We had a friend over last weekend and Ace barked and charged the door. I did nothing to stop him, and Josh even yelled something like, “Get'm, killer!”
Well, no wonder our dog barks at the doorbell!
Then, when the doorbell rang yesterday, Ace stopped and turned to look at me for direction. Good boy! I had him sit and stay a few feet from the door when I answered it. He stayed until I opened the door, and then I failed to reinforce the sit-stay. He got up, intent on doing some serious sniffing and drool “sliming.”
So … if you want your dog to do a certain behavior, you have to be consistent. Don't do what I've been doing where you give direction one day and no direction the next.
Here are some tips to teach your dog not to bark at the doorbell:
1. Decide what you want your dog to do.
One or two barks is OK when the doorbell rings, but nonstop barking is unnecessary. I want my dog to go no closer than four feet from the front door, sit and stay until I release him. Maybe you have a dog bed in another room you want your dog to stay on. Maybe you want her to go to her kennel. Maybe you want her to lie down. Or maybe you don't mind if she barks, but you want her to keep all four paws on the ground. Figure out what you want her to do, rather than focusing on what you don't want. It's easy to begin training once you have a plan.
2. Practice this every day.
Dogs need dozens or even hundreds of repetitions before a behavior is conditioned. That means I have to practice this with Ace at least several times a week.
3. Start by ringing the doorbell yourself.
Ring the doorbell, and then immediately direct your dog. If you want her to go to her bed, tell her the command for that. In my case, it will be, “Ace, sit. Stay.” Then he will get a treat. Do this about 10 times in a row. By then, some dogs will automatically do the behavior at the sound of the doorbell. Food is more important to my dog than the doorbell, so he will start to think, “Doorbell. Sit. Food.”
4. Also practice knocking.
Do the same thing, only knock at the door loudly. Give your dog a treat when she does what you want.
5. Pretend to answer the door, even though no one is there.
Make a really big deal out of it. “Hey! How's it going!” If your dog breaks from the position, put her back. Remember to train your dog in small steps, so if this step is too challenging for her, return to an easier step so she can be successful.
6. Practice with a family member.
The next step is to have an understanding friend or family member come to the door. Have them enter and re-enter the door 10 times so your dog gets lots of practice.
7. Encourage friends to ignore your dog.
The hardest part about teaching a dog not to jump, bark or break a stay position at the door is most people who visit love dogs. Dog lovers naturally pet, talk to, look at and make a big deal over the dog. I do the same thing. We dog lovers even say things like, “Oh, it's OK if he jumps. I don't mind.” It's very hard for a dog to stay if someone new is talking to them in an excited voice or just making a big deal about the dog in general.
8. Be consistent with this every time the doorbell rings.
Dog owners tend to be pretty lenient with their dogs around other dog owners. At least I am. When my family members visit, I know they love Ace and don't care if he gets pushy. They are even tolerant when he drools on their pants. But what does this teach my dog? It teaches him that sometimes he can get away with whatever he wants.
9. Practice at the back door, too.
My dog goes nuts if he sees someone in our backyard. He's usually pretty bad when someone comes to the front door, but he's typically good at the garage door because half the time he doesn't notice someone new came in. The point is, practice what you want your dog to do at each doorway.
10. Decide how long you want your dog to stay before you release her.
I don't have a specific length of time I want Ace to stay. It really depends on who is visiting. If a delivery person is at my door, I want Ace to stay until that person is gone. When friends are over with their dogs, I won't expect Ace to stay for more than a few seconds. But I want him to stay until I release him no matter what. It could be five seconds, it could be 10 minutes.
11. Reinforce the stay command while guests are visiting.
Sometimes it's nice to have your dog stay in one spot for up to a half-hour when guests are over. This really teaches the dog to be calm before they can seek attention from visitors. If you have a hyper dog but she is trained well to stay on her bed for up to a half-hour, then she can still be a part of the “pack” rather than be shut away in a kennel. It's also convenient if the dog stays on her bed while people are eating. My mutt decided to make a scene during Thanksgiving dinner and cry while he stayed on his bed. He then proceeded to cry when I put him in his kennel. This just shows that I haven't reinforced the stay command often enough when guests are over. This is a very good thing to practice. Start with just 30 seconds or a minute at a time.
12. Keep your dog on the leash.
There's nothing wrong with keeping your dog on her leash when people come to the door or when guests are over. If it keeps her under control until she has had more training, then great. You might also want to try a Gentle Leader.
13. Make sure all people in your household are consistent.
If you make your dog sit and stay at the front door but your kids don't, then your dog won't understand what she is supposed to do. Dogs need repetitions of the same behavior.