Slice of Life is inspired by the desire and challenge of living our lives in the moment. Days go by, weeks go by, years... but we can still choose over and over again to look at our own lives in small installments. These installments (or slices of life) can be walks taken in the hills, naps or a glass of Rioja. For me, what makes my slices super meaningful is being able to share with others the moments of my day with dogs in play, training or napping where we're all piled up on the bed.

My slices of life are full of events and experiences that are meaningful to me. As a former professional photographer, I still “see” so many pictures (or vignettes) as I interact with my dogs and the world around me on a daily basis. Most of the time I am not capturing these moments with a camera anymore. Instead, I am just showing up... I must say, that I do miss having a register of events outside of my head so that at my leisure I can relish a past moment as I am transported by a visual or written recollection of days gone by.

With the immediacy of all things digital, perhaps I can have my cake and eat it too. I can continue to do my work as a dog trainer and also register here and there moments of living a life in the company of dogs. I hope you will occasionally take a peek, and that my slices of life transport you in a glee of YOUR own!

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Why mental stimulation is so critical to your dog’s well-being.

If you are at all in the dog “circle” you have unmistakably heard about mental stimulation. What I think sometimes trainers, like myself, forget to do is to explain to people a couple of important factors about mental stimulation.

First off, I would like to define mental stimulation.

It is any activity that your dog enjoys, can engage in, and that in some way or another satiates an innate (natural) canine need. Now, we must dive into what constitutes innate behaviors in dogs. The most scientific way I know how to do this is to consider who dogs are:

We know that dogs are predators. They acquire their preferred food (or at least they did when they were hunting since most present day dogs do not hunt for their food) by chasing down their prey, and they eat it by dissecting it.  As hunters, they do not get a guaranteed meal either so we know that they are opportunistic feeders, as well as scavengers. There in itself, we have quite a few clues as to what sort of activities we might come up with that emulates  behaviors all dogs engage in when they are hunting after a prey or feeding.

In delving into it more closely, we discover that dogs, like any other predator, are highly interested in movement because movement might mean an opportunity to eat. We also now know that they have powerful canine molars to grind and teeth to shred meat apart. Another important clue!

So here are some activities that can supply your dog the opportunity of species-specific behaviors: if we add less predictability to how we feed our dogs, we might just hit the jackpot!

Simply put, instead of serving your dog its meal from a ceramic bowl, make that food come alive.
Toss your dog’s high-quality kibble or dry treats up in the air, without much restrain, so that it spreads everywhere. Encourage your dog the first few times to find each and every one of the individual pieces of kibble as it uses it’s very powerful sense of smell. If you are feeding raw, you will not be able to do this, so please do not try this at home.

Alternatively, you can flick away each piece of kibble down a hallway while creating some really interesting motion for your dog. Now your dog has to run after every single one of them. Does this activity resembles a natural way of feeding for your dog?  Think about it; it’s the same meal but different behaviors to acquire it: chasing to eat.

When it comes to dogs dissecting their protein for consumption, we can find a myriad of manners to feed our dogs so that they have to “work” with those powerful mouths for their food.

Replace then, the food bowl for a Kong filled with your dog’s daily chow, and not just a thin coat of peanut butter.  Now you got your dog’s attention!  It might take your dog 2 minutes or even longer to extract its daily food and that definitively beats spending only 30 seconds in one of the most salient activities of the day for most modern dogs:  consuming food.  If you choose to feed your dog in this manner, you will most likely need to serve more than one Kong.  Wow! The fun just doubled. I strongly suggest feeding your dog like this at least once a day.

You can also add some spin to how your dog gets its meal.  Some really clever food-dispensing toys require that the dog makes the toy spin in order for the kibble to come out. Remember how attractive movement is for our dogs? Again, if you feed raw, then find some acceptable non-raw item that could add some much needed entertainment to your dog’s day. It could be a boiled egg, sardines or perhaps your dog is into apples. I know of a very lucky dog that gets served daily an apple in a Kong.

While all dogs are predators and engage in one way or another in typical canine behaviors, each dog is also an individual. So spending a bit of time discovering which activities your dog enjoys will pay off. Some dogs might get scared if we attempt to throw up in the air a bunch of kibble, so perhaps for this type of dog, a much more low key toy or even tossing each piece of kibble gently (this does not take as long as you might think BTW) is more appropriate. Now, it goes without saying, not because our dogs are scavengers does it mean that we do not have to provide some guidance as to how to pull the food out of a food dispensing toy. So make sure to make things easy for your dog so that he is successful in getting the food out of the toy.  Keep him in the game!  Once he can do this with some effort but still gets to extract the food, make things a bit more challenging for your dog.

