Four Ways to Help Your Pet Feel Calm and Comfortable with Visitors
Plus, what you should encourage visitors to do and not do.
Dogs and cats can have many different reactions to visitors from happy (running up to the guest and jumping on them) to fearful (growling, hissing, or barking). Every animal caregiver should take steps to set their pets and guests up for success. Here are a few tips to keep everyone happy.
Practice and Plan
Socializing and training your pets is so important, especially if you want your animals to greet guests calmly. Cued behaviors like "go to mat" or "go into your crate" and eye contact can help to set your pet up for success. Both socialization and training should start early and be practiced in situations without guests first; this includes introducing your pet to their safe space. You want to occasionally feed your animals in this space, reward them when they are resting there, and avoid using the safe space as a play area. This helps them to associate the safe place with good things and relaxing.
Create a Safe Place for Your Pet
Everyone needs to get away sometimes, including your pets. By providing a safe place, your animal can escape when needed and will become more confident when confronted with stressful situations. Their safe space is also a wonderful tool to teach others, including children, that if the animal has gone there on his or her own, they want to be alone-not pet or approached for play. This can be a crate or bed for your dog, or a room with perches (such as a cat tree or shelves), hiding places (such as a cat carrier or box), or litter box. When creating a safe place, it should be comfortable for your animal, easily accessible, and quiet; outfit it with a comfy bed, water and treats, chews, or long-lasting puzzle toys such as a stuffed, frozen Kong.
Use Considerate Greeting
Many people approach cats and dogs similarly to how they approach other people, but what humans consider to be a considerate approach, animals do not. A friendly human approach is a direct and frontal approach, face to face, direct eye contact, often touch (a handshake or hug), close proximity, and a smile which may possibly show teeth. All of these are considered threatening to cats and dogs. So, you can imagine, in many cases, we are not using considerate approach with our animal friends. Encourage guests to respect your pet's personal space, to avoid leaning or looming over them, and avoid staring with head-on eye contact.
Consider Your Pet's Individual Needs
Does your animal have anxiety with visitors coming over? Is it difficult for your pet to perform cued behaviors (like "sit" or "go to mat") when people walk in? Does your pet bark or hide when they hear the doorbell or knocking? It's important to consider your pet's specific needs and ask yourself these questions, then create a plan based on what you already know about your pet. For example, if your dog becomes anxious with the doorbell, then place a sign on your door to text and avoid knocking. You can place your pet in their safe place with a frozen Kong prior to people coming in.
If you notice your pet is becoming stressed by nearby activity or any outside noise, simply encourage them to go into their safe space and settle with a treat or long-lasting chew. Praise them calmly when they settle in their safe zone and make sure that no one goes in and bothers them when they are there.