Dogs and Doorbells: Stop the Insanity Once and For All!
This is one of those terrible behaviors that most dog owners deal with.
The doorbell rings and the dog goes completely nuts.
Even the nicest dogs bark when they are startled by the doorbell!
The problem is that most people don’t understand the WHY, and as a result, have no idea how to deal with the behavior itself.
Why DO Dogs Bark at the Doorbell???
First, let’s break down the “why”.
Dogs learn very early on, with 100% reliability, that when the doorbell rings, there is someone on the other side.
This brings excitement at first.
For some, it brings agitation as a byproduct of excitement.
For other dogs, they simply become protective of their home and people.
Some dogs dabble in all categories.
But, the important thing to remember is the reliability of the stimulus.
Doorbell = Someone, 100% of the time.
Whether it causes excitement or aggression, the truth is that the dog’s mental state is rewarded with exactly what he thinks is going on outside that door.
Very few things in life happen with 100% reliability.
And, this is why we need to counter condition the trigger, i.e. the doorbell.
Break it Down
“Condition” is when you pair two things together, either by choice or not.
For instance, when we clicker train, we choose to pair the clicker with the food reward.
However, when the doorbell rings, we aren’t choosing to pair that with a person, it simply happens.
Clearly, it is best to be in control of conditioning, or at least hope for positive pairing.
Counter Conditioning and Stopping