Of course, there are also games that provide both mental stimulation as well as physical opportunities for your dog, which don't always involve eating. I will be exploring some of these activities in future posts. Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Managing dogs at the vet’s waiting area

Waiting areas at most veterinarian clinics are stressful places for both people and dogs. They tend to be on the small side and with little in the form of design to ensure dogs have some safe distance from other dogs.  The leash, acting as a barrier, prevents dogs to engage in natural greeting behaviors.  The fact that most people will allow their dog to approach other dogs while both are leashed can become  the “perfect storm” for over the top dog behavior towards other dogs.

Salient also is the fact that 99% of people will allow their dog to meet another strange dog head on.  This sort of approach to greet is consider a threat to dogs and very poor doggie manners. No wonder most dogs respond with a growl or a lunge when being greeted like this!  It’s their way to tell the other dog to back off and give them some space. Often, the greeting dog who just got “scolded” will respond in kind.  And around and around we go adding to the unpleasantness of dog greetings.

The sizes of the dogs meeting are also important to consider. While most dog bites are not too serious there can be ample repercussions from a dog  bite when size between the dogs is significant.  Not to mention the psychological damage an encounter like this can have on the receiving party. A true behavioral emergency when we are talking about a young dog or a puppy that has very little experience in meeting other dogs.  Often only one encounter like this can set that young inexperienced dog or puppy down the road of fearful behaviors displayed now in aggression as they encounter other dogs on leash or perhaps also when not leashed.

Helping and keeping your dog safe at the veterinarian’s clinic can be easy…
As part of this blog I made a video that show a protocol that I designed for one of my clients who has a very small dog which also loves greeting every dog at her vet’s waiting area. 

The protocol is very easy to do and requires very little training with big dividends in safety for your dog and the comfort of the other dogs in the waiting room. 

I would add that carrying some very tasty morsels whenever the dog goes to the clinic to be an excellent idea.  Delivering some tasty stuff can help your dog relax as he associates the scary environment with something he really likes.  Grant you, some dogs are so afraid that their digestion system shuts down making the use of treats futile.

Either way, if you practice the protocol in the video ahead of time with your dog, you will both find it easier to be successful when you are at the vet’s clinic with a room full of strange and also stressed out dogs.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Success with House Training Your Adult Dog

Shouldn’t an adult dog know where to go?
Ideally, yes. And dogs are naturally clean animals. Given a choice, they will go to the bathroom well away from where they sleep and eat. But it is not at all obvious to dogs that carpets and floors are inappropriate toilets—or that the bathroom rules in one place apply everywhere else.

Teach your new family member to distinguish between indoors and outdoors by getting her to go in a designated area and then rewarding her with treats and praise. With a little patience and supervision, your dog will soon be fully versed in toilet etiquette.

The 3 rules for house-training success.
Prevent Accidents.
Supervise your dog in the house.
Use a crate when you are not sure if your dog is empty.

Reward your dog for going outside.
Praise at the right moment, i.e. the second she starts ‘going’.
Reward with a treat after she is finished eliminating in the desired spot!

How to house-train.
Step 1. Take your dog outside on leash. Take her to the same place every time.
Step 2. When she goes, praise. Offer her a treat when she is finished.
Step 3. If you are in a dog-safe place, let her off the leash for a little playtime.
If she doesn’t go within 5 minutes, skip playtime and put her in her crate for 10-20 minutes, then try again. (This is to avoid an accident, not to punish.)

A house-training checklist.
  • Take your dog to her potty place first thing in the morning, last thing before bed, shortly after meals, naps, or play sessions, when she comes out of her crate and, in the case of a puppy, every hour or so.
  • Until your dog is perfectly house-trained, always go outside with her so you can cheer and reward at the right moment. (Over please)
  • Supervise whenever your dog is not crated, especially if she is full. If you must take your eyes off her, even for a minute, crate her or put her in her confinement area.
  • If you see your dog sniffing and turning in circles in the house, take her out immediately.
How to handle house-training mistakes.
Interrupt mistakes as they are happening. Don’t be too harsh or your dog will be afraid to go in front of you. After interrupting your dog, hustle her outside to the potty area. Praise if she finishes here. Clean up the indoor mess with an enzymatic cleaner to remove protein residue that might attract her to the same place again.

