Welcome Home: How to Help Your Dogs Greet You Calmly

September 9, 2021
A black and red german shepherd sits looking at the door handle to a storm door. On the right is a standing bicolor German Shepherd with his face pointed at the door handle.

You’re arriving home from a long day at work and all you want to do is kick off your shoes and relax. But there’s a hurdle. Your dogs are awaiting your arrival and while it might have been cute at first, the greetings have now gotten out of hand.

They are barking, jumping, skittering across the floor, and vying for your undivided attention. Maybe there are even some conflicts over who gets to see you first. You love your dogs but wish they’d greet you in a calmer way!

Recently I was asked how to handle dogs who jump, bark, and work themselves into a general frenzy when their owner returns from work or another outing. This is a really common issue in multi dog households. In addition to being common, it’s a scenario that carries the risk of conflict between dogs.

Surprised? Here’s why:

  • Excited, hyperaroused dogs who aren’t necessarily using their thinking brains.
  • Tight spaces in many entryways don’t give dogs much space which can lead to problems.
  • Access to a valued resource (you!).
  • Dogs with needs that require attending to due to your absence. In other words, your dogs might not be their best selves if you’ve been gone all day.

Now, what I am NOT saying is that all dogs are going to devolve into brawling when put into this position. Many dogs will never fight with each other in this scenario. Nevertheless these factors can set the stage for that possibility, especially in dogs with underlying behavioral issues. I always lean toward solutions for a calmer arrival since I like to be aggressively proactive in preventing multi dog households from experiencing interdog conflict.

Inevitably, someone is going to ask me if they HAVE to change this sort of greeting. No, you don’t. Provided you are fine with this behavior and it’s not causing conflict or injury for you, your guests, or your dogs. Then by all means, enjoy your exuberant dog welcoming party!

That being said, there are solutions for those of you who would like a more controlled return home with all of the love and less of the bedlam! That’s what the rest of this blog is about.

Option 1: Management as a Greeting Solution

This is the magic wand option. You’re going to make changes to your environment that keep your dogs from mobbing each other and/or you when you walk in the door.

This might look like any of the following:

  • Using gates, crates or exercise pens to keep your dogs away from the door you are entering.
  • If your dogs are acting like a feedback loop and riling themselves up, then you can ensure that each dog is in their own space when you arrive home.
  • Masking the sound of your arrival with white noise.

Option 2: Entry Treat Scatters**

Another simple option that doesn’t take a whole lot of effort for you or your dogs is a treat scatter when you enter the door. Get a resealable container and fill it with a treat that can survive the changing temperatures of your car. Preferably something all of your dogs find to be low value but interesting enough to search out and eat. Plain cheerios are a great option for this in my experience. Before you go inside, prepare yourself with handfuls of food. Throw them farther back, away from the door and let your dogs work on the piles. This is sometimes enough for the dogs to get over their initial excitement and approach you calmly.

**Safety Guidelines**

  • Do not attempt this in a home where a dog is a known resource guarder.
  • You can test your dogs’ ability to navigate this activity together with a gate or other sturdy barrier between dogs. You’ll need to watch for signs of stress throughout this process. Big red flags include: Hard stares at the other dog, freezing, and stiff body language. If you see these things, stop and do not use this option with your dogs.
    • Start by scattering treats far from the gate.
    • Slowly bring the scatters closer together.
    • Work your way up to dogs eating treats right up against the gate.
  • Always ensure that the treat scatters are plentiful. You don’t want the dogs competing over a very small quantity of treats.
  • Make sure your scatters spread or that you make multiple scatters so that the dogs can space themselves out.
  • If one dog eats more rapidly than the others, keep replenishing their area so they won’t invade another dog’s space.

Option 3: Pattern Feeding Games

In this option you’re going to teach your dogs to take turns eating a treat by name. As in Option 2, you’ll need to keep treats in your vehicle or in your bag when you leave. Teach this game outside of your greeting context and practice it often! Particularly in the room you enter when you come home. When the dogs clearly understand the pattern and are happily waiting their turns without breaking position, you can try it in a greeting context. Remember, the power of this is in the structure and predictability of the pattern, so there’s no such thing as practicing it too much! It’s the pattern that lowers your dogs’ arousal levels and helps them greet you calmly.

Instructions:

  1. Ask your dogs to sit (down also works!).
  2. If you have known issues with sharing or stealing, use a hand target to reposition your dogs so that they are at least 3 hours apart on a clock. The more distance between dogs, the easier this will be.
  3. Say a dog’s name, feed that dog. If your dog gets up before you can feed, simply ask them to sit again and feed when sitting.
  4. Say the next dog’s name, feed that dog.
  5. Repeat until all dogs have had a turn. Complete rounds until you are done playing the game or your dogs are settled and calm whichever comes first.
  6. Calmly release your dogs.

Once you think your dogs are ready you have a few options:

  1. Start the pattern game immediately upon entering the door.
  2. Call ahead before your arrival so another member of your household can have the dogs in the pattern or ready to start the pattern as soon as you are heard at the door.

Either way, play as many rounds as it takes for the dogs to calm down before releasing them or you may experience jumping!

Option 4: Stationing

Overall, stationing is the most complex solution for both you and your dogs. It requires a station or bed for each dog in your home. All of your dogs must be trained to go to their station and stay until released. You will teach this behavior to each individual dog, before having them go to their stations at the same time. Ultimately, this behavior must be trained to the duration, distraction and distances required by your arrival home. You can give your dogs their verbal cue to perform the behavior as soon as you have cracked the door open or you can go a step further and make the sounds of opening the door the cue. I adore this behavior for many multi dog household scenarios and love to teach it. If this solution is for you, you can contact me about lessons to make it happen.

Mix and Match!

You can combine any of these options together for a stronger solution that can help overcome even the most stubborn tornado of dog greetings! I’d love to see your creative combinations so feel free to post them to my Facebook page or share them in the comments section. If you leave a YouTube Video I might even put it in this post.

Now you have 4 options for getting the greeting you want: Management, Treat Scatters, Pattern Feeding and Stationing. Try one (or a few) and let me know how it goes in the comments.

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