Unleashing Good Manners: Five Tips to Help Improve Your Dog’s Greetings

Canine good manners are always a great idea, but they become extra important around the summer holidays and celebrations. With BBQs, traveling, graduation festivities, and other friendly gatherings, your pooch may find themselves around unfamiliar people, in new places, and otherwise a bit out of their element! It’s important that your dog — and your human pals — are safe and comfortable in these situations. So, if your inquisitive canine’s greeting manners aren’t the greatest, take a look at these five tips:

Tip # 1- Try to examine the situation from your dog’s point of view.

Dogs run the gamut from “terrified of every unfamiliar human” to “thrilled to see any other living being, familiar or not.” The fearful and the exuberant pups are likely to struggle more with greeting nicely than more easy-going (or even uninterested) dogs.

With this understanding, it helps to think about why your dog might be struggling with polite greeting manners with people and/or other dogs. Is Fluffy frustrated, frightened, anxious, or experiencing over-arousal? If so, do your best to address any underlying issues. Consult a qualified, certified positive reinforcement trainer if you think you might be dealing with a more complicated situation, such as ‘stranger danger’ or leash reactivity.  This guidance through the process of meeting your dog’s behavioral and emotional needs can help improve the situation for both you and your inquisitive canine.

Tip #2 – Provide environmental enrichment.

Over-the-top greetings might be a way of releasing pent-up energy. Is Fido getting enough mental and physical exercise? Or is your pup left alone with nothing to do for long periods of time while you’re visiting with friends and family? In these cases, you might find the simplest approach is to modify the situation and/or the environment in order to change your pup’s behavior.

Tip #3 – Provide appropriate outlets for your dog’s happy playfulness and exuberance.

It’s a lot to ask your inquisitive canine to maintain self-control around stimulating new places and people. Looking through your dog’s eyes, it’s easy to see how it might be hard for her to offer a “sit” on cue for a polite greeting when she’s super excited.

For dogs who tend to greet too energetically, games and toys can help pooches get their energy out, while engaging in normal doggy behavior. Keep in mind that when you want to replace a behavior, such as overly exuberant greetings – the desired (reinforceable) behavior should be “energy equivalent.” For example, the replacement behavior you initiate with your pup should meet the energy demand of your dog’s state of mind in that moment. So, a well-timed game of tug or Go Find It can prevent your dog from jumping up on someone before she can scare them or dirty their summer outfit with muddy paws.

Happily, there are a variety of ways to redirect your pup away from jumping or charging to greet, and channel her joyous energy elsewhere, such as with a soft squeaky toy (just giving it to her) or a game of fetch. Providing items for your dog to hold in her mouth, and/or play with, will help redirect her energy to a more appropriate task. Of course, you’ll have to travel prepared with toys, and with food or treats in a treat pouch or your pocket; you might even keep extra supplies in your car.

By meeting your dog’s needs for attention and play first, it will likely be easier to then follow up by asking for greeting behavior that is more pleasant, i.e. human-centric (see Tip #4).

Tip #4 – Remember to reward the behavior you do want so that it will be repeated.

Reinforce your dog with petting, praise, treats, or the toss of a toy when and if she greets people with “four on the floor” (all four paws on the floor) or by sitting nicely. Teach your dog that sitting or standing to greet is much more rewarding than jumping up or lunging.

When you know what motivates your dog, you can more effectively use positive reinforcement to foster behaviors that you want to see repeated and teach new ones that are incompatible with the behaviors you’d rather not see. Keep in mind that like us, each dog is an individual and that ‘rewards’ are based on personal preferences. In some situations, real-life rewards such as saying “hello” to someone could be even more reinforcing than food or toys!

Tip #5 – Most importantly, keep learning fun!

Learning and practicing canine life skills can and should be enjoyable and enriching for student and teacher, enhancing the bond you share. If you and your dog are feeling stalled out in the process of practicing appropriate greetings, think about how to make things a little easier for your pup and then try again. With patience and consistency, pretty soon, outings with your dog will be a walk in the park!

Here’s to unleashing adventures, harnessing fun, and making new, wonderful friends wherever you and your polite pooch go!

The Inquisitive Canine was founded by Santa Barbara certified canine behavior consultant and certified professional dog trainer Joan Hunter Mayer. Joan and her team are devoted to offering humane, pawsitive, practical solutions that work for the challenges dogs and their humans face in everyday life. Joan offers coaching both in-person and online. If you are feeling inquisitive and have dog training questions, we invite you to contact The Inquisitive Canine for A Pawsitive Approach for Positive Results ™.


Written by Joan the Dog Coach

Joan Hunter Mayer is a certified canine behavior consultant and certified professional dog trainer who founded "The Inquisitive Canine." More information can be found at inquisitivecanine.com.

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