Never punish. If your dog made the mistake one hour or five seconds ago, you are too late. Don’t rub her nose in her own mess or smack her, this will simply make her afraid of you, and she won’t understand why you do it. You must catch her in the act for the interruption to work, and again, you can’t do it too harshly or your dog will be afraid to go in front of you.

When do I give my dog free run of the house?
At first, confine her to one room at a time. Choose a tiled room, like the kitchen or the bathroom, so accidents can be easily cleaned. Add a room each week as your dog is successful (accident-free), and supervise each time you introduce her to a new room (accident-free), and supervise each time you introduce to a new room (accident-free) until eventually your dog can have access to all the rooms in your home.

Training Tip: Don’t think that confinement and crating is too strict on your dog. You are doing her a big favor. Investing a few short weeks of effort nets you a lifetime of freedom for your dog—and you don’t have to replace your carpet.

Troubleshooting: If a house-trained dog suddenly has accidents, call your veterinarian. Your dog could have a bladder infection or another medical problem.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Separation Anxiety/Distress

Dogs that suffer from separation distress, also known as separation anxiety (SA), are coping the best they can. In their view, being left alone is a very scary proposition. One that makes them panic before the event (here is the anxiety piece) and during the event. It is difficult to know why dogs experience anxiety when alone, but one theory is that the dog has created a deep bond with a particular person or just has not learned how to self-sooth and cope with being alone.

Is it possible that your dog is just being mischievous, and he’d rather spend his alone time redecorating your home? Of course, it’s possible! But in order to ascertain what is going on with your dog, we must look at typical behaviors or symptoms that are present in dogs who suffer from SA. While every dog is an individual, and not all of the behaviors listed below will be always present, this trouble shooting list does give, in my opinion, a good roadmap to find out what is truly behind the dog’s behavior.

• Shadowing a person while at home. Unable to stay away from the company provided by a person.
• Exhibiting distress when they realize they might be left alone as they carefully observe departure cues. If there is something dogs do incredibly well is being observant of human behavior (even more so than any other primates!).
Besides keen observation, they are excellent at formulating some sort of “ flow chart” such as: when “x” takes place… “y” follows. They have learned the meaning of keys, running gear, folks brushing their teeth and kids’ lunches being prepared.
• Elimination.
• Excessive barking and or howling - intermittent or for the duration of the time being left alone.
• Pacing: intermittent or for the duration of the time being left alone.
• Excessive salivation.
• Intent to reconnect with person thus the dog tries to use points of exits or entries such as doors or windows, in the process they can hurt themselves very badly, and of course, create destruction of these points of entry/exit.
• Unable to “relax” or settle.
• Mutilation (please do not crate your dog if he is not comfortable in a crate already - play it safe.)
• Excessive or frantic greeting displays when reunited.

It is also possible that while in the past a dog was okay with being left alone, the dog is suddenly experiencing distress when alone because something really scary took place when the dog was home alone. Classical associations are very powerful. And just like us humans, a dog’s brain tends to have a bias for “scary” stuff. I once worked with a terrier mix that exhibited most of the typical symptoms of full-blown SA. As I was conducting the Initial Consult, I realized that there might also be some noise sensitivity behind’s the dog’s anxious behavior. Upon further questioning, my client and I were able to pinpoint a series of events – the loud trash collection every Tuesday as the antecedent for the dog’s now panicky behaviors. If indeed noise sensitivity is part of the reason the dog is now not comfortable being left alone, this too has to be taken into consideration and resolved in some way so that the dog does not continue to experience the fearful behaviors that lead to the anxiety in the first place.

Treatment of Separation Anxiety:
This is one of those instances where management will play a very part in the resolution of the case. By management I mean that the dog should not experience ANY anxiety as a result of being alone. Which, of course, means that the dog cannot be left home alone for the duration of the behavior modification program. A program like this will depend on a few factors but one most salient factor is how severe is the SA in the dog.

In addition to not leaving the dog alone at any time, the dog must be taught how to self-soothe when left alone. This will require that the dog in treatment learns first not to shadow its owner at home. If he is not able to be alone while the person is in the home what are the chances it can be left completely alone without going into a panic attack? None!

If one does a search on the web about how to treat SA, the person will find references to desensitization of departure cues. While this is another vital component of the program it is often wrongly thought of as a “stand alone” procedure.

