picture of a bernese mountain dog in nature and the text : bmdtutorials.com - bernese mountain dog tutorials by a dog parent, for dog parents

Chapter 10 - The Greeting Protocol

10 months old Bernese Mountain Dog Puppy sitting on a bench with his human, leaning his head against her shoulder. So adorable!
Bruno at 10 months old, on his bench

Greeting you when you get home

Imagine a fluffy fur ball bouncing at your feet, bursting with joy because you came back home. Of course, you take it in your arms, kiss it, pet it and, Aweeee, you’re so cute! What a good puppy! Did you miss momma? And the puppy is all, I’m so happy! I love jumping on momma’s legs, each time she gives me all her love and attention!

Fast forward four or five months and... Tadaaaa! You have a gigantic dog jumping on your shoulders, expecting kisses, petting, praise and yes, that you hold him in your arms. All 100 pounds of him. Maybe he even has mud on his paws. And wait I'm not done yet. Now imagine an elderly aunt is coming to visit. He-he-he, now I’m done teasing you. Let's get to the conclusion:

You get what you reward.

So you don't give him attention when he jumps and he'll stop jumping. You give him attention when he has all four on the floor, and he'll keep his paws on the ground.

4 months old Bernese Mountain Dog puppy, all covered in mud, sitting on the floor looking serious
Bruno at 4 months old, sporting a muddy look

Now that we've seen a muddy version of greeting, let's move on and look at a version of polite greeting. You come home, unlock the door and get in. You hear crickets. Actually, scratch that, you hear... Mozart. You hang your coat and your bag on the coat hanger. No movement. You remove your shoes and put on your slippers. Still only Mozart. You get into the living room and your puppy lifts only his eyes, Oh, it's you. You put the groceries away, open a book and read a page or two, drink a cup of tea. It's been 10 minutes since you came home. Now you go pet your puppy, scratch his ears, baby talk to him, take him out for a walk, feed him, and do other fun stuff together, like playing, reading or writing a book, watching a movie, painting, etc..

Wait a minute, what about the greeting? You said a version of polite greeting but I haven't seen any greeting at all. Exactly! This is the inexistent greeting, the best version of greeting you can get. Maybe you're saying, This is ridiculous! I want my puppy to come to the door and say Hi, it's one of the greatest joys when you have a dog. Someone who waits impatiently for you to come back home, someone who throws a party each time they see you. It doesn't make any sense, don't you say Hi to your family when you come home, do you just ignore them?

Look I hear you and I understand, it does seem like the most ridiculous thing in the world. I feel the same. But isn't it true you want a happy and balanced dog? All the time, including when you're not close to him. If he's waiting for you calmly and he remains calm when you come home, what does it mean? Does it mean he's not happy to see you? Absolutely not. It means you have a happy and poised dog, who has so much trust in you, he’d be able to fill all the jars and bottles in the world with it and it would still overflow.

From your dog’s point of view, you never left the house.

You're just on the other side of the door.

And here's how you can teach him the inexistent greeting. First of all, the secret is to get him used to it from the beginning, so start this training as soon as you get your puppy. Now let's remember a few basics. What do you do when you can’t keep an eye on your puppy? You get him tired and you put him in the playpen with plenty of chew toys stuffed with delicious food. If you leave home without him, you can't keep an eye on him, so in the playpen he goes. When you come back home, all you have to do is mind your own business for 10 minutes or so, without tending to the puppy. When the time’s up, if the puppy’s calm, you can take him from the playpen, kiss him and spoil him as much as your heart desires.

What about when he grows up and you don't use the playpen anymore? Same protocol. You come in, mind your own business for 10 minutes, then you can give him all the attention in the world.

Greeting guests

Next, let's talk about greeting guests. Could the inexistent greeting work for guests too? The guest would come in and say Hi to the puppy only after 10 minutes or so. It's not a bad idea, but your puppy would need to have plenty of delicious chew toys in his playpen, you’d need to constantly have many guests to keep the progress, and you should always know when you're going to receive visits. That’s a lot of conditions, at least that's what I think.

