Work Smarter, Not Harder: Visitors

When I was first developing the notion for a Pet Harmony blog I knew that I wanted to have a “Work Smarter Not Harder” series devoted to simple and easy tactics that make a big difference. This series is inspired by those recommendations that make pet owners say, “Wow, how did I never think of that before?” I tell clients that part of my job is just arranging the puzzle pieces they’ve already created to make more sense! Our first “work smarter not harder” tip is about visitors:

If you don’t like your pet’s behavior when visitors arrive, put your pet away beforehand. 

This can help for multiple unwanted behaviors: jumping on visitors, running through the open front door, barking, or lunging or trying to bite guests. Your pet can’t do any of that if they’re not there (well, they can bark but at least it’s a little quieter)! This tactic gives you immediate relief from the problem and makes it so your pet can’t continue practicing (and getting better at) the unwanted behavior. And let’s face it: most people don’t want to be training their pet when visitors are coming in the door. I’m one of those people. 

What does “put your pet away” mean? It simply means containing your pet elsewhere so they can’t get to the door. I use either our bedroom or our fenced-in yard for Oso. Some people will use a crate or another floor entirely (like a basement or second story). Others will have someone take the dog on a walk or put them in daycare, especially for remodeling work. There are a lot of options depending on your situation! A note: leashes and tethers are an option but you’ll then need to be training as your guests arrive. That’s too much to juggle for me but kudos to those of you who are able to do this! 

I’m often asked something along the lines of, “What do I do if my pet barks or scratches at the door the entire time they’re put away?” It’s a valid question! In those cases we usually need to help the pet feel comfortable being contained elsewhere when people are home before we involve visitors. This can be trained like any other behavior. The concept is to make that place the best spot to hang out. I’m a fan of using snuffle mats, stuffed Kongs, and chewies like bully sticks when working on this. If your pet has confinement anxiety please consult with a behavior professional. 

 Another note: “beforehand” is a keyword. I’ve watched many people trying to corral their pet after the doorbell rings so as to put them away then. It usually looks like this unless the pet has had quite a bit of training in that scenario.

Image result for chasing dog gif

If you know approximately when your guests are arriving preemptively put your pet in their hang out space. You’ll be thankful when you can immediately open the door. For those of you with visitors who often stop by unexpectedly: ask your friends and family to give you a heads up before they arrive. Clients have even told me they started locking their door so their visitors couldn’t get in the house unannounced during the training process! 

The last question that I usually get about this tip is this: “Isn’t that cheating?” At some point in time many of us learned that if it’s not hard then it’s not worth it or not effective. Management and setting our environment up for success is an enormous part of behavior modification in all species. We wouldn’t call it cheating if someone who’s on a diet only stocks healthy foods in their pantry; it shouldn’t be cheating to keep our pets away from tempting scenarios either. Plus, there’s always room for training more appropriate behaviors even when we employ management techniques. It’s just working smarter, not harder! 

Now what?

  • As a household, discuss where your pet will be when visitors arrive. 
  • If your pet is not comfortable and content hanging out in this spot when you’re home, start training them that awesome stuff happens in this space. 
  • Discuss with friends and family that you’re working on training your pet and need a heads up before they arrive. 

Happy training!