Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Door Manners for All

I am pretty good dog. For the record, good dogs are supposed to guard their territory and their pack. That was a big reason why canines and humans started hanging out together - an early warning system for humans (and free food for dogs).

So yeah, I bark at people at the door... or near the door...or across the street if they look creepy. And heaven help you if you want to come in the backyard.

There is no reason I can think of for non-pack members
to come into my backyard.
Except for neighbor Mike. He's OK.

Let me be clear, I am an excellent guard dog. I have a deep bark of authority. When I bark at visitors I am 100 percent effective. Folks who don't belong here ALWAYS leave. Sometimes it just takes awhile for them to get the hint.

Convincing a gal like me to NOT bark at visitors is pretty challenging. I find it baffling that my family doesn't seem to want my services. They are no good at guarding the house. Most of the time they don't even notice someone is at the door. So it mystifies me that they have been working at modifying my guard dog behavior since I got here.

At first, this is how it would go.

Stranger at the door: Knock knock
Agitated family member: NO BARKING! NO! NO!
Angry/exasperated family member: NO BARKING! STOP! BAD DOG! BARK BARK BARK BARK!

OMG! Obviously, my peeps were very upset about visitors too. Someone's at the door! BARK BARK! The whole pack goes BARK BARK BARK! 

Clearly I was right. Visitors are BAD NEWS and everybody should bark until they leave.

Please note: my pack would get so wound up about visitors, they'd get confused and end up yelling at ME. Every time someone came to to door, I ended up in the dog house. Very stressful. And proved me right! Best to keep pesky visitors at bay...

Clearly, we had to come up a with door warning system that would please the whole pack. Now, when we have visitors, this is our new routine:

Stranger at the door: Knock knock
Calm, relaxed, cheerful family member: Good girl! Someone is here. Thanks for telling me. Now, in your bed. Go lay down...
Dog goes to her bed (reluctantly) which is away from the door and WAITS (on alert in case she is needed).
Relaxed family member (with treat in hand): Stay!
Door opens, family member greets stranger and then either:
  1. talks to stranger and makes them GO AWAY (then the adorable, waiting dog gets a treat) or 
  2. invites visitor over the threshold - transforming them to welcome guest (sort of welcome). Dog gets a treat, dog is invited over for a brief sniff, dog gets another treat from visitor, then dog goes about her business until needed.
It is hard to wait and trust my family can protect the pack.

This might seem complicated. And indeed, it is hard to train all the family members to do all the steps well. It is hard for me to let go and trust my pack can defend our territory. It is hard for my family to remember that I am a good dog doing my job -- they should NOT yell and bark at me. For success:

  1. They need to remember to be armed with treats (we keep them by the door) so I have a positive focus
  2. They need make the visitor wait behind a closed door while I settle into my bed -- which is hard for them as they were taught not to make people wait. 
  3. Then they need to keep enough of their attention on me to be sure I stay put until I am invited over. (I hate this part)
  4. All the while, they need to coach the visitor to ignore me. Do not stare at me! I don't like stranger hands all over my adorable ears.  I just need to sniff the visitor and give the "all clear" to my pack. 
  5. People need to get past their stereotypes about dogs: I don't want to make friends - live and let live is as good as it gets. Not all dogs are extroverts... Leave me be... unless you have peanut butter and will scratch my back (but that comes later...much later...)
  6. Most importantly, everyone's behavior must exude positive calm. We LOVE visitors. Thanks for letting us know we have one, Carmella. What a good dog!

Why so much effort? Because I don't rule the world and so visitors are apparently inevitable. As my pack practices this door ritual, things are more peaceful at our house. We now have a permanent sign on our front door that says:

Dog in Training
Please be patient.
Help me with my door manners.

I  must lie down and stay for the door to be opened.

  • Do not greet me
  • Just ignore me
  • Do not bend over me(it scares me).

If I am good, I will get a treat!

Obviously, I did not write that silly sign. But did I mention I get treats?


  1. Susan points out that we have been "in training" for many years now and that the sign on the door is old and tattered. She says it is time to move into mastery mode. As long as that means the treats continue, I am good with that...Yup.

  2. Wow, that's quite an education there! I'm sure it takes a lot of self-restraint to turn off the heroic impulses when the stranger is "at the gate". I'm wondering how you can keep your composure when those guys in the noisy trucks come to steal your garbage, or the people who come to the door and rattle the mailbox, what then?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. You know me too well, dear Ms. Sparrow.