How to Prepare for Visitors When You Have a Crazy Dog

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!

28 thoughts on “How to Prepare for Visitors When You Have a Crazy Dog

  1. These are great reminders! Pyrrha is also fairly wary of strangers, and our house is a constant hum of activity and visitors most nights. (We’ve also had a glut of house guests for the fall.) I particularly echo your reminder of giving your dog an “out.” This is something I had to learn over time, but allowing her to retreat to her crate or go outside when she’s overwhelmed has been a life-saver! Good luck to you all!

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  2. Love the idea of having them come in with treats in hand. So smart! Dante is fantastic with all people, so I’m thankful I don’t have to worry about him, but my brother’s two dogs are major jumpers and definitely need help on greeting new arrivals.

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  3. I don’t have an issue with Blueberry, but my last cattle dog mix was less than friendly with new people. Heck, even with my family she knew since she was a puppy. So I would usually have people sit down and tell them to relax and then I would bring her out to introduce her to them. She always barked at first and sounded like she wanted to kill them, but the situation usually calmed down after that first initial bluff on her part. You have really good instructions and I wish I had known all that way back when. While I learned a lot with my last dog – I didn’t learn everything and I find myself constantly learning about dogs and the best way to live with them.

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  4. I think you covered the bulk of it. I might suggest trying to maintain as ‘normal’ a routine as possible. By that I mean, if Shiva goes to bed at 10:oo most nights, try to make sure she gets that space. In that way she won’t associate your visitors with a change she’s not comfortable with.

    While we don’t use the treats in our house (as they both love having people come to our home) we usually let the dogs out onto a small balcony over-looking the drive when the guests are arriving, then the guests come in and get seated before we unleash the beasts. They usually calm down pretty quickly though. 🙂

    I’m sure you will manage it just fine, Kristine, and Shiva may just surprise you. 🙂

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  5. You’ve covered the basics quite well. It always amazes me how different dogs react differently to different people. Did that make sense? Every dog I’ve ever seen loves my father immediately, but I have an aunt who is a sweet lady but dogs just never make up to her.

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  6. You are definitely NOT alone! Morgan is a fruitcake of the HIGHEST order. She can be fine one day and the next day, nobody outside our house is trustworthy. A few months ago we had a friend stay with us for a few days and he had his GSD with him. Morgan loved Griffin (the dog) but every time Dale walked into the room she barked at him. Whether it had been two hours or two seconds, she barked like he was a stranger. This was the guy who was sneaking her food from the breakfast table and is very savvy about dogs and GSDs in particular. He was great with her, and it helped that it was someone who had experience with dogs.

    A lot of times, if we have people over, Morgan and Kuster hang out in their crates in the basement. People can still hear them barking if they do, but it’s not as overwhelming and I don’t have to worry about the wrong person sticking their fingers in Mo’s crate if I’m not there with them. Most of the time she is fine with people, and we have a protocol of introducing her to them outside on a leash, but sometimes she just gets too unsettled to deal with people. Kuster just gets really excited and sometimes forgets to keep four on the floor, but he means well and I don’t worry about him the way I do with Morgan. The Greyhounds are social butterflies and love company. I never have to worry about them!

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  7. All good suggestions. I had a fearful foster dog who would never flat out attack anyone, but he would bite if strangers reached for his face. I always crated him when people came over and then took him out on a leash, instructing visitors not to touch him. He warmed up to people as long as he saw they weren’t going to bother him.

    The other option people could consider is taking the dog to a boarding kennel for the weekend (although if your dog is truly aggressive, that might not be an option, either). And the opposite is true, too. Sometimes it’s best for the visitors to just stay at a hotel, away from the dog.

    I know Shiva will do just fine! Have fun!

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  8. Wow Kristine-peoples….with the exception of the “remember to breathe” part, that list looks exactly what my peoples do with Leah when we have guests. You must be peaking in our windows. 😉

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  9. If you have someone else to greet the people who are coming, and you have a time for their arrival, I’ve found the very easiest way for everyone involved is just to avoid the door situation completely. If people are arriving for dinner at six, I will take my two reactive ones out for a walk at 5.40. We will roam the streets until about 6.30, then return home. When I come home and people are all ready there, Bajnok will let out a bark, then realise he likes people, and everything is nice. He might be a bit intense in his greeting, but I’ll much rather have that, than I dog barking so loudly we can barely hear each other.

    Going for a walk is the simplest, least stress full scenario for everyone in this house. If I don’t have time, I usually lock them in my room.

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  10. I have the honour of making Thanksgiving dinner for 8 adults and 3 kids on Monday. Jersey is great with kids but Dexter gets jumpy and knocked down the toodler last time they were over. Reminder #6 – Keep the dog crate handy!

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  11. I’m sure your preparation will help – I hope your visit goes well and Shiva enjoys the company!! Cali thinks everyone is here to see her . . we are lucky that way 🙂

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  12. Really great list!