How about a greeting similar to the one you use on walks? The guest rings the bell, you go to the door, the puppy joins you, Puppy, sit! Stay! you open the door, the guest comes in, you shake hands, then she pets the puppy and gives him a treat.

Or maybe you don't want the puppy to come with you to the door. In this case, you have to give him something to do instead. For example, you can send him on his mat and ask him to wait there. Then you open the door, the guest comes in, you shake hands, she goes to the puppy, asks for a Sit, pets him and gives him a treat.

Or another possibility. You send the puppy on his mat, open the door, the guest comes in, shakes hands with you, you call the puppy, ask him for a Sit, the guest pets the puppy and gives him a treat.

Or maybe create your own greeting protocol, depending on what's more practical for you. If you don't have a fenced yard or if you live in an apartment, all variations of the protocol require a leash and harness as a security measure, to make sure your Berner stays inside.

No matter what variation you choose, you need an assistant to help you teach your puppy how to greet a guest. In the beginning, the assistant can be another member of the family living under the same roof, later you need someone who doesn't live with you. If you choose an option involving the mat, you need to teach your puppy Go to your mat.

Let's see that first. My favorite method uses the clicker. I’ve tried luring, but all I succeeded to teach him was, Go to your mat! means, Lay at my feet, and, Oh, look, there's a mat here but who cares. So when I’d move and say, Go to your mat! he’d come lay in front of me, even though the mat wasn’t there. This wasn't my intention so I went back to the clicker. Okay, let's begin.

Go to your mat

Go to your mat: click for any interest he shows in the mat

You need a clicker, treats and a mat your dog has never seen before. And I want to underline this, it's essential the mat is new for your dog. Why? Because when you show it to him for the first time, he'll be curious so he’ll go sniff it. And then, jackpot! You click and praise your puppy, then you throw a treat outside the mat. Your puppy immediately understands there's something about this mat. And you further confirm his guessing with the clicker, praise, and treats.

Go to your mat: click for paws on the mat

Each time he touches the mat, click, praise, and treat. In the beginning, you reward any interest the puppy takes in the mat, you can even reward him just for looking in the general direction of the mat. Reward every progress. A paw on the mat? Click. Two paws? Click. Three paws or all paws? Click.

Go to your mat: Down on the mat

When he repeatedly puts all his paws on the mat, you can ask him for a Down. What does repeatedly mean? It means at least 8 times out of 10. Continue like this until your puppy goes on the mat and lays down on his own, without you having to ask him.

Go to your mat: introduce the cue Go to your mat

Now you start introducing the cue, Go to your mat! or just, Mat! When you're sure he’s going to go lay on the mat, say the cue, Go to your mat! right before he does. Do 10 to 20 repetitions.

Go to your mat only when momma said so

The next step is to reward the puppy only when you asked him to go on the mat. So if he goes to the mat on his own, that's fine but he doesn't get anything. I think you can imagine he’s not gonna like this step very much. But keep a light heart and persist.

Give him time to think. Sometimes Bruno just lays down and doesn’t move for a whole minute. In the beginning, I used to believe he gave up but boy was I wrong. He was, in fact, reflecting on the matter, making elaborate plans in his fluffy head. When you change or upgrade the criteria for an exercise, it’s a lesson in frustration management for your puppy. Why would you want to teach him such a thing? Because frustration is like taxes, inevitable. Whatever you do, you'll still have to pay some taxes. And what's the best method to teach him to deal with it if not through play? All learning comes with some frustration, followed by, I rock so hard! Woohoo! the moment he understands how to win. And this makes all the effort worth it.

Go to your mat and stay there

Alright, now that you’ve taught him Go to your mat, let's add a level. Duration. The principle is the same as with, Sit! Stay! that we’ve seen in Chapter 2: The Arsenal. Here are the steps. Tell him, Go to your mat! the puppy goes and lays on the mat, wait for two seconds before you click, praise and reward him. Throw the reward outside the mat, then send him on the mat again. Repeat a few times. Next you can increase the duration to three or four seconds.

Go to your mat and stay there for 8 seconds

When he aces staying on his mat for 4 seconds, move on to 8 seconds with two rewards. One reward at 4 seconds, that you give him calmly and without clicking, followed by, Stay! And the second reward at 8 seconds, that you give him outside the mat after clicking and with exuberant praise.

After a few repetitions, you start forgetting the treat in the middle from time to time. Then you forget it completely.

Go to your mat and stay there for 16 seconds

Now you can double the duration again, which means 16 seconds, with a clickless reward at halftime followed by, Stay! and one reward at the end, outside of the mat, after a click and much praise.

Important

As usual, remember the pixie cut rule: short sessions of maximum 10 to 15 repetitions, and stop while the puppy’s still having fun. After every session, remove the mat, so he'll have a new opportunity to explore it and get rewards for it next time. If a step is too challenging, go back to an easier step, then try again later.

The greeting protocol

Now let's get back to the greeting protocol, the reason you taught him Go to your mat in the first place. The next challenge is to teach your puppy to stay on the mat while you open the door. In the beginning, there's nobody at the door, later it’s your assistant.

Knock-knock, Go to your mat

So you start with a knock or with the doorbell if you can trigger it remotely. You can knock anywhere. Start close to the mat, maybe on the floor, on the table or a chair, and finally at the door. Knock-knock, Go to your mat! the puppy goes and lays down on the mat, you walk toward the door, touch the doorknob with your hand, turn the doorknob, slightly open the door, open the door all the way, close the door, click, praise and reward. I’ve condensed here all the steps in one single phrase, but of course, you click, praise and reward for each tiny little progress.

Examples of rewarding approximations

Knock-knock, Go to your mat and stay there while I move half a step toward the door

For example, knock-knock, “Go to your mat!” the puppy goes and lays down on the mat, you walk half a step toward the door. The puppy stayed on the mat? Click, praise and reward. He moved? Start over.

Knock-knock, Go to your mat and stay there while I move a step or two toward the door

Knock-knock, Go to your mat! the puppy goes and lays down on the mat, you walk a step or two toward the door. The puppy stayed on the mat? Click, praise and reward. And you continue like this, using approximations until you achieve the final behavior: your puppy stays on the mat even when the door is open all the way.

Let’s see what approximations you could do: you walk three steps toward the door, you walk four steps toward the door, you walk all the way to the door, you touch the doorknob with your hand, you turn the doorknob, you slightly open the door, you open the door a little more, you open the door halfway, you open the door two thirds, you open the door all the way.

Someone else knocks at the door

For the next step, you need your assistant. This time the final behavior is: your assistant knocks at the door, you send the puppy to his mat, open the door, the assistant says, Hello! puts one step in the house, then two steps, then she completely comes in, you close the door and shake hands with your assistant. All while your puppy stays on the mat.

Like before, you click, praise and reward each approximation. Your puppy gets up before the click? That's okay. Send him back to the mat and try again, maybe making it easier for a while.

Next, you continue the greeting protocol of your choice. The puppy either waits on his mat for the assistant to come say Hi, either waits for you to call him at the door to say Hi, or you own protocol.

Whatever protocol you choose, practice it with as many assistants you can find and stay consistent when real guests arrive. Also, remember to use a leash, or a long leash, or a baby gate or some other security measure in case you don’t have a fenced yard.

And when are we done with the clicker? After your puppy knows the whole behavior, including greeting a real guest. You can assume he knows the behavior when his success rate is 80%. How long does it take to teach him the whole behavior? I don't know. All I know is if you work on it every day for a few minutes, or even once every other day, you'll get there sooner then if you work on it only once a week.

Consistency and success are best friends. They spend all their time together.