Skip to Content

Tips to keep dogs calm when guests arrive

Have any of you succeeded in keeping your dogs calm when people visit?

This isn’t exactly a “how to” post but more of a place to shoot some ideas around. Every dog is different, and the standard advice to “Just tell the dog to stay on her bed” is not as easy as it sounds, is it?

I’ll share just three ideas, and then it would be great if you shared some tips as well. What has or has not worked for your dog?

1. Get a family member to help.

Expecting a dog to stay on her bed reliably when guests arrive is likely too challenging for most dogs. So, recruit a friend to help reinforce “stay” while you answer the door or vice versa.

Ace on his bed, such a good boy

Keep the dog on a leash and toss her bits of bacon or hot dogs as she remains staying. You may need to stand right in front of her and “body block” her if she tries to get up.

You could also request that guests don’t ring the doorbell (just have them text you or have them walk on in).

Also, set your dog up for success by putting her bed in a spot that is a room or two away from the main door. Not totally excluded, but a step back from all the “excitement.” As she is successful, you can move her bed.

2. Have a plan in advance.

Usually we don’t plan or practice the behaviors we want from our dogs. Instead, we only know what we don’t want them to do.

My dog Ace on his blanket

If we could only come up with a consistent plan and then practice it, we might make some actual progress! (Isn’t that true with everything?)

So, come up with a specific plan, and make it easy at first. Then practice it and slowly challenge your dog a bit more once she’s ready.

Here is an example of a plan for my hypothetical dog named Lady. Each of these are steps I could work towards with Lady:

  • When someone comes to the door, I will tell Lady to go to her kennel, which is in the kitchen away from the excitement but not too excluded. Her bed will be in her kennel, and I will have a Kong (aff link) ready, stuffed with peanut butter. I will give her the Kong in her kennel. I will ignore Lady until the guests are settled in, and then after about 30 minutes I will let Lady out on a leash to calmly interact.
  • After we’ve practiced the above with success, I will start leaving the kennel door open when people arrive, but I will tell Lady to stay. She will still get her Kong toy, and she will still remain in her kennel until everyone’s settled in. If she tries to get out of her kennel, I will put her back and close the door. We will practice “stay” in her kennel every day while I ring the doorbell to practice “real life” scenarios.
  • Finally, once Lady is doing well with the above, I will remove the kennel and tell Lady to stay on her bed. I will still use the Kong to encourage her to stay on her bed, and she will still be on a leash.

3. Figure out the best food reward for your dog.

It’s tough to find a food reward dogs value more than greeting visitors. Dry biscuits just aren’t going to cut it. Try hot dogs, hamburger, bacon, EZ cheese or liver treats.

And, I do believe that sometimes there really is no food that’s going to keep a dog away from people (right, Elsie?).

If that’s the case for your dog, you have your work cut out for you. But you can still see progress by practicing the above tips – recruiting help and gradually challenging your dog more and more.

The #1 problem is we don’t practice these scenarios and dogs really need hundreds of repetitions to really understand a concept. Staying on your bed while really exciting people visit is a very difficult concept for some dogs!

OK, now I want to hear from you.

What tips have helped your dog stay calm when people visit?

Get That Mutt’s newsletter in your inbox:

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 10th of February 2014

Oh the air horn trick is a good option (for some dogs). I hadn't even thought of that. I've used that to stop dogs from barking (worked great!).

Cooper's Dad

Monday 10th of February 2014

Great suggestions. A plan is a must.

We have a pittie mix who is an absolute sweet heart. He was previously air canister trained not to jump [with his foster parents], which has worked out really well. I am simply reluctant to use any further negative reinforcement just on principle.

We have him "go to your bed", "stay"...until guests have their shoes off and coats away. Then we release "OK", and then ask our guests to hold their palms down and facing forward. We then have Cooper use hand targeting "say hello, touch!" and he goes over touches his nose to their hand and comes back for a treat.

The whole working dog needs a job was key for us. It was night and day with giving him a job to do when guests arrive. And we do want him to let us know when someone is here, but to stop when we say thank you and send him to his place.

I also read about the casual positive reinforcement techniques for rewarding calm behavior. We sent him to his bed, had him focus on me while my wife greeted the guests...and then just gave him very small pieces of chicken + vocal reinforcement to encourage the good behavior.

TLDR: 1. Have a plan and stick with it 2. Air can training works, big time. (it is just compressed air) 4. Have a place command 5. Give the dog a job when guests arrive 6. Use lots of small treats over an extended period of time to reinforce calm, behavior when guests arrive.


Ruckus the Eskie

Thursday 6th of February 2014

Great tips! Planning ahead is so important.

Ruckus the Eskie

Thursday 6th of February 2014

BTW the say it button is awesome. Makes me want to write "say it, don't spray it" hahah

Sarah & Lola

Monday 3rd of February 2014

oh my...we need all the help we can get with this! I think age does play a factor but I agree, sometimes we'll put the dogs on their leash and make them sit and be calm before the guest is allowed to pet them. They are literally squirming and vibrating with excitement, but it does help.


Monday 3rd of February 2014

Linus likes to bark, Stetson likes to charge, and Adelle likes to jump which makes for a little bit (who am I kidding, A LOT) of chaos in our house when people come over. The biggest problem I'm having is staying consistent. I need to enforce the rules every time someone comes over. Thanks for the reminder. I'm going to work on my consistency with the pups when guests arrive.

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 3rd of February 2014

Staying consistent is something I need to focus on with Ace as well. I tend to allow him to charge up to the dog lovers, and with others, I make him stay on his bed. Not exactly easy for him to understand what the heck he's allowed to do.