not living in your home. Practice makes perfect.

So, have these family members periodically walk outside, wait a few minutes, then knock on the door. Here is the exercise I want you to use, but I want you to understand that your first session will likely NOT get you halfway through the sequence -- this needs to be broken into small tidbits of behavior, and practiced ad nauseum with all family members at every level:

​A. Start immediately using a command/cue word that your dog will come to associate with this set of behaviors -- "who is it?", "go see", whatever. We're going to give a name to this set of behaviors, so that the dog will understand what's expected of him under these circumstances. So, say the cue phrase;

​B. Have your dog 'sit'.

​C. Now, reach for the doorknob... if your dog breaks the 'sit', pull your hand away from the doorknob, and repeat the 'sit' command. Be patient, and happy -- this is a new game, and you want him to be happy and relaxed!

​D. When he's remaining seated for the "turning of the doorknob", pull the door open... but be ready to close the door immediately, if he breaks the 'sit'.

​E. Continue in this fashion until he remains seated for the entire sequence, including having the person step inside the door.

NOTE: if at any time during the exercise he breaks the sit (he can squirm around, just not get up), close the door and start from the sit cue.  He’ll get it.

2. Now, start using people from outside the home. It's best to start with people that your dog knows and likes, and then start using strangers.  I would do 1 week with those subjects in the house until he’s 80%+ perfect, then 1 week with neighbors he knows and likes until he’s 80%+ perfect, then 1 week with strangers until he’s 80%+ perfect.  Then, just keep it going, using a mixture of good treats and meeting the company as reinforcement.

​Important notes about these exercises:

​• As always, keep sessions short and happy. It's better to do 10 3-minute sessions per day, than to do 1 30-minute session. Your dog will learn much more quickly, this way!

​• When ending sessions, and before you're at the point where the dog is remaining seated for the entire exercise, it's important to remove the dog from the room prior to letting the person into the home -- his BIG reinforcement is the actual greeting, so, for example, if you end the session during Step C above, but allow him to bounce all over the 'guest', you've just negated the exercise.

​  NOTE: you can use a stationary board at the front door to make this part easier… teach the “sit to be greeted” either before or as part of these exercises, and he’ll have an entire repertoire to show off.

• The goal with these exercises is to have your dog act as though he's thinking "Oh, it's just you, again" when you open the door... at this point, reinforce heavily! This is the behavior you'll want to keep!

At the time I wrote this originally, my dogs (3 adult Saints, a flat-coated retriever, and a Sheltie/GSD) were trained to enter the kitchen on command when someone knocks on my front door. This allows me to separate them from visitors and clients with a half-door, AND give them time to calm down before greeting. The visitors are directed to NOT make eye-contact with the dogs until the dogs have calmed down -- eye-contact signifies INTEREST, and if the dog thinks the visitor is INTERESTED, they'll continue to try to get them to come to them (by barking and jumping around). They greet visitors INDIVIDUALLY, once they're calmed... this reduces the chances of "mob behavior" -- one dog becoming excited, and causing an uproar with the rest of them. When I bring in a new dog (starting from scratch), that dog is introduced to visitors *on-lead* (with a head collar, of course!), so that I'm able to teach *appropriate* greeting behavior AND control the dog's actions. Once your dog understands that he'll be *allowed* to greet visitors under my terms, the rest will follow. Appropriate greeting behavior is what YOU decide to make it -- BUT, you're biggest obstacle WON'T be the *dog*... it will be those well-meaning people who come into your home and say "Oh, it's okay -- I'm a DOG person!" What they mean by this is that there's no NEED for the dog to use formality, with them -- THE EXACT OPPOSITE IS TRUE. Don't allow visitors to undermine what you're trying to teach -- it'll only confuse your dog, and that's not fair. I suggest putting a sign on your front door -- I have one that says "My dogs are learning manners. Don't touch them until their BUTTS are on the floor!!" Every visitor who comes to my door MUST adhere to this rule. I don't care who they are, or what their experience is, with dogs.

**Greeting Humans on the Street

Again, you'll need to make special concessions if your dog is reactive or defensive in situations involving greeting on the street. Never allow anyone (including your dog!) to be compromised!

Socialization is *everything*. I can't stress that enough.

​The more people, situations, and dogs your dog is socialized to, the more well-behaved she'll be, in *every* situation. Think of it on the same level as you do your children: if you don't take them to restaurants, you'll never be *able* to take them to restaurants -- they won't know how to behave! (Ever seen a kid like this? It's not pretty.) Always try to make sure that only Good Things happen, when trying out new situations... and there are LOTS of ways that you can set up socialization exercises, without running a business out of your home (as I do): take your (non-aggressive) dog to the grocery store, and sit on a bench outside. Encourage people to pet her -- but ONLY after she sits (when she sits, the reward is attention from a stranger). Take her to the mall, and walk her on the sidewalk in front of the stores (there are several Strip Malls here, and I do this with mine. Zoe went with me, this morning. We had a great time!)

​I *start* the exercises by "introducing" the dog to already-known people... use a consistent word, clicker,  or phrase, repeated during the greeting process, to "mark" his response to them in his mind, so that I can later (with strangers) use this same word or phrase to let him know how I would like him to handle the same greeting procedures with *UN*known people. Rally as many of these already-knowns as you possibly can, and invite them in over the first week or 2 (providing, of course, that your dog is responding well to their presence). Try to have several per day (and, it's very good to have several duplicates in this, as it gives him -- and YOU -- "practice time"), and have them repeat the greeting repertoire at the front door several times during their visit. Keep things light and happy, with a constant supply of feedback for him (talk to him! {grin}).

​It happens... you've had a bit of a bad experience, in greetings. It's okay... don't allow this one experience to stop things. Don't seek out new opportunities to take him into public situations, but don't *deny* him opportunities that you would have normally given him, either -- providing, of course, that you can *safely* do so. Again, you'll need to play this by ear... if he's responding well at home, then take him out.

​My own dogs aren't getting much in the way of "public appearances" right now, because of my back problems (NOT dog-related, by the way {grin}), client load, and the heat... but I'm still managing to get them out individually, and an average of 2-3 times each week, by taking them with me on little errands -- the post office, my chiropractor visits (I schedule them for 8 a.m., so that it's not too hot for them to stay in the car). They look forward to these visits, and the little bit of "one-on-one" that they get with me. Allow his responses to let you know what he can handle.

Brenda Rushman, CCBC


bottom of page