Remember that first and foremost, the dog being treated should not experience panic while being treated. As such, one of the first skills the dog has to learn then is to get busy with a food puzzle or a chew bone, and at the same time, tolerate being alone (in another room say) while not completely alone in the home. No “real” departures should take place at this point. This is one of the areas where it’s easy to push too hard or too soon, and can only make things worse for the dog. Slow is really the only way to play this “game” with the dog being the one signaling that he is ready for more advance stuff.

As you can imagine, being able to keenly observe a dog’s body language and understand how to interpret it is an indispensable tool and skill anyone wanting to help a dog should have. This is the only way we can infer the dog’s emotional state.

Management: how to do it well:
As I previously stated, managing so that the dog is never left alone is one big chunk that needs to be resolved. Patience, and lots of it, empathy and resources will go a long way. It is important also to be creative in finding ways and support so that the dog is not alone at home. Below are some of the options folks should consider.

• Day care (if there is a reputable one near your home and your dog enjoys other dogs).
• Pet sitter or friend that stays at home with your dog when you cannot.
• Taking the dog to work (this is ideal and I sure do wish more business would allow this).
• The car: many dogs with SA do tolerate stays in the car better than at home stays because they have learned that these are usually short. Now here is an important caveat: You need to be super mindful of the weather. Dogs die every year because they were left in a car in hot temperatures. Here is a simple guide to help you ascertain if it’s okay for your dog to stay in the car. Dogs should never be left in a car with temperatures above 70 degrees, as the temperature in the car are always higher than 70 degree atmospheric temperature. This applies to having the windows open, it is still too hot to safely leave your pup in your car for any length of time. I would also recommend not leaving your dog in the car when temperatures are in the high 50’s and lower. Use a well-suited garage structure that will protect your pup from too much heat or cold. Ideally you check on your dog to give him an opportunity to stretch out.

In my professional experience, true cases of separation anxiety do not resolve on their own- that is without a careful intervention of behavior modification and desensitization. This can only take place once the dog has learned strategies for self-soothing and coping. This is a very gradual and detail-laden process. In a best-case scenario, pet parents with dogs suffering from SA will work with a reward-based trainer that has experience with SA.

Whatever you do, please know that your dog is really suffering and not being dominant, stubborn, stupid and destroying your home and encouraging your neighbors to sue you because of his constant barking to plot against you. They are truly in emotional distressed. Using any form of correction or aversives will only make things worse because using these will add to your dog’s overall anxiety in the form of: … here it comes, the smack! I will be yelled at and that scares me!
All dogs deserve that we look at a given situation from their canine perspective but especially so any dog that is suffering from an emotional issue such as fear (or aggression the other side of fear) or anxiety.

Do know that more and more qualified trainers who have experience with SA are helping folks and their dogs remotely. Here is a fantastic website that does just that.

In addition, I recommend the following book by Nicole Wilde: Don't Leave Me! Step-by-Step Help for Your Dog's Separation Anxiety. I suggest pet parents of dogs suffering from SA read this book so that they can better understand what is at stake.

While not always possible, ideally the pet parent should be working with a pro. SA can be solved, but it is not for the inexperienced even when a desire to help is very strong.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Dog aggression is (very) ritualized

I am working at my computer totally immersed in what I am doing when I hear a very odd sound coming from Deuce.  I turn and see that Deuce, who was lying on a bed next to me, is completely smacked tight to the wall with his face also turned away towards the wall.  Next to him lies a Kong that I had previously given him. As I turn a bit to my left, I see Rio approaching the Kong. 

I realize then what was going on: Deuce had already abandoned his Kong even though it still had sardines in it.  Rio, the hound that she is, wanted a second serving. 

My dogs are very good at giving each other space when it comes to enjoying a Kong filled with goodies, a bone and the like.  I also manage them closely to ensure that they enjoy the goods in peace.

Dogs wanting each other’s resources is absolutely normal dog behavior, as is negotiating for resources. I wish you could have seen these two interact as I did!  There communication was a very clear rendition of ritualized aggression between dogs. What I mean by aggression being ritualized is that dogs will signal in all sorts of ways that they do not mean to harm and they much rather not get into a real fight. 

You see, fighting is expensive. If you fight, you might be the one injured or dead, with no genes to pass on to the next generation. 

Now let’s get back to the incident of the Kong lying next to Deuce and how they went about negotiating this situation.

