Why are Calm Greetings Important?

It’s important to remember that in dog language EXCITEMENT is not the same as HAPPY. Of course, your dog is happy to see you! But if they are overly “excited” then they are also experiencing stress or anxiety. If this over excitement/anxiety is repeatedly rewarded with what your dog values most – your attention, then the dog will never gain control over their own emotional state, resulting in unwanted uncontrolled behaviors like jumping, barking, whining, nipping, mouthing, pulling on the leash or an overall exacerbation of anxiety issues into things like separation anxiety.

In order to prevent or reverse this pattern, we must teach our dog to be calm.

A Calm Dog = A Happy Dog!

What Does a Calm Greeting Look Like?

  • Your dog exhibits loose body language- loose wagging tail and possibly a loose wiggly body.
  • Your dog is able to control their impulses enough that they can obey basic commands like sit.
  • Your dog is able to disengage on their own and go about their business without having to be told!
  • Your dog may not approach at all! This doesn’t mean they don’t love you!  It means they are confident in your relationship and their place in the world and don’t need to explode emotionally to express that to you.

What Does Over Excitement Look Like?

  • Barking or Whining
  • Jumping
  • Panting Excessively
  • Pacing or Zooming
  • Urinating
  • Lunging/ Pulling on the Leash

What Should You Do?

Needing to address calming your dog down in a specific situation? Use the links below to jump ahead.

GREETING YOU

If your pup is losing control of themselves with YOU, it’s unfair to expect them to act any different with someone else. Start working toward a calmer relationship with the following steps. 

Step 1: Ignore Excitement

This is the hardest part! 

When you first arrive home, ignore your dog completely. This means you do not look at them, do not speak to them, do not pet them.

For some pups, even telling them “no,” pushing them off, or asking for a Sit right away is rewarding for them, because they are still getting attention from you! If your dog is Sitting but still barely containing their excitement, the command alone has not achieved your calmness goal. If you take all the emotion out of your entrance FIRST, eventually your dog will learn that:

  • Mom/Dad coming home is a perfectly ordinary event that happens every day (if not multiple times a day). There was no reason to be worried about them leaving, therefore, there is no reason to be ecstatic that they returned.
  • Someone walking through the door is not an “event.” If it isn’t an event when Mom/Dad do it, then it shouldn’t be an event when a guest does it either.
  • Excitement and jumping do NOT give me what I want (attention). I better chill out, so I can be a better listener and find out what WILL get me what I want.

The sooner your dog realizes there is no reason for and no benefit to getting excited when you come home, they will be in a better state to hear you when you give them an alternative behavior like Sit, or Place (see next step).

PRO TIP: Ignoring your dog is no easy task! Afterall, we got them because we love interacting with them. Make this challenge easier by having a job to do right when you walk in the door. Make a sandwich, change your clothes, etc. Anything to help you keep your attention from your pup.

Step 2: Give an Alternative

If part of the reason your dog is fawning over you is because they have learned that the more obnoxious they are the more likely you are to look at them, convince them the opposite is true.

Incorporate behaviors into your daily routine that regularly reward being controlled and calm.

Preferably these behaviors will be directly incompatible with certain expressions of over excitement, like jumping.

For example:

  • “Place” – Use Place to send your pup to their bed to earn their favorite chew or before you put their leash on for a walk.
  • “Sit” – Teach your dog to Sit to get let up on the couch, before you throw a toy, or any time before you give affection throughout the day.
  • “Wait” – Teach your dog to wait before putting their food bowl down for meals.
  • “Settle” – Use Settle to teach your dog to enter a state of zen in any environment.

Each of these commands will improve your dog’s ability to control their initial emotional response to their environment AND give them an option to earn rewards with behavior that is healthy and appropriate. They will also teach your dog how to focus and relax in the middle of a sometimes-hectic life. (For more information on how to incorporate impulse control into your daily routine stay tuned for the article on Work Experience). 

Step 3: Reward Calm

Once your dog has calmed down and has their emotions under control, now it’s ok to greet! Note that if it takes 20 minutes for your dog to calm down, then you will be ignoring your dog for 20 minutes before you can consider engaging with them. Things to remember when greeting your dog:

  • Greetings are a reward, especially if your pup is particularly motivated by affection (like a Golden Retriever). Dole out your affection in the same way you would a treat, for behaviors you want to see repeat (so, NOT for jumping, pacing, whining, barking, mouthing, etc.)
  • Lead by example! If you want calm behavior from your dog, then you must be calm yourself. Dog’s mirror our energy and emotions. Avoid using scratching to pet your dog or a high-pitched voice to greet your dog. Scratching is stimulating but slow long strokes are calming. A high-pitched tone encourages excitement, whereas a neutral tone adds no emotion to the moment.
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  • Consider no greeting at all. As we discussed above, sometimes what your dog needs most of all is to break the association between someone coming through the door, and the PARTY. Consider waiting until later in the day to have your snuggle-fest instead of doing it when you get home. 

Step 4 (If Needed): Add A Negative Consequence

What happens if you enter your home and attempt to ignore your pup, but they start playing tug with your pants or jump up and grab your hair?? There may come a time when your pup’s over-excited behavior cannot be ignored. 

You may need to send a message to your pup that inappropriate greetings make me leave.

