In less than twenty-four hours our little home will be filled to the brim with people. At least, it will feel like that to Shiva and I. Three extra human bodies when we are used to only two will make quite the difference in our wee cottage. Shiva has met these people before, many years ago. They came to stay with us just one short week after she was first adopted. It was so long ago, I doubt she will remember them. I am going to play it safe and treat the situation as if they were strangers.
As you know, Shiva is more human-reactive than she is dog-reactive. That doesn’t mean she is aggressive or will hurt someone, it just means she is wary of strangers and takes some time to warm up. Some people she trusts immediately. Others she never really trusts at all. It just depends. I know she will eventually become used to the presence of our visitors, but the first few days might be a little uncomfortable.
Things tend to get awkward when one spends more time calming her dog than she does with the parents she hasn’t seen for three years.
It’s nothing we haven’t been through before, however, and I think we’re all up to the challenge. If there is anyone else out there who has similar fears about their dog offending their guests – and I am hoping we aren’t alone here – I have put together a list of the things we do to make everyone a little more relaxed.
1. Treats, treats, and more treats – If Shiva associates newcomers with good food, she is much more likely to see them as her new best friends. We make sure to load up our guests with the good stuff, ideally before they come in the door. At this point my mother-in-law often arrives with the doggy version of McDonald’s at the ready. If your dog is more play-driven, you could also suggest your guests throw a ball as they enter. Whatever works to show they mean no harm.
2. Take care of guests first - It can get pretty tense when a dog is barking as loud as Shiva does. It’s only natural this can freak some people out. You may want to let them arrive first and get comfortable with a drink in hand before you make the official introductions. Once they are seated and relaxed they may also appear less threatening to a dog who feels protective of her home. This is when a crate or a separate room comes in handy.
3. Keep your dog on a leash – Depending on the situation, you may want to introduce dogs and guests to each other in a neutral environment, like a yard or park. That way the guests coming home with you feels more natural. If that isn’t practical, leashes can still be helpful tools when indoors as they give you that much more control. They are also perfect for quick getaways if your dog becomes overwhelmed. Make sure to keep the leash loose to prevent extra tension from increasing your dog’s anxiety.
4. Give your dog an out – It’s a good idea to give your dog a space to retreat if he feels the need to be alone. A crate is one example but a small room or yard space can also work. It should be a place in which your dog feels safe. Set your dog up for success and only let her interact as much as she can handle.
5. Remember to breathe – Unless your dog has issues with aggression - in which case you should keep him or her completely separate from any visitors to your home – everything will be fine. No one will die. Dogs bark, it’s really not a big deal unless you make it one. Also, remember your dog will be taking his cues from you so if you are calm, he will be too. Well, this is what they tell me. So have a glass of wine, put a smile on your face, and have a good time.
Do you have any advice to share? I’d love to hear your experiences!