As Covid 19 lockdown is relaxing, I am already starting to become aware of some issues coming to light.
There are now many puppies who have never, or only rarely encountered a visitor coming inside their home before lockdown. This is not always well received and I am already getting reports of puppies barking at visitors as they pass through the home to the garden, or panicking when the visitor speaks or moves. The pups so far affected are pups around 4 - 7 months old.
If you have not yet had any visitors since you had your puppy, I would like to suggest some general tips that should be helpful. However, this information is not designed to replace professional advice and if you are not sure how your puppy will react, then don’t let anyone in your home yet; seek professional advice. The last thing you want is for your puppy to bite a visitor as this could land you with a criminal record. This might sound strange, but even a puppy bite can inflict quite a lot of damage, and if they are older puppies with adult teeth and a stronger jaw, these bites can be damaging, especially if a larger breed, or a breed with a powerful jaw.
Most of these puppies WILL have seen people outdoors and this is less likely to worry them. So, I suggest the following:
DO take your pup outside of the house on a secure lead and harness where they can first see your visitor outside. Ask your visitor to text you on arrival so you can meet them outdoors.
DO NOT get your visitor to give your puppy a treat. This can lead to extreme conflict in the puppy and can lead to accidental bites. Whilst the pup might want the treat, and be motivated to approach the treat, at the same time they could fear the human. As they approach, they experience conflicted feelings and then they snatch the treat and dash away. Sometimes they can bite the visitor as they do this. This can often startle the visitor, who might yelp or scream, or move suddenly, which will increase your pup's suspicion of this visitor. Just ask your visitor to casually glance briefly at your puppy, say “Hi” gently without staring at your puppy.
DO ask your visitor to keep their distance from your pup as they arrive.
DO NOT let your visitor reach out to them or try to make friends.
DO feed your pup/dog tasty treats at the sight of the visitor and until the visitor has entered the house and got out of sight.
DO let your visitor enter the house first (assuming you do not have another dog in the house that could object). Once in the house, your pup is less likely to worry as they are not already in their territory. The pup is far more likely to bark at someone coming in when the pup is already in the house (in my experience).
DO let the visitor precede you all the way into the garden and you should still have your pup/dog on a lead and follow from a far off distance. If your puppy sees the visitor, feed your puppy high value food (chicken, hot dogs, whatever floats their boat).
DO make sure there is a seat in the garden for your visitor already set up and ask the visitor to sit down quietly before you take your puppy into the garden.
DO take your pup into the garden on lead and make your way to a seat with a dog bed next to it some distance from your visitor. Ask your pup to go into their bed.
DO give your pup a pre loaded Kong to consume whilst he is sitting on his bed. This should give your pup a different and enjoyable focus. This should also help your pup to associate visitors with a pleasant activity. This can significantly reduce worry and can help your puppy to like the idea of visitors coming around.
DO keep your pup on a lead until it is clear that your pup is showing no signs of fear (I cover dog body language in my live online puppy ZOOM classes).
DO NOT let your pup approach the visitor unless it is clear they are totally at ease with this person and the person is totally at ease with your puppy.
DO NOT let your visitor pet your puppy or play roughly with them until they get to know each other after a few sessions.
This article is intended as a support for puppies who have never experienced a visitor in their home due to Covid 19 lockdown restrictions. This information is not designed to replace professional advice.
FOLLOWING SUGGESTIONS IN THIS ARTICLE IS NOT SUITABLE AND COULD BE POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS FOR WORKING WITH TERRITORIAL DOGS WITH A HISTORY OF BITING VISITORS. If your dog has a biting history, then please seek professional advice from a registered dog behaviourist, as you could make things significantly worse.
Be aware that it is a criminal offence for your dog to show aggression to someone who has a right to be in your home. It is also a criminal offence for your dog to show aggression to anyone on your property, but not within the house even if they do not have a right to be there.
Denise Nuttall B.Sc (Hons) Applied Animal Behaviour, M.Res (dist).
Full Member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC)
Full Member The Canine Training and Behaviour Society (TCBTS)
Animal Behaviour & Training Council (ABTC) registered Clinical Animal Behaviourist and Animal Training Instructor
Disclaimer. I cannot be held responsible for any consequences as an outcome of following these measures as this is intended only as guidance and is not prescriptive. It is better to seek the help of a professional who can help you to assess your puppy’s emotional state and to provide proper safety guidance.