    There is a method where strangers and the dog go for a walk outside first–the strangers will start whatever distance away that the dog won’t react…. so maybe at the other end of the block. The dog follows the strangers at a big distance for a bit of a walk so they can scent the strangers but not react. The strangers will then walk back toward the house (but not double backing past the dog) and will go in the house first and take a seat and the dog will follow them inside (again at a distance) while on leash. I’ve only had the chance to do this once but it worked really well and its’ something I’ll probably use in the future again if the situation warrants it 🙂

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  13. We always put the dogs in their crates before company arrives. And let them and our guest settle down. When it is calm and quiet they are allowed to come out and say hello. Letting the dogs go to visitors, while they sit quietly and let the dogs come to them. So far, so good. And of course, lots of treats!!

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  14. Linus has some dog aggression, but he’s pretty good with people and Stetson loves all. However, when we have guide dog pups one thing I usually do is let everyone (the people) know how they should behave when my puppy is in jacket which basically means he’s working. I will often advise my guests before they even enter the house. Advising your guests on things they should and should not do before they come over might make Shiva more at ease when your guests come over.

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  15. Thanks for this list. Our rescue pup, Rita, definitely has issues with “strangers” coming to the house, especially men. My niece and her boyfriend came to stay for 2 nights and every time he walked out/back into the room, Rita would bark at him. It was nerve wracking. Next time I’ll try loading folks up with treats before they come in – and resort to the leash if necessary.

    In theory my whole family will be here for Christmas (about 15 people) – she’s never been around that many people before in the house, so I need to get busy and work on this with her!

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  16. My dog Shyla is also people-reactive (and dog-reactive). While she’s definitely stressed out when we have people over (pacing, panting etc.) she usually doesn’t bark at them. Until we had my parents stay with us and Shyla went into a mad barking frenzy every time my mum moved – for five days! She was okish with my dad and the reason why she was reacting to my mum was because mum is as dog-obsessed as me and desperately wanted to make friends with the grand-dog. The way we resolved it and managed to spent the final two weeks of my parents stay in peace was by telling my mum to ignore Shyla (as per the advice of a dog trainer). Mum also did all the feeding (without acknowledging Shyla) and after about 7-10 days Shyla was quite happily hanging out on the sofa with my parents.
    All guest coming to our house are instructed to ignore Shlya (particularly to avoid eye contact) and load up on treats. Also, as per one of the previous commenter’s advice we noticed that Shlya seems to be better with strangers if they are already in the house when she comes back from her walk.
    Good luck. I definitely know what you’re going through but I’m sure it will be fine.

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  17. Adopting a puppy into the family can be a joyous venture. Adopting a Labrador puppy is even more exciting. As a breed, the Lab is gentle and intelligent, known to be a loyal, family dog.

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  18. I have the exact opposite problem! Koly & Fe are always so excited for visitors that they maul who ever arrives and it’s nigh to impossible to keep them off people’s laps.

    Funny though, we use almost all the same tactics, except our treats are rewards for sitting down and listening when I snap “chill out Kolchak”

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  19. Fortunately, Georgia has no problems with visitors other than a tendency to stick her nose in their butts or their dinner plates. She did stand guard at our guest room door when we had a friend stay a week. That was weird. But when he was out and about the house, she was fine. I’m sure Shiva will be fine. She’s all grown up and a lady now 🙂 x

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  20. These are great tips! We don’t get many visitors in the Winnebago and Buster’s always happy to see anyone come to the door, but things are different with Ty. Like Shiva, he usually warms up slowly, though some people he likes right away and some he’ll never trust. Because we have so little space, its usually better if he meets people outside and I find that he’s more reactive whenever someone’s in motion – especially when they’re heading to the door to leave. Perhaps Ty’s waiting until their backs are turned to spring his trap. =)

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  22. Yes! These are perfectly the ideal things to do to prepare for visitors if you have a crazy dog. I remembered my 1st pet, I always bring him to my room every time we have visitors since my dog is not easy to approach.

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  23. Vadim is just like Shiva! As a puppy he used to be super friendly to everyone. Now, as a general rule he dislikes everyone 😦
    Except (thankfully!) children, which he always at least tolarates, and some random people. It usually helps if the visitor has a dog of their own or some experience with dogs. Unfourtunately that means Vadim barks at exactly the people who are already rather afraid of him. We tried treats, belated introductions, explaining that he is barking cause he wants to play. But sometimes all that can be done is locking Vadim up in the bathroom. He continues barking though, which makes conversations difficult. We might try figuring out a different place and perhaps preparing the sort of safe-heaven you described. Also, started playing calming music to him, and that gave amazing effects. Would def recommend trying it! You can find some hand-picked samples on my blog (http://mpet3.wordpress.com/).

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