puppy-human social interaction

Puppy Diaries #9 Mastering the Perfect Puppy-Human Social Interaction

Dear Diary,

It’s month nine, and Sommer is growing up. She’s still got boundless energy, but she’s less hyperactive than she was a few months ago. She’s starting to look less like a little pup and more like a gangly teenager, with awkwardly large feet that are too big for her body. She is an extremely fast runner and loves to sprint around the yard, easily chasing down our boys and then barking with joy when she catches them. Potty training issues are largely in the rear view mirror, although the occasional bout of diarrhea is always in the realm of possibility, and I am still on very friendly terms with our local carpet cleaner. Sommer’s face is so expressive at this age! Her eyes are bright and she looks at me for direction, eager to please. In our household, she has the routine down and understands the rules – no jumping on the good chair, ring the bell on the door to go outside, no counter surfing and the like. I guess you could say that she trusts us now, and I trust her (most of the time, although after the Advil-chewing episode, I am very thorough about keeping her away from things that might cause her to fall into trouble). But when the doorbell rings? That’s when all training bets are off.

We have an active household, with two sons and friends and family and sports carpools and music teachers and handymen and lawn mowing crews coming to the house on a regular basis. All that makes for a happy home and Sommer loves greeting guests. But do guests love it when Sommer greets them? In the beginning, the answer was decidedly “no.” And I can’t say I blame them. I don’t like a dog that jumps on me when I walk into someone’s home, and as a small dog, Sommer seems particularly prone to jumping. It’s in her nature to want to get up to human level. She’s also prone to excited barking, another habit that made door greetings a real challenge. It was one of the things that bothered me most about having a dog, so we decided to hire one of the trainers who taught Sommer’s group puppy training classes to come to our house to diagnose the issue and prescribe a solution.

The trainer was great at reinforcing that door greetings are indeed one of the biggest challenges around. She advised using a method where we would put a dog bed near the door, but not next to the door, and saying “go to bed” when the doorbell rang. I was to stand next to the bed and give Sommer treats as long as she stayed on the bed. The idea was that the guest would come in and then pass by the bed and greet Sommer, or not greet Sommer – whatever the guest wanted. Whether it was my lack of proper execution or simply Sommer’s puppy effervescence, although we worked on it for months, both in real scenarios and in trials where the boys would go outside and ring the bell, Sommer never quite mastered it. She would “go to bed,” but as soon as I gave her one little treat, she would grab it and run from the bed to jump on the person at the door. Answering the door became a two-person job, as I was stuck calling “go to bed” and standing by the dog bed, while one of the boys had to answer the doorbell – and they weren’t always at home to play that role. I thought Sommer might catch on and stay in the bed while I walked over to the door, but alas, the promise of a new human to greet was far too overwhelming and in fact seemed more alluring than any treat I could offer.

Back to the “beep” collar we went (note: we would only use a shock-free collar). When visiting my parents at their home one week, Sommer would get beside herself with excitement when she would see my parents each morning, as if she’d never seen them before. This turned into the perfect opportunity to put on her “beep” collar and teach her the no-jumping greetings rule. We were diligent in showing her that when she jumped up on them in excited greeting, it would result in a “beep.” When she stayed down, with all four paws on the ground, my parents made sure to give her lots of pets and “good girl” praise. The idea seemed to sink in. Back at home, the only trick to continue this method successfully was to make sure she had her collar on when guests were coming to the house, or in the case of an unexpected visitor, to have the collar at the ready near the door so I could quickly put it on her.

With door greetings somewhat under control, there was the challenge of guests spending time at our house. Sommer would feel instantly that these people were her very best friends, and would want to jump up on the couch to sit on top of them, something that I’m accustomed to, but which is uncomfortable for a guest who is trying to have an appetizer and glass of wine and hold a conversation with a dog sitting on them. Again, the “beep” collar worked well in terms of sending the signal of “stay on the ground.” And in case trying to monitor the situation became too much for me, I would banish her to our lower level. That wasn’t ideal since she didn’t learn anything from being banished, but sometimes it felt like the easiest way to handle things. Trying to be a good host, keep up the conversation, serve food and keep a vigilant eye on a puppy was far too overwhelming. I wanted to enjoy myself, too!

Sommer may be overly enthusiastic about people, but she is equally eager to please, so that’s the strength I play to when guests arrive. The fact that she loves people is something that was bred into her, so I want to encourage that in a positive way as she grows up. I don’t want human interaction to be a negative experience. As time goes on, I’ll continue to refine her greetings and guest etiquette – maybe one day, when she’s better able to control herself, “go to bed” will work. At nine months, we’re not done with training and will keep on working at it. You really can teach an old dog new tricks!

Lessons Learned from My Vet or My Trainer

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Puppy Diaries #7: First Year Costs – Myth vs. Reality (28-32 weeks)
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Puppy Diaries #8 Mastering the Perfect Puppy Social Interaction (32-36 Weeks)

About Puppy Diaries

Puppy Diaries is an ongoing series that explores the journey of pet parenthood, from making the decision to get a puppy, to bringing a puppy home, to the joys and struggles of training, and beyond. Laura Tiebert, our resident Pup Mom, is an experienced nonfiction writer and first-time puppy parent who lives in Minnesota with her husband, two sons and a new puppy.