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Pet Behavior With Guests

Are you one of those people who don’t have company over because of your pet’s reaction to visitors? Let’s look at their specific behaviors and try to understand how and why they first started.

Some of the more unruly behaviors owners complain of when visitors arrive are excessive barking, jumping up on people, urinating, growling, or, even worse, biting. You may have unwittingly encouraged many of these behaviors. For example, pounding on the wall and asking your dog in an excited voice “Who is it? Go get ’em!” while your dog is running around barking his head off. You have just conditioned him to bark at knocking sounds. (Do burglars usually knock at the door?).

A dog that is rewarded by praise or attention for aggressive barking may soon learn that barking is an affective way to get your attention, even if the attention is your scolding.

Another attention-seeking behavior is jumping up on people. This is a very common problem, especially for owners of young, friendly dogs. Basic obedience training, keeping the greeting low-key, diverting attention (such as with a shaker can), positively reinforcing other behaviors (sit/stay), and control devices (head halter/leash usage) can be utilized to give the owner more control over their pet.

Submissive urination is when your dog crouches low with his tail down and dribbles urine when being greeted. It is seen particularly in young dogs but usually resolves as urinary sphincters mature and the puppy gains confidence.

The key to stopping submissive urination is to keep greetings brief and calm. Avoid direct eye contact or petting the dog. Do not stand directly over the dog. Let the animal approach you after you have sat down. Verbal punishment should be avoided as this will make your dog even more anxious and fearful.

If you have a dominant, aggressive dog with a history of growling or biting, seek professional help immediately. You will need a professional dog trainer and/or veterinary behaviorist to work with you in depth. Biting pets frequently become a health hazard and a legal liability.

Your cat is a dedicated survivalist and will generally run and hide when visitors arrive. If your cat does elect to grace you with their presence, let them set the mood as to whether they wanted to be petted or not. Be cautious until you are confident in their personality, as cats can have mercurial mood changes.

This copyrighted article first appeared in the Residences section of The Palm Beach Post. It may have been updated since its original publication.