Have you ever had a dog that acts like a crazed maniac whenever guests (or anyone) arrives at the door? I know I have. And this one’s for you.
My dog barks like crazy every time the doorbell rings, then jumps on visitors like he’s never had attention before. He gets lots of love and is usually pretty good at home but when that doorbell rings, all bets are off! I’m pretty sure the entire complex hears him and it’s embarrassing. I’m starting to ask people to meet me at the coffee shop around the corner so I don’t have to deal with this anymore. Please help!
“I’m Sure That’s Just Water On the Floor” in NJ
Practicing impulse control at the door begins well in advance before real guest arrive. In fact, if you try to start at the end point, when your dog is already excited, you’ve already lost.
Like with any other complex task, it’s best to break things down into stages. Since the guests arriving issue has two, maybe three different components (doorbell rings, you open door, guests enter) these all need to be taught in a way that sets your pooch up for success.
If you look at these three components, the opening of the door seems to be the on that will be easiest to start with since it’s a fairly familiar and predictable activity when you take the “who’s going to walk in” piece out of it. Once your dog masters this, you can follow the natural progression of adding in a person to the task to ring the doorbell and enter the room.
So now let’s get started with the whole sequence broken down into steps:
Practicing Impulse Control at the Door
Stage 1: The Door
Prerequisite skills: sit, down, stay
Materials required: dog, high-value treats, door
- Ask the dog to sit or lie down away from the door, but within eyesight of the door (“sit” and “down” are cues your dog must know how to do first).
- Ask the dog to stay (use your hand up signal also).
- Slowly back away while still facing the dog and practice the following one step at a time.
- Touch door handle. If he stays put, quickly walk back to him and reward him with a small high value treat.
- Touch door handle and open the door briefly. If he stays put, quickly go back and reward him with a small high value treat.
- Touch door handle, open door wider and for slightly longer. If he stays put, quickly go back and reward him with a small high value treat.
- Once he shows he is making progress on these steps, forgo the treat reward half the time and substitute with a verbal “good,” eventually switch over to “good” completely.
Troubleshooting: If your dog breaks position and goes to follow you, simply shrug or use a neutral “eh” as a quick verbal acknowledgement and calmly go back to him and try again.
Remember, no one’s perfect and this is your dog’s opportunity to learn. Never train frustrated and always end on a high note.
If you find your dog settling into an error pattern, always stop and go back to the last step that they were successful in. This not only helps you get back into a positive emotional groove, but also stops your pooch from accidentally learning the error as part of the routine.
And it’s a heck of a lot easier to learn something than it is to unlearn.
Stage 2: The Guest
Prerequisite skills: stage 1
Materials required: dog, high-value treats, door, doorbell, human assistant, squeaky toy (optional)
After your dog has mastered the sit/down/stay command while you open the door, the next step is to introduce a person on the other side of the door. It’s common for dogs to get excited at the sound of a door bell ringing. I actually prefer that my dogs bark a bit when the bell rings, but how they control that excitement and how they behave when the person steps in the house is what needs to be addressed.
- Have someone ring the doorbell, repeat the above steps: Touch door handle. If he stays put, quickly walk back to him and reward him with a small high value treat.
- Have someone ring the doorbell, touch door handle and open the door briefly, but not enough to let the person in just yet. If he stays put, quickly go back and reward him with a small high value treat.
- Have someone ring the doorbell, touch door handle, open door wider and for slightly longer. If he stays put, quickly go back and reward him with a small high value treat.
- Have someone ring the doorbell, touch door handle, open door wide enough for person to come in. Have person immediately toss some treats on the floor to put the dog on task.
- Ignore the dog completely until he is calm. This means no eye contact, no body language, no nothing until the dog is calm. It doesn’t have to be long, just calm and not ramping up for the next barkathon.
- The person can also bring a novel ball each time (so the dog only sees it when you walk in the door) and immediately squeak and toss it away from them as they walk in. This only works with toy motivated dogs.
REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT. This is not something that is usually accomplished over the course of one of two sessions.
Some dogs, especially those that have been allowed to repeat bad behaviors for years, will need consistent training and committed follow through from all members of the household to have any lasting effect.
If your dog continues to fail at displaying impulse control at the door, consider preemptive measures, like asking guests to text when they’re at the door, in order to make a stealthy arrival.
In extreme cases of sound reactivity, you can look into alternative doorbells that flash a light instead of ding-donging. You can also gate the dog away from the door or leash him far away from the door so he doesn’t rehearse the behavior.
Have more questions for the trainer? Comment below with your top dog behavior questions.
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