Barking At Visitors – The Do’s and Don’ts! - Dog Training and Behaviour
Updated: Jul 28
Barking at visitors can be a very intense situation that can often go from 0 to 100 in the blink of an eye. All it takes is a narrow environment or a quick movement, and we can very quickly head into a dangerous situation. This is because most of the time, when our dogs are barking at a visitor, they are afraid. To prevent any escalation in these situations, it’s important to know how to help our canine companions feel more relaxed and at ease and how to manage the situation if they don’t. There is an alarming increase in reports of bites in the home, but worry not, this article is here to help you and your dog.
Manage The Situation
Before we try to change the behaviour, we need to know how to reduce the chances of escalation and how to appropriately manage the situation.
You can crate train your dog so that they have a safe space to go when they are feeling worried, and you can utilise this to pop your dog away when you know you will have visitors.
If your dog is uncomfortable in the crate, either have them on lead, behind a baby gate, in a pen, in the garden, or another room when visitors arrive. It’s important to prevent your dog from rushing over to visitors as this decreases the space between your dog and the ‘scary’ person. Your dog is only rushing over in the hope that this will ‘drive’ the visitor away. This is NOT an invitation to greet.
Consider asking visitors to call/text before they arrive or putting a note on the door asking visitors to wait. This will enable you to calmly move your dog into a ‘safe zone’. If your dog barks at the door or at people walking on your drive, this would also enable you to prepare for some sound training.
Muzzle training your dog would be an appropriate action if you are worried your dog may bite, or your dog has already bitten before. ‘Muzzle Up Project’ have some excellent resources on their website.
Consider if your dog needs to greet these visitors! Would your dog be happier in another room or the crate with a delicious chew? Sometimes it’s important to pick your battles and opt for the easier life!
Ensure you have spoken to your vet and your dog is fit and healthy. I have spoken many times about how pain can affect behaviour. It’s no different for barking at visitors.
What To Teach Visitors
There are some things your visitors can do to help your dog out – it doesn’t all have to be on you!
Reduce or no eye contact. Ask visitors to sit where they won’t be looking at your dog, side on is usually best if possible, or ask them to avoid looking at your dog. Eye contact can be seen as confrontational or downright scary to a dog!
Speak calmly and quietly, if possible, radiate the calmness they would like your dog to feel. Sudden loud noises can increase the fear in dogs when they are in a scary situation.
Ask visitors to ignore your dog – ask them not to speak to your dog or try to stroke them, especially if they are already barking!
Ask visitors to sit away from your dog at the furthest point. Distance = safety. It’s the same with us humans. When was the last time you felt safer being closer to something that scares you? The further away from the visitor your dog is, the safer they will feel.
Changing The Behaviour
I like to have a couple of tricks up my sleeve for this issue to try and help the dog I am working with feel most at ease. This isn’t just about ‘dog training’ or changing behaviour, it’s about helping our dogs when they are struggling the most as well as keeping everyone safe! You may want to consider doing 5 minute setups with visitors initially so that you can fully focus on your dog without the pressure of entertaining visitors!
I like to use Sarah Fishers’ ACE Freework to start the session off. All visitors will be sitting when I bring the dog into the room and the set up would be away from them (I may do this outside in the garden if the space isn’t big enough or have the dog on lead).
If you aren’t familiar with freework, that’s ok! You can still follow the next steps – freework just helps everything go much smoother while meeting your dog’s needs.
Wait for your dog to look at the visitor, as soon as they do, sprinkle lots of tasty high value rewards. If your dog is already barking, can you create distance? If not, does your dog take the treats? If they do, continue with the next steps. If they don’t, go back through and rethink the management.
Continue to sprinkle high value food each time your dog looks at the visitors. Be generous with your sprinkling here!!
When your dog is starting to look relaxed (check out this article to learn to speak dog), you can give them the choice of moving closer. Continue the first two steps here so that your dog remains relaxed.
When you are within reach, and your dog is still relaxed, ask your visitors to toss treats towards/just behind your dog. Make sure the treat is tossed gently so your dog doesn’t suddenly spook. Its important not to ask visitors to ask the dog to take the food from the hand – this forces your dog to go closer than they may be comfortable with.
Whenever someone moves or gets up, ensure you move your dog away and sprinkle treats until you are comfortable your dog won’t react negatively to the sudden movements.
Practice, practice, practice! Try with different people and different scenarios, but remember to always go at your dog’s pace!
If you are still struggling with your dog barking at visitors, get in touch with Positive Dog Power today!