How to Stop Your Dog Barking at Visitors

Barking at visitors can be a real challenge for dog guardians. Whether meant as a friendly greeting or a defensive response, a dog’s barking can create tension and make social situations uncomfortable. Barking at visitors is a common issue but can be improved effectively with the right approach. The key lies in understanding the behaviour and applying positive reinforcement techniques.

Why Has My Dog Started Barking at Visitors?

Dogs bark for lots of reasons – it’s their way of communicating. When it comes to barking at visitors, it’s important to work out the reason behind your dog’s behaviour, as this will enable you choose the appropriate response to help stop it. There are three main factors that often drive the behaviour. These are:


Unfamiliar people or animals, new environments, or unknown noises can trigger a dog to bark in response to a perceived threat.

Body language that indicates fear can include retreating behaviour such as cowering, tail tucking, ears going back and shaking, as well as advancement towards the trigger, including lunging and growling. A fear-based bark is typically high-pitched and agitated.

Territorial Behaviour

Territorial barking occurs when a dog perceives an intrusion into their territory, and they feel compelled to protect their familiar space. This could be triggered by people or other animals approaching their home, garden, or areas the dog frequently visits.

To identify whether this is the reason why your dog is barking at visitors, observe if the barking intensifies as someone approaches the dog’s area. The bark is usually loud and alert. The dog may also pace along the perimeter, and have an erect posture, raised hair (piloerection) and focus their attention on the perceived threat.


Excitement barking happens when a dog is overly stimulated by something positive, like the arrival of a favourite person or the prospect of play with another dog.

This barking is often accompanied by loose, wiggly bodies, jumping, spinning, or playful bows. The bark tends to be shorter and repetitive. If the dog is on leash they will often pull to get closer to the person of interest.

Why Does My Dog Bark When Guests Stand Up?

As well as barking when they first come inside, some dogs also bark whenever guests stand up. A fearful dog can perceive this action as a threat or an unpredictable environmental change. This can trigger their instinct to defend themselves and their space.

For an excitable dog, a guest standing up could indicate something is about to happen, like the visitor might interact with them.

Step-by-Step Guide: How to Reduce Barking at Visitors for Fearful Dogs

If your dog’s barking is a fear-based response to guests, it’s possible to reduce the behaviour using positive reinforcement techniques, using following steps:

Step 1: Reduce Your Dog’s Stress Load

Before addressing the barking directly, ensure your dog is in a comfortable and low-stress environment. This includes regular physical and mental stimulation, comfort from you and a safe space in the home where they can retreat if overwhelmed.

Confirming that your dog isn’t experiencing pain or discomfort is essential too. Behaviour can change due to an animal being uncomfortable from illness, disease or injury, so it’s always best to contact your vet to rule these possibilities out. Also, ensure your dog gets enough sleep, as a lack of adequate rest can increase stress.

Step 2: Identify the Trigger

Observe your dog’s behaviour to identify what specifically triggers the barking. Is it the doorbell, the sight of a visitor, or specific actions like a guest standing up? Recognising these triggers is the first step to addressing the behaviour.

Step 3: Desensitisation and Counter-Conditioning

Desensitisation involves gradually exposing your dog to the trigger in a controlled way, starting at a level that does not provoke barking. For instance, if your dog begins to bark when the visitor steps inside, practice answering the door to them, but do not have them come inside or get close to your dog.

Pair your dog noticing the visitor with something positive for your dog, like their favourite food and verbal praise, to create a positive association. This process, known as counter-conditioning, changes the dog’s emotional response to the trigger.

Expert tip: Keep the visitor from giving food directly to your dog. At this stage, you are the only one to give food.

Step 4: Use Management

Baby gates, pens, leads and muzzles are all great management tools you can use to help keep your dog and your guests safe. Keeping your dog at a distance from their threat will help them to feel more comfortable and bark less.

Step 5: Practice with Guests

Once your dog responds well to practise runs, gradually introduce real-life scenarios. Have a friend or family member help by visiting. While your dog is at a distance, have the visitor come in and sit down. Avoid having them get up and move around, as that is more threatening. Keep sessions short and positive.

Step 6: Maintain Consistency

Consistency is crucial for reinforcing these new behaviours. Ensure all family members and regular visitors are aware of the approach you are taking and that they participate in helping your dog feel safe. Go slowly – changing your dog’s emotional responses takes time.

Step 7: Monitor and Adjust

Observe your dog’s progress and be prepared to adjust your approach if needed. If the barking persists or your dog shows signs of stress, consult a qualified animal behaviourist for personalised guidance.

I offer private coaching and the details of how to work with me can be found on my website.

How to Reduce Barking at Visitors for Excited Dogs

The general process of how to address a dog who barks at visitors because of excitement is largely the same, with two significant differences. Firstly, instead of classic counter-conditioning, teach an alternative behaviour. And second, teach the visitors a better way to greet your dog instead of avoiding interactions.

Teaching Alternative Behaviours

Teach your dog an alternative behaviour to engage in instead of barking when visitors arrive. For instance, guide them to a specific spot or bed where they can engage in an emotionally regulating activity like chewing, licking or finding scattered food. Start practising this behaviour without visitors and gradually introduce the scenario when guests are present.

Teaching Visitors How to Greet Your Dog

Generally, visitors should avoid overly enthusiastic greetings, which can increase your dog’s excitement. They can acknowledge the dog but should allow you to guide your dog into the alternative behaviour before any direct interaction.

When interacting, encourage your visitor to meet the dog on their level to decrease the chances of jumping. Short interactions followed by breaks with more emotionally regulating activities should continue until the dog can relax.

Avoiding Stressful Situations

Another option is to provide your dog with a dedicated space where visitors do not go – a “Leave the Dog Alone Zone”. This can be a room or another sectioned-off area of the home far away from where visitors will be. This allows you to enjoy your guests without worrying about your dog or actively working on their feelings. Avoiding stressful situations is just as important as actively working on them, so give yourself (and your dog) a break now and then.

Wrapping Up

Remember, patience and consistency are key in modifying any behavioural issue in dogs. Understanding the reason behind the barking and using positive reinforcement techniques can help your dog feel more comfortable and less inclined to bark at visitors. It’s a gradual process, but with dedication and the right approach, you can enjoy a more peaceful home and happier guests. Remember, every dog is different, and what works for one may not work for another. Working with a professional who can provide a personalised approach will increase your likelihood of success.

Struggling with your dog’s behaviour? Discover how Renee can elevate your wisdom and transform your relationship by visiting

Renee Rhoades MSc, dog behaviour expert
About Renee Rhoades, MSc

Renee Rhoades, MSc, is a distinguished authority in canine behaviour and welfare, recognised for her unwavering commitment to improving the lives of both dogs and humans. The founder of R+Dogs, a virtual dog behaviour consultancy, Renee offers cutting-edge private coaching and online courses to dog guardians worldwide. Renee specialises in transforming fearful and high-energy dogs, addressing aggression, reactivity, generalised anxiety and hyperactivity.

Beyond client-focused coaching, Renee is also the co-host of DogLogical, a podcast dedicated to unraveling the mysteries of our dogs. In addition, she extends her expertise by mentoring fellow dog professionals, contributing to the growth and development of the industry.

Struggling with your dog’s behaviour? Discover how Renee can elevate your wisdom and transform your relationship by visiting