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It’s a quiet Sunday afternoon, the baby is napping--finally--dad's watching the football game, and your preschooler is coloring at the kitchen table while you start preparing the evening meal. All is peaceful and calm. Suddenly, the doorbell rings and everyone's blood pressure goes through the roof! Why? Because your two adorable min pins, Susie and Sam, are going to go crazy, barking uncontrollably and hysterically.
Soon, the baby is awake and screaming, dad is yelling at the dogs, and your preschooler looks like she wants to cry. Does it have to be like this every time the doorbell rings? Thankfully, no! The chaos that ensues every time the doorbell rings and your dogs go nuts is avoidable and correctable. The training and time you put in will be well worth it and paid back in future calm Sunday afternoons.
To avoid barking and crazy behavior from your dog every time the doorbell rings, you will want to train your dog to ignore the doorbell, be calm when it rings, and possibly, to look for or perform another behavior other than barking. Alternative behaviors might be to sit quietly, look for a treat, go to a mat, or go to a crate.
How you train your dog to react to the doorbell will depend on the situation and your dog. A frightened or aggressive dog may be better off leaving the situation and going to another place in the home, whereas a friendly and excited dog may be taught calmer responses and still get to remain near the door. Remember, your dog is just trying to warn you that someone is approaching your property. Even young dogs will quickly learn to associate the doorbell with someone, often a stranger, approaching the home and will react by barking. Your goal is to teach your dog to stop barking when commanded, and for your dog to remain calm.
Make sure you set your dog up to succeed with training by setting training time dedicated to teaching your dog to be calm when the doorbell rings on a consistent basis. Having an assistant set up to play a visitor and ring the doorbell, so you can be ready and control the situation, will be very useful. Other training aids, like treats for rewards and a clicker or quiet place like a crate or bed for your dog to go be calm at, can also be used. Do not yell at your dog or punish him when the doorbell rings and they start barking, as this only excites and provides a negative association with the doorbell that will exacerbate the behavior. Make sure everyone in the household is on board with the training plan so that training is consistent.
The Reverse Training Method
Treat approach to door
Step towards the door, without the doorbell ringing. When your dog approaches the door excitedly, say “just a minute” or “hush”, step away from the door, use a clicker and drop a few treats.
Add verbal cue to door
Step towards the door, touch the doorknob, give your verbal cue, step away from the door, and ask your dog to sit or down. When your dog performs the requested behavior, click and treat.
Gradually move your dog further and further from the door before asking 'sit' or 'down'. Click and treat.
Ask for distance before treat
Now go to the door, still with no doorbell trigger, command 'just a minute', or 'hush' and wait for your dog to move away from the door on their own and sit. Click and toss a treat, give praise.
Now approach the door from a different part of the house, say 'just a minute', direct your dog to sit, go to the door and jiggle the doorknob. If your dog sits in her spot, toss a treat. If she barks or approaches the door, repeat the 'just a minute' or 'hush command' and redirect to your dog's spot and ask your dog to sit. Click and reward when your dog complies. Repeat.
Add open door
Repeat previous steps, but add opening the door. Verbally cue, direct to sit, and click and reward your dog for staying quiet and sitting while the door is approached and opened.
Have an assistant ring the doorbell. Give your dog your verbal cue, direct to sit, and click and reward if your dog complies, then go open the door.
If your dog barks or does not sit in her spot, go back to previous steps and repeat. Reinforce appropriate behavior.
The Ignore Doorbell Method
Have a friend ring the doorbell while you sit quietly in an adjacent room.
When your dog barks, ignore your dog. Do not get up to answer the door.
Wait for barking to stop
Wait for your dog to stop barking. This can take a while if the behavior is very ingrained.
Reward stop barking
When your dog stops barking and comes over to you, give your dog a treat and praise.
Approach door when quiet
Ask your dog to sit, and go over to the door where your friend is still waiting patiently. Note, several minutes or more may have elapsed. If your dog follows you or starts barking again, return to sitting quietly, ignoring your dog. Wait until your dog stops barking, treat again, and ask your dog to sit in her spot again.
When your dog remains sitting quietly in her spot, approach the door, and invite your friend in. Have your friend praise and greet your dog.
Repeat daily for several days until your dog learns that when the doorbell rings, sitting quietly will get a treat and the door opened. Barking gets ignored, and no open door.
The Go To Place Method
Create a place
Give your dog a 'go to place' command, like “mat” or “room” to direct your dog to a mat, crate, or a specific room. Proceed with your dog to the area with lots of treats on hand.
Assosiate with treats
Hold a treat party at the location. Give lots of praise and treats, click if using a clicker. Praise your dog. Repeat so your dog learns that when he is commanded to go to his place he will get lots of rewards.
Ask your dog to stay in the place until you provide a release command such as “free”. Gradually increase the time to a few minutes until well established.
Have an assistant ring the doorbell. Direct your dog to the mat or room, ignore the doorbell, and go with your dog to his place. Have another big treat party when your dog stops barking. Ignore if he barks, but give lots of praise and treats when quiet in place.
Go to door when in place and quiet
Ask your dog to stay and go to the door. You may need to have another assistant hold your dog on a leash in their place while you go to the door, or close your dog in the room while you go to the door.
Return to your dog. Reward your dog for staying and not barking.
If your dog is barking, wait for him to stop and be quiet, then click and reward. Ask him to stay in place and repeat. Reward quiet and staying, ignore barking, and redirect your dog to his place if your dog leaves his spot before being released.
Practice until your dog learns that he needs to stay quietly in his place to get a reward when the doorbell rings.
By Laurie Haggart
Published: 10/27/2017, edited: 01/08/2021