Deuce as described, is lying and perhaps even snoozing with his Kong nearby.  Rio approaches the Kong as she does thousands of times once Deuce had either finished his or decided he is done extracting the food. But this time, Deuce was communicating to Rio that he was not okay with her having the Kong.  A clear case of: Hey! This is mine!

Deuce produced a very low growl with his body stiff and away from Rio (and the Kong). I noticed that he was totally adverting Rio by looking away from her.  As a response to Deuce’s growl and his own body language,  Rio stopped her approach to the Kong.

I immediately took stock of the situation by retrieving the Kong from the ground.  I praised both dogs for not escalating the situation, but diffusing the conflict. I  reached into the Kong and gave servings of sardines to both of the dogs. Once the Kong was empty we all went back to work and snoozing.

While I know my dogs well and I know how to make the best of a conflict like this, I am not suggesting for one second that people try this at home. It is always best to help the dogs not get into conflict over resources. Yes, aggression is a highly ritualized business- full of threats and accommodations, but dogs can also fight over resources. I would hate for someone to be bitten as they intervene between their two posturing dogs.

Now, there are a couple of interesting lessons to glean from a situation like this.  I wish folks are made aware of and implement the following:

  1.  Learn what is valuable for your dog.  Dogs do have individual preferences and these preferences vary depending on satiation levels (for that resource at a given time) and the context.
  2. Manage any resource that dogs find somewhat valuable. Again, this will be different for any group of dogs living together.
  3. Learn to read (observe) dog body language as this (and vocalization) are the best avenues we have in understanding a situation. For example:  Deuce could have given Rio a hard stare, exposing his teeth, but instead he diffused by looking away from Rio.
  4. Reinforce your dogs when they act as peace makers instead of fighters.  Remember that laws of learning tell us that whatever behavior we reinforce we will see more of.  In this situation here, the reinforcer was to pay each dog with what they wanted at the moment. The specific behaviors that I was reinforcing were both dogs diffusing the situation and communicating to each other: Deuce by growling at Rio and freezing while looking away; and Rio by stopping in her tracks when she heard Deuce growl, instead of engaging on a full-on physical fight.

There are always dogs that will choose to fight first, skipping most of the ritualized aspects of conflict.  They have learned that fighting (I am describing  fighting as physical contact that may produce damage – or not) pays off.  However,  (most) of these dogs can also be taught that fighting is not necessarily the best option.  Most dogs, however; will posture and engage in ritualized behaviors instead of fighting, or they will give ample warning even before a fight takes place.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Reflexive behaviors

Can we teach our dogs a behavior or behaviors that are so ingrained that the dog will perform with 100 % accuracy?  This is what everyone apparently wants, but where do we fall short? 

I am talking to one of my clients about this proposition. We are discussing recall and the ability of a dog to come back to us no matter what the level of distraction.  I describe to her what I mean when I refer to a behavior being so ingrained in the dog’s repertoire that it happens when requested without a “second thought.”

The analogy I use is of a professional athlete at the top of their game.  If you ask her (okay, him too) what are the steps they took for their massive tennis return or climbing a wall without falling, in perfect harmony and economy of movements, they might tell you they really do not know all the tiny decisions and steps it takes to perform at that level of finesse. Their movements have become reflexive. Here is the thing: this athlete has had thousands upon thousands of opportunities for practice. Most likely, they have also submitted to intense mind training in the form of previsualization, mindfulness and the like. Modalities that as far as we know, our dogs cannot do.

I propose that, just like the athlete that performs with such proficiency, our dogs can too. The caveat, of course, is that we must give them thousands upon thousands of opportunities for learning and practicing the behavior until it becomes a reflexive response to a given stimulus.

Take for example Ian Dunbar’s PhD, DVM “emergency sit.”  The idea behind the “emergency sit” is to teach the position of a sit- defined as the dog placing its butt on the ground, in as many environmental circumstances we can muster. 

We need to train so that our dog generalizes that when “x” happens and we ask for a sit- either verbally or by using a visual aid/cue, the dog sits. No matter what!  Dr. Dunbar’s idea is that we can stop a dog from chasing cars, wildlife, or our dog running towards an unknown dog, if the dog has learned a very solid sit under all these set of circumstances. Not bad, huh?

My intention, in this blog post, is not to fully describe how one can achieve this, but to make us aware of what is possible first. Then decided under what circumstances we need the behavior to take place before we decide how to go about teaching it.

