Preparing dogs for more socialising at home

From 17th May people in England can expect lockdown measures to be eased further, allowing us to have a limited number of guests in the home.

Whilst this will be. welcome milestone in the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, Dogs Trust is urging dog owners to prepare their pets ahead of indoor mixing, as welcoming more people at home will likely be a big transition for them.

Since lockdown first began in March 2020, dog owners across the UK have spent an increased and concentrated amount of time with their dogs at home on their own. Their pets will have become accustomed to interacting with a much smaller number of people during that time, meaning they could become anxious or excited if more people start showing up inside their home.

Dr Rachel Casey, Director of Canine Behaviour & Research at Dogs Trust said: “Over the last year many of us will have adapted to living in lockdown. Life for our dogs will also have been different, with few visitors coming into the house but perhaps more delivery drivers coming to the door and leaving again. It is important for us to make sure they are prepared for more social interactions at home, staying calm when people come to the door and seeing new people come inside. This will be especially true for dogs who have been acquired as puppies during lockdown and may have had limited contact with visitors during that time.”

Dog Trust has put together some training tips for dog owners to make the transition of welcoming guests easier. By training our dogs for more visitors, they can learn not to react to the sound of a doorbell or go to a ‘safe space’ when they hear it, and quietly wait there until visitors are settled.

Whilst you are doing this training, it would be a good idea to put up a sign on your door, asking people not to knock or ring the doorbell but to phone you from outside instead, so that ‘real’ guests don’t disrupt your training.

  • Start by knocking on hard surfaces at home and ignoring your dog’s response (you can use a mobile phone to recreate the sound of a doorbell for the same purpose). If your dog shows a strong reaction, for example barking or rushing to the door, then make the sound quieter. Gradually increase the volume until your dog is ignoring reasonably loud knocks and doorbells.
  • Gradually increase the number and volume of the knocks/rings until your dog is ignoring them completely. They have now become meaningless as they no longer result in anyone coming in at all.
  • Ask a helper to go out and approach the front door to knock or ring the bell while you remain inside with your dog. Start by having the helper knock or ring just once and throw your dog a treat reward if they remain quiet and calm.
  • Have your helper approach and knock/ring the door again. When this happens, encourage your dog to run to their bed – ideally placed in a room behind a door or child gate, where visitors wouldn’t enter – and reward them there by dropping a handful of treats onto their bed. Repeat this process several times during one session but spend no longer than 10 minutes per session.
  • Over a number of sessions your dog will start to respond to the knock/bell by running to their bed with you. Encourage them to lead the way, you could turn it into a race to see who will get there first – it needs to be as fun as possible! When they get to their bed spend some time giving them a fuss and treats. The more you practice the better they will become at this game, eventually they will run to bed all by themselves and wait for you to bring them a treat.
  • When you get to this stage, start to give a longer lasting treat, such as a stuffed interactive feeder, that will take them a good while to enjoy. You can now introduce short periods of closing the door to this room so that they are left alone to enjoy their treat.
  • You are now ready to try with a real visitor. Once your dog has run to their bed when the visitor has knocked/rung the bell, close the door to this room so your dog can enjoy their long-lasting treat whilst you invite your visitor in and settle them down. Once your dog is calm, and if your visitors want to meet them, you can then let your dog in to meet your visitor if you feel it is safe to do so. You can now use this as your routine every time you have visitors, and you can also take down the sign from your front door.
  • It’s a good idea to have a long-lasting tasty treat ready prepared in your fridge in case you are surprised by unplanned visitors. Preparation and practice make perfect.

One of the most common reasons for dogs coming into Dogs Trust’s care is behaviour related issues, which is why the charity wants to help ‘change the tale’ for as many dogs as possible, so they remain in happy homes. As well as providing training videos and advice, Dogs Trust’s Dog School has been able to continue running training classes online while face-to-face classes have been paused during lockdown, meaning dogs and their owners can still learn through virtual classes to equip themselves with skills they can put into practice as normality returns.