How to Train a Dog to Greet Politely

Our dogs live in the lap of luxury. We brag about them to our friends, lavish affection upon them, and pick up their poop. All we ask in return is that our dog follows a few simple rules. Because, like humans, dogs should be good citizens. And that means to obey the law (meaning you) and being polite. Sounds easy enough, but not every dog, or person for that matter, gets it.

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For those dogs who have not quite nailed politeness in their greeting skills, you can train some civility into them. If your dog is jumping on your guests or family members, and jumping on people or lunging at other dogs on walks, you can train him to greet politely by using patience and a few simple, but highly effective positive reinforcement techniques.

How impolite greetings are reinforced

Typically, your guests invite your dog to jump up for a hug and make a huge fuss over her when she does. After all, your dog is friendly, excited, and totally irresistible. Consequently, not only is her boisterous welcome permitted, it's encouraged. This is known as intermittent reinforcement of a behavior. But jumping up on people can be dangerous. From bruises and scratches to knocking over the elderly or children, the habit should always be discouraged.

But how do you turn your overexcitable dog into a calm, cool, collected canine who greets people and other dogs — at home and out in public — politely?

Replacing an undesirable behavior with a desirable behavior

Maybe it's time to teach your dog a desirable behavior to replace the undesirable one, recommends Karen Pryor of the Clicker Training website, author of Don't Shoot the Dog and a leader in the field of animal training and in the science and application of marker-based positive reinforcement, or what is often called "clicker training."

The objective of clicker training or any positive reinforcement training is reinforcing for the behavior you want rather than scolding or giving any undue attention to the behavior you don't want. After consistent reinforcement, your dog learns it's not worth his time to jump or bark or cause a commotion because he can get more attention, and maybe even treats, for offering polite behavior instead.

Teaching your dog to sit reliably can be an essential tool in teaching your dog how to greet both people and other dogs politely, and it comes in handy in so many different situations you and your dog will encounter during her lifetime.

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The first step to polite greetings: a reliable "sit"

Teaching your dog to sit consistently in every circumstance you ask of him will be the foundation of his new polite greeting. "Sit" when greeting people becomes the new "jump," or when greeting other dogs, the new "lunge" so to speak. Train for precisely what you want with the goal of achieving a reliable sit upon your cue no matter the distractions; whether it be food, people, dogs, squirrels, traffic, etc.

Practice, practice, practice the sit. In a nutshell, a beautiful sit is accomplished by the repetitive practice of either capturing or luring, two effective basic dog-training techniques.

  • Capturing: Stand in front of your dog holding a treat, then wait for her to sit. When she sits, say "yes"/praise, or click, if clicker training, and give the treat. Now step backwards or sideways to encourage her to stand, and wait for another sit. Give the treat.

  • Luring:

    To lure the sit from a stand, use a treat to draw your dog's nose up and back. Her rear-end will naturally go into a sit as her head goes back. Say "yes"/praise/or click and give her the treat.

Train the sit in different locations and add elements such as duration, distance, and distractions, says Karen Pryor. Reliability, thus perfection, will only come from proofing everything you've taught in every situation you plan to give the sit cue, such as greeting both people and other dogs.

Greeting you and family members politely

Arriving home to a warm, yet polite welcome from your canine best friend is a wonderfully relaxing feeling. Right now, if he's jumping all over you, it may seem like an impossible dream. But practice the alternative behavior, such as a sit, or even at least keeping all four paws on the floor, until it's second nature for him. During practice, keep treats handy to reward the desired behavior.

If your dog jumps on you, don't say a word or touch your dog, but turn your back and go out the door.

Your demeanor when you walk in the door will be just as important to a successful lesson. Stay low-key. Calmly and quietly enter with no fanfare, although you may have encouraged your dog's exuberant greetings in the past. Practice consistently and often, perhaps dozens of times, to get the results you want. Most dogs will catch on quickly, but take as much time as he needs.

Cute Cavalier King Charles Spaniel in a training session
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Greeting visitors politely

Your visitors should be prepped in advance so they understand what you are trying to accomplish. That way, they will not encourage jumping or dole out praise for bad behavior. Regular visitors can get in on the training by knocking on the door, entering, and going through the process of ignoring bad behavior and rewarding the sit, or good behavior you have been teaching her. If guests visit often enough, your dog will have this down pat in no time.

In the meantime, until your dog has mastered the polite greeting_,_ keep her in on the action so she can see your guests, but in a crate or in an adjoining room restrained by a baby gate.

Greeting people on a walk politely

Remember, you're in charge. You can tell a person to please not approach your dog, or to please not pat your dog. Your dog is not community property. Imagine if people you didn't know ran up and wanted to hug you. Put yourself in your dog's paws. People need to respect you and your dog's space. Being polite goes both ways.

  • Politely but firmly, stop the person from approaching by telling him you are training your dog not to jump on people.
  • Hand the person a treat.
  • Ask your dog to "sit."
  • Give the person permission to pet your dog as long as your dog remains in the sit position.

Polite dog-to-dog greetings

Polite dog-to-dog greetings depend on several factors, including your dog's level of socialization. It's important to socialize your dog early and often in a variety of situations, and particularly with other well-behaved dogs. Your dog's desire for social interactions and past experiences in meeting dogs — positive or negative — also plays a major role in whether a meet-up goes smoothly or is a complete disaster.

Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT‑KA, owner of the Peaceable Paws Training Center in Maryland suggests limiting greetings with other dogs. After all, most of the time, the "walk" is a way for you and your dog to bond. That being said, if another dog seems like a good candidate for meeting, make sure you are carrying some high-value treats to aid in the interaction. She offers some sage advice: "When you see a dog you would like yours to greet, ask permission from the other owner first, and respect their wishes. If they say no, it's a no – don't try to talk them into it. Conversely, be politely firm with your "no" if someone wants to approach yours with a dog you're not comfortable with. Be your dog's advocate."

Training with dog
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For the greeting, loosen up the leash since a taut one creates tension in your dog. Do some parallel walking so the dogs glean a little more information about the other prior to engaging. Pay careful attention to both dogs' body language throughout their encounter. Abort if necessary.

If both dogs are comfortable walking in proximity to the other, coordinate with the other owner and allow the dogs to further interact while keeping the leashes loose.