How to keep Fido from putting your doorbell out of a job
With the holiday season around the corner, dogs that jump, bark or lunge at guests as they enter the home can be embarrassing and frustrating. The keys to solving this problem are simple and can be fun for the whole family to help out!
Start by monitoring your dog’s reaction to house guests. Does your dog begin to bark at the sound of a car pulling in the driveway? Or the car door being shut? The doorbell or knocking on the front door? Is one any worse than the other? This will give us insight into what specific triggers you need to work on for your dog. Ideally, start with the first trigger and work sequentially down the list.
Remember, dogs are constantly making associations between noises, smells, situations and the ultimate effect it had. To some dogs, the doorbell means ‘people are here’ which can bring on excitement and hyperactivity. To others, these sounds are associated with fear and anxiety. The sound of the doorbell means ‘scary things have arrived’. The following techniques are to help reduce sound reactivity, not change your dog’s perception of people (that’s a different plan).
Ideally, start off by disconnecting your doorbell or asking visitors to text or call on arrival in order to avoid the stimulus (knocking or doorbell). This will allow you to control the scenario and stimulus – allowing time to desensitize your dog to noise and counter condition them to how the stimulus makes them feel.
Record your doorbell sound on a phone or recording device. If you can, record a few rings in a row. For example; ring the doorbell…count to 3…ring the doorbell…count to 5…ring the doorbell…count to 2… ring the doorbell. This allows for control over the sound and location. Play the sound for your dog to test that he/she can hear and responds to the stimulus. At this point, we want to set up controlled training sessions to desensitize to noise and counter condition to how the dog feels when he/she hears the noise.
Start in an area that is not your entry way and play the recording at its lowest volume. When the bell rings, click and treat. We are looking to reward a non-response from your dog and not any response that is undesirable (barking, lunging, excitement, running to the door etc.), so be quick to click! Pairing clicker training with the doorbell will help change your dog’s association with the sound – changing it to meaning good and yummy things!
Keep the sessions short (5-10 minutes) and gradually increase the volume. Practice in many locations in the house before going to the entry way. Once your dog is not reacting to any part of the house, begin using the real doorbell. Enlist friends and family to help out by ringing the doorbell so you can be with your dog and treat.
Working with a ‘knock reactive’ dog is a very similar process. In this case, begin with knocking on various structures around the house. Start softly, click and treat. Work in many areas of the house and slowly increasing the volume of the knocks. Once your dog has mastered this, enlist the help of ‘guest knockers’ to come help practice.
Be patient, keep your sessions short and you will be on your way to a quieter household for the holidays! If you are not having success with the above tips, don’t be shy to enlist the help of a professional behaviorist!
Written by Meagan Barrett BSc, DVM