Dog Who Challenges Houseguests

01 Jul
I have a long-haired Chihuahua who is very territorial when friends come over. He barks and growls and, if unleashed, will run at them and bark at their heels. We have worked with a trainer about this but have not had success. When people come over, we keep him confined in another room while we are greeting our guests and when wait until everyone has settled down and then let him out– he usually calms down after a few sniffs and then does his own thing.
Some of our friends have taken it personally, insisting that they are dog lovers and never have issues like this with other pets. We try to explain to them that it’s not something they should feel is personalized and that our dog is just very protective and wary of strangers. He is actually very sweet and lovable once you get to know him.I have a friend who confided to me that she feels uncomfortable when she comes to my house because of this issue. She requested that I lock the dog in my bedroom while she is here and I told her that I thought that was unnecessary since he always calms down after the initial shock of visitors, but offered to leash him while she is here until she felt comfortable. I felt as thought that was a reasonable compromise, but she has told me that she will no longer attend gatherings at my house because of this and has even taken it a step further by saying that she is upset with me and feels as though I would choose a dog over our friendship.

My dog is not used to being confined and will consistently bark and scratch at the door until he is let out –which is the only reason I will not confine him. What should I do?

Diamond in the Ruff


Dear Diamond,

There are two issues here; your dog’s reaction to strangers in the house, and what it is doing to your relationships. Let’s take them one at a time.

There are two reasons why dogs in stable households challenge strangers: they’re either afraid or they haven’t been given boundaries to let them know which behaviors are unacceptable. I encourage you to find another trainer if the first one has been innefective, with the following caveat. If you don’t follow your trainer’s advice, do your homework, and be consistent with the techniques he/she teaches you, no trainer will be able to help. So find a trainer who can help, then do your part at home.

One thing you can tell visitors to do is a tip from Cesar Millan. When they enter the house, they should ignore the dog. No look, no touch, no talk, as Cesar says. Tell them that you’re retraining your dog and they can help by completely ignoring him until he quiets down. If you have a friend who is comfortable with dogs and willing to help, ask him to come over, ignore the dog until he calms down, then (without looking at him or talking to him), step into the dog’s space. This forces the dog to make way, which dogs in the wild will do for pack leaders. This helps to reinforce to your dog that all people outrank all dogs.

As far as your friend goes, I think she has a point. I once worked on a book project with an author who lived on a horse farm. She had a dog who nipped people’s heels. I’m a dog lover, but this frightened and annoyed me. And I never went back to her home again. Let me tell you what I would do if I were you.

I would get the dog a crate and get some great interactive toys that your dog can play with only when he’s in the crate. You can find some in the Home Alone department at When you let your dog out of the crate, pick up the toys and put them out of the dog’s reach. He only gets them when he’s in the crate. Practice this for 10 to 30 minutes every day for a couple of weeks, and your dog will be racing into that crate. Before a guest arrives or a pizza is delivered, put your dog in the crate. When the doorbell rings, put a peanut-butter-filled toy in the crate with your dog, then answer the door. If the bell rings before you can put your dog in the crate, you can say, “Just a minute” through the door while you put your dog in the crate. Practice this every time you order pizza or have anyone come to the house. This will help your dog to associate the doorbell with a VERY yummy treat.

You may be able to let your dog out when other people come to the house (and — with proper training — when your friend comes over). But do practice this crate/toy technique randomly when people come over. Soon, your dog won’t even care who’s at the door.



So now to problem number two. I think your friend has a point. I once worked on a book project with an author who lived on a horse ranch with a dog who bit people’s heels. I’m a dog person who’s owned large dogs all my life, but this behavior frightened and annoyed me. I never went back. Your friend doesn’t want to hear about how the dog isn’t happy in the other room. She wants to hear that it matters to you that she’s afraid or uncomfortable around your dog.

Other people don’t adore our fur kids like we do. All they see is the behavior the dog has around them. I have a large black dog who’s the sweetest thing in the whole world. She’d never hurt a fly. But I know she intimidates people. So I taught her to sit when pedestrians approach, to not bolt through the door at people when we open it, and to not bark at people. We should ask the dogs to accommodate humans, not the other way around.

Call your friend (don’t email her). Tell her you realize how your dog’s behavior affects her, and that you’re sorry you didn’t see how much it upset her before. Tell her you’re hiring another trainer to help with the problem, but meanwhile, you’ll crate the dog with a toy while she’s at your home. Then invite her over and do it. At the very least, reach out to her and invite her to get together at other locations so the dog is not an issue. Reassure her that you value your friendship. Friends are very important, and friendships must be cultivated.


Posted by on July 1, 2008 in Dog Etiquette


9 responses to “Dog Who Challenges Houseguests

  1. Lindsay

    July 5, 2008 at 11:09 pm

    Great tips on crate training the dog. I think it can learn to be out when people come, it will just take time. I bet the first trainer didn’t work out because the owner didn’t do his or her homework. Keeping the dog on the leash when people come over is also a good idea.

  2. Tommy

    February 23, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    I noticed that the beginning of the post.. the lettering is very small and hard to read.. I am sure that a lot of people will have trouble with it, just wanted to mention it so you would know 🙂

  3. Dog Cages as Training Tools

    February 24, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    I would agree that you need a new trainer. Just like with anything else, there are good ones and bad ones. Just keep searching until you find one that knows how to work with your dog’s situation.

  4. Down Sleeping Bags

    May 5, 2009 at 11:21 am

    When people are afraid of dogs, I’ve found one thing that could work is to tell them to ignore the dogs – just tell them to walk in, ignore them completely and act like you own the place. Dogs eventually give up.

  5. johnthan

    December 2, 2010 at 7:33 am

    I would get the dog a crate and get some great interactive toys that your dog can play with only when he’s in the crate. This forces the dog to make way, which dogs in the wild will do for pack leaders. This helps to reinforce to your dog that all people outrank all dogs.


    January 26, 2011 at 6:11 am

    Yes I love the advice regarding crate training… applies espeically to the huskies

  7. PetnVet Finder (@petnvetfinder)

    August 22, 2011 at 5:21 am

    Thanks for the crate training…it does really work. My vet also suggested me the same and it has worked like a miracle. Now my dog does not bolt or bark or intimidate any of my guests.

  8. Jennifer Diaz

    May 4, 2012 at 12:11 am

    Small text to begin with. But, it’s okay. Thanks for the tips. I think, dogs needs to be train. I can also understand them, cause they don’t usually see those people who are coming over our house. They seem to be protective. My friend’s dog have been injured because he was hit by a bat. Now, he’s having Dog physiotherapy. The one who hit that dog is my friends’ cousin. He said that he was rattled. thanks for the tips. 🙂


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