Desensitizing Your Dog with the Doorbell
When someone rings your doorbell, does it sound like World War III is starting at your house? Most people’s dogs go crazy when the doorbell rings and they have a hard time controlling their dogs and the situation when people arrive.
Crazy barking is a conditional response and therefore it can be unconditioned with a little work and effort.
The first thing to understand is the behavior itself and how it got out of hand. Dogs learn early on in their development that when the doorbell rings, someone is at the doorstep. This situation brings a state if excitement, alertness, and sometimes agitation this mindset then leads to the barking. This is a conditioned response, because with almost 100% consistency your dog has learned that when the doorbell rings someone is there waiting.
To break this response, and desensitize your dog we will need to teach him that when the doorbell rings he never knows when someone is there and that the correct response is to come to you for the appropriate response and reward.
You will need two people to help and get everyone in the family involved if you can. If you do not have another person as an option, I will have you go out to your favorite hardware store and buy an additional doorbell that you can ring while you are in the house.
What You Need
- A doorbell or someone to knock on the door
- Your dog on a leash
- Really, really good treats like boiled chicken breast cut up into pea sized pieces
- Lots of patience! It may take some time to break this habit!
First you are going to need to teach your dog about focus and eye contact. If you have not please refer back to my article Training for a Relaxed and Calm Dog, you will need to be able to get your dog’s focus in order for this to be successful and take less time.
Position yourself so that you are not in direct eyesight of the door, this could make getting your dog’s focus more difficult in the beginning, especially if there is a window on or nearby the door. This is also why we are going to keep your dog on a leash in the beginning to limit his ability to race to the door while barking.
Next, have your partner ring the doorbell. As soon as the doorbell rings ask for eye contact and focus. If your dog is barking hysterically try to break his attention on barking by making a loud noise such as “AHHH!” Followed by “Watch Me”, as soon as your dog is quiet for a millisecond click and reward or if you are not clicker training praise and treat as quickly as you can.
Tell your helper to wait until the barking has subsided for a few moments to ring the doorbell again! And continue this pattern, waiting until your dog is quiet to click and/or praise and treat! If you are able to find success quickly you may be able to ask for other behaviors such as “sit” or “down” with the eye contact, but if you are finding this difficult then just be patient and reward the your dog the moment he is quiet.
Work on short training sessions and always end on a positive note where your dog has done well!
Your dog is beginning to learn that when the doorbell rings he should seek you out, quietly for a reward. He is also learning that there is not always someone new waiting at the door.
Do this several times a day for a few weeks, until your dog is 95% quiet and reliable. Then you may take him off of his leash for training.
Next, to add more desensitization to the effect, ring the doorbell at intermittent times throughout the day. Just calmly go out or reach around and ring the doorbell. Soon the doorbell will have much less meaning to your dog, because it will not be paired with the excitement of a new arrival. Instead, your dog will never be certain when someone is at the door, or when it is a training exercise.
In order to have a lasting effect, you will need to be consistent with ringing the doorbell fairly frequently with no consequences of excitement. That is not to say that your dog should not be rewarded for the correct response. In order for this to be successful, your dog must be assured that a correct response will bring praise and a reward!
This is not only a fun “game” for your dog, it is a chance for you to bond and for you to teach your dog some much needed manners and self control when people do arrive!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.