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Training Your Dog to Greet House Guests Appropriately
Tonight my parents had Bible study at our house, which entailed the cooking of many smelly foods, and the entertaining of many boisterous Koreans.
The first guest came early. I quickly put Batman in his crate in my room, while I thought up a plan for how best to teach to this new situation. My mom decided it would be a great idea to have the new person come into the room right away, while she pointed at the dog in the crate, and encouraged the new person to stare right at him. (In my defense, this all happened very quickly and in Korean, so I was caught flat-footed.)
Anyway, Batman, of course, responded like many dogs would and barked at the stranger from his crate. I suggested that we all exit the room and let the dog settle down. After about 30 seconds, the barking stopped, and I re-entered the room alone to get ready for the rest of the evening. Banishing the dog to the crate for the night would have been fine (he loves his crate), but he wouldn’t learn anything from it, and I wanted to use this event to teach him as much as possible.
I loaded myself up with treats, let Batman out of the crate on a drag line, and had him sit calmly for me in the bedroom while new people came to the front door. This was going well, so after a few minutes, I moved him out to the hallway, about 20 feet from the front door, and put him in a down position while I tossed treats at him. I politely asked our guests to ignore him, explaining that we were training. My goal here was to get Batman to associate friendly strangers in the house as a positive thing.
After a few minutes of this, Batman was doing exactly what I wanted: paying attention to me, and remaining alert, but not reactive, when new people entered the house. So I moved him closer to the kitchen, where a group had gathered to help my mom set-up the Bible study buffet of smelly deliciousness.
He laid down and got more treats. All good. A woman came over to talk to me about her dog, a Jack Russell Terrier, who apparently had bitten one of the church members in the butt during the last Bible study at her house, ripping a big hole through the seat of her pants. The woman was obviously mortified. She pet Batman, and he looked at her, sniffed her pant leg, then totally ignored her in that special German Shepherd way.
German Shepherds, per the breed standard, are not overtly friendly. They’re neutral to strangers — they neither slobber all over them, nor do they bite them in the butt. Once they get to know you, they love you, but otherwise they leave you alone. For example, Batman acts like a big goofy puppy around my dad, who plays fetch with him when I’m out, but he generally ignores my mom, who is afraid of dogs. I really appreciate this about the breed. I don’t want my dog saying hi to every person we meet, but also want a dog that recognizes family and behaves appropriately towards them.
Through the course of the evening, I did some low-level obedience training with Batman (Sit. Stand. Down.), while our guests milled around the house. When it was time for Bible study, I took him back into my room so our guests wouldn’t have to worry about a large German Shepherd patrolling the house.
My room is the one room in the house where Batman is allowed to play with toys. The rest of the house is toy-free. This is to show a clear separation of where it’s OK to be running around (outdoors and in my room), and where he must be calm (everywhere else in the house). I let Batman chase around his Jolly Ball for a while, then he got tired, so I put him back in his crate for the night.
All in all, a good night!