I have written in the past about Deuce’s compulsion for tugging and how that simple behavior has turned into my most solid avenue for a recall no matter what. 

 A friend of mine and I are walking our dogs off-leash when we hear dogs that belong to a home in the near distance. We had not seen the dogs approach us because of thick vegetation, but heard them loud and clear when they were just a few feet away from us.  At this moment, Deuce began to trot towards the dogs. I noticed that these two are really not very welcoming!  So I called Deuce back with my verbal tug cue “take it.” As he heard it, he turned around immediately and we got the hell out of there, hoping the dogs would stay behind and not come after us. The difference between Deuce’s reflexive game of tug and a dog that loves to tug and does it well, is that Deuce will tug anywhere. Most dogs will only tug when certain conditions are met: only inside the home, backyard, with this toy but not that one, only with this person, etc.

Thus the question remains:  are we willing to give our dog tons of practice so that behaviors that are important to us become so well practiced and refined that they become reflexive?

Sunday, January 20, 2019

In dog training is it best to “add” or to “subtract”

This is indeed an interesting question.  By adding I mean presenting a reinforcer as a consequence for behavior. By subtracting I mean removing a reinforcer as a consequence for behavior.  In my view, the answer is that both modalities are of use when teaching our dogs. But today, I want to concentrate on adding a reinforcer instead of removing it.

Take the example and often the case of dogs jumping up on people when they greet.

Dog trainers have been teaching their  clients to ignore the dog until the dog offers or responds to a cue for an alternative behavior- such as a sit. However, I will argue that this particular method of ignoring the dog is not very practical.  Yes, it does work with some individuals, but I have also seen that it is too nerve wracking for dogs and people to implement. Folks get frustrated and now they are yelling at the dog and the dog is wondering why we are so nasty and refuse to say hello!

These days, I’d much rather teach people to give the dog what the dog wants, so that it can then stop jumping in an effort to reach our faces.  Let’s look at the function of this behavior.  Why do dogs jump to greet?  We believe that it has to do with part of their genetic make-up. Other canids like wolves, greet and request food in this manner.  The young pups lick the adult’s mouth to instigate regurgitation from the feeding parent.  This need apparently came along with domestication. While the actual desire to reach our faces (hence the jumping!)  has remained intact, our dogs are not requesting or even expecting to be fed but, to be greeted – in essence social interaction. The social component of this behavior  is relevant to this post. So, what if we acknowledge this need in our dogs  and we respond in kind instead of ignoring them?


Experiment a little with your own pup and your greeting routine and see what you think works best.  I do not have  only one way of teaching my clients  on how to  interact with their dog while greeting; instead I want to find out first what the dog finds reinforcing and that could double up as a greeting routine.  Here are a few of my favorite ways of giving the dog what it wants and needs, while keeping the humans happy.

If your dog loves to retrieve you can keep balls by your front door. The minute you walk in, you will throw the ball for your dog to fetch. That will be your greeting.  Your dog will be delighted not only because he is happy you are finally home, but also because you interacted with him.  In no time your dog will expect to have you (or your guest) throw the ball for him.  I have noticed that after the initial throw or perhaps after a couple of throws, the dog decides he has said hello plenty; that you are both okay and will decide to go lie down or engage in any other behavior besides a greeting behavior since that need has been met.

In my household, our dogs do come to the door to greet (okay, they might pass on greeting when is nap time) but they have been taught not to jump by requesting that they “go get their toy” – or a ball in the case of Deuce, from their toy basket.  They rush to get the item and come back to us to have us throw the ball or play with the toy.

Alternatively, one can interact by throwing a piece of kibble or non-perishable treat that is kept out of reach from the dog and near the point of entry, so that the dog has to find it.

Most of the training scenarios that I teach my clients take less than a minute to perform and are highly effective.  The trick, of course, is to be consistent so that we teach our dogs what to expect as we walk through the front door.

Ideally your guests will be clued in to the simple routine prior to entering the home or at least prior to engaging with the dog. Dogs do not generalize well so we must make sure they learn that the greeting procedure includes everyone (guests, cleaning crew).  When folks take shortcuts, things get confusing and training plans fall apart. If instead of short cuts, we have a plan and we work the plan when greeting our dogs, we will find that they begin to relax around this social interaction. I am all for adding to what the dog wants and needs instead of always thinking of subtracting.