If you walk into your home and are greeted by a frantic superfan, immediately walk back outside. Count to 10 and come in again. Repeat this until your pup is ignorable. 

GREETING GUESTS

The process for addressing this behavior is similar to the one above. But there is a key difference –

You must convince your guest to participate! 

Step 1: (Prepare the Guest To) Ignore Excitement

Talk to your guests before they arrive and ask them to ignore your dog. If the “guest” is someone you see on the street, simply tell them; “We are working on their manners. They cannot say hi if they aren’t calm.” Getting cooperation can be tricky. If you have a guest that cannot cooperate for some reason (maybe it’s a young child or that one friend who can’t seem to follow directions), then your dog may have to remain separated or in their crate during the visit.

Any reinforcement of the jumping and over excitement will set back your training

Make sure your pup is always on leash while they are learning to be calm.  This will give you the control you need to keep your pup separated from the guest until they earn the release through composure.

Step 2: Give an Alternative

If your guests are on board with your strategy, then you can make it even more effective by incorporating your obedience commands!

  • “Place” – Use Place to send your pup to their bed before the guest enters. Once your guest has settled in and your dog has calmed down on their place, you can dismiss for a calm greeting!
  • “Sit” – Teach your dog to sit anytime someone approaches. Now rather than jumping for attention, they are sitting for attention!

Step 3: Reward Calm

Again, it may take your dog a good 20 minutes to relax after your guest enters their orbit. Once they have calmed down, you can release them to greet. Remind your guest that they must lead by example and keep their greeting calm so that your pup will follow suit. This greeting is a GIFT to both your pup AND the guest! If the guest can’t adhere to the rules, no greeting!     

Step 4 (If Needed): Add A Negative Consequence

If even after achieving calm your pups go-to greeting for your guests is to jump straight up and muzzle punch/kiss their face, then it may be time to add a negative consequence for an over-the-top love session. As stated above, when confronted with un-ignorable behavior, you need your pup to understand that…

inappropriate greetings make guests disappear.

PRO TIP: You do not need to allow your dog to greet everyone they see on a walk to “socialize” them. In fact, you SHOULDN’T.  If you do, they will start to expect that every person you pass is there to PARTY with them. They will begin to pull towards every person they see. If you allow only the occasional greeting, and only if they are completely calm, they will be much less likely to expect an interaction, and more able to control their impulses.

GREETING DOGS

Since dogs are one of the most stimulating beings your pup will come in contact with, greetings with them should be managed just like everything else… with one notable extra… the unbreakable rule:

NO ON-LEASH GREETINGS WITH DOGS!

The reasons for NO ON-LEASH GREETINGS are as follows:

  1. If you frequently allow your dog to greet other dogs on walks, they will come to expect this and try to pull you towards every dog they see.
  2. The restraint of the leash coupled with over excitement can create frustration. This excited/anxious energy can easily develop into leash aggression if left unchecked. Stay tuned for our article on Leash Aggression.
  3. The restraint of a leash hinders your dog’s ability to communicate naturally with other dogs. It distorts their body language resulting in MANY miscommunications. Some examples include:
    • The Approach: Your dog’s body pressure against the leash as they walk inadvertently produces a forward body posture. This look is interpreted by other dogs as extremely confrontational. If your dog is pulling towards another dog on leash, the other dog may assume your dog is preparing for a fight and feel the need to defend themselves by snapping as soon as they are within reach. Many well-meaning puppies get their face bit in this way. 
    • The Interaction: Leashed interactions often result in face-to-face greetings off the bat. Head on interactions are considered very rude in natural dog communication. This distortion can make for a rocky start to a new relationship.  
    • The Exit: When leashed, your dog does not have the option to take space from a conversation they are not enjoying. With the flight option off the table, they will be more likely to be pushed into a defensive fight.

YES to OFF-LEASH Dog Play

If you are introducing your dog to another dog OFF LEASH, sweet! Make sure you have set them up for success by exercising them beforehand, relieving any pent-up tension or energy surplus. Then, abide by the same steps for a canine guest as you did with the human guest.

Step 1: Ignore Excitement

Wait on leash at a distance for your dog (or both dogs – if on a playdate) to calm down before removing the leash and allowing them to greet. Increase the distance as needed until all parties are calm. At the dog park you can do this by waiting a few feet from the entrance or even while you are in the airlock if no one else is waiting to exit/enter.

Step 2: Give an Alternative

Especially if ignoring the excitement is not working (maybe the playmates are setting each other off over and over), you may need to incorporate a command to redirect your pups’ attention to you or to a task.  Try a basic obedience command like “sit,” “down,” or “look” to encourage calm attentiveness before releasing and rewarding with a play session.  

Step 3: Reward Calm 

When they no longer are triggering into over excitement release them but do so CALMLY. Instead of “OK! Go PARRRTTAAYYY!” try a simple monotone release.

Set the tone for the entire interaction – calm and emotionally controlled. 

PRO TIP: Choose your pups playmates wisely.  If they are prone toward over excitement, the best playmate is most likely a mature, balanced, well socialized dog with years of experience in emotional control. Read more about canine socialization HERE coming soon.

 

Conclusion

If you enforce calm greetings in every interaction your dog has, you will decrease or eliminate problem behaviors like jumping! You will also decrease the likelihood of your dog developing separation anxiety or leash aggression. A calm dog is a happy dog.