July Project: How to Teach Your Dog Doorbell Etiquette

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Do you have one of those dogs that just seem to be out of control when someone rings the doorbell?  Then to make everything worse, when you open the door your dog wants to dash out the door and wreak havoc on the visitor that is cringing in distress because they are bracing themselves for the worst.  It could be that your dog just wants to great the visitor with enthusiastic jubilation or it could be a menacing aggressive display that distills fear in the bravest of mail carriers.  Whichever the case it may be, it probably isn’t a behavior you want to foster.  If you don’t do something to stop it, it will probably only get worse.  So, why do dogs go ballistic when they hear a doorbell?  Dogs are territorial.  When a visitor( in the dogs mind an intruder) comes onto what the dog perceives as the pack’s space/territory (yard, house, door stoop) the dog thinks it’s his job to alert the pack.  BARK, BARK, BARK!!!  Is translated into”Intruder is approaching. Prepare to defend the den!”  Then we open the door and the dog’s suspicions are confirmed.  “THERE’S THE INTRUDER! I WILL DRIVE HIM AWAY AND SAVE THE PACK.”  What an adrenaline rush for your dog. I have seen dogs go ballistic when they hear a doorbell ring on a television show.

To make matters worse, we usually grab the dog by their collar and pull them back which only makes the dog want to get to the ‘intruder’ even more.  We are actually making the situation worse.  What should we do?  I suggest that all households that are concerned about this scenario take time to train their dog to have manners at the door.  I suggest that we attempt to get your dog to associate the sound of the doorbell with a positive experience instead of a negative one.  I would rehearse with the dog over and over and over again that the doorbell doesn’t mean there is an intruder on the other side of the door but there is a reward for him if he complies with my instructions.

Step #1.  Teach your dog ‘GO TO YOUR SPOT. DOWN –STAY’.  I will find a location near the door that is out of the way but where the dog can see what’s going on at the door.  I will praise and reward the dog each time he successfully goes to his bed on command.

Step #2.  I teach the dog to ‘GET BACK’ on command.  I use body blocks with my legs and move towards the dog blocking him from moving forward.  Again, I will praise and reward the dog for successfully moving back on command.

Step #3.  Now I start getting sneaky.  I will wait until my dog is not paying attention to anything.  Maybe he’s sleeping, chewing on a toy or distracted by another person.  I sneak over to the front door, quietly open it and I ring the doorbell.  If the dog gets up and rushes the door barking, I first tell him thank you for alerting me.  Then I body block him, tell him to get back and then go to his spot.  When he has done what I want, I then lavish on the praise and reward.  I will keep doing this exercise until the dog catches on to what his new job is.  Be patient this will probably take several repetitions.

Step #4.  Have a family member ring the doorbell and stand at the door until you can open it.  Once the doorbell has been rung, thank the dog if he barks, body block the dog and doorway if necessary and tell your dog to “GO TO YOUR SPOT. STAY.”  Now go and open the front door.  If your dog gets up, close the door and make him go back to his spot.  Then open the door again.  Repeat this activity until the dog will remain in his spot and you can open the door without your dog breaking his stay.  Have the family member come inside.  Have the family member toss a reward to your dog while you praise him.  Again, patience and persistence is necessary to get the desired behavior.

Step #5.  Ask a friend to be the bell ringer.  Make sure this is a person that your dog knows and likes.  Tell your friend that you just want them to ring the bell and not enter until you invite them in.  Tell your friend to not take it personally if you close the door in their face.  It’s probably because the dog broke his DOWN-STAY. Once the dog has staye d, then invite your friend in.  You should reward your dog and then allow him to get up when you want him to get up.

Step #6.  At this point you are hopefully ready for a stranger to come to the door.  Try to find someone that the dog doesn’t know and make sure it’s not someone who is afraid of dogs.  Have them ring the doorbell, stay on the stoop or come in and ignore the dog and sit down.  You will praise and reward the dog but attend to your guest in a normal manner.  You may decide to give your dog a toy to occupy his time.  Hopefully your dog now associates the door with a different routine.  Some people want their dogs to bark at the door.  That’s fine as long as they stop when you ask them to.  I will usually give a quiet command with a hand signal (hands crossed and a treat in one hand).  When I say “QUIET” I uncross my hands and give a treat.  Usually the dog is distracted by the hand movements and will stop barking because he’s now eating a treat. 

Sallie Palmer teaches private lessons and group classes in the Ukiah and Willits area. She also hosts Mutt Scouts- adventures you can do with your dog.  For more information, visit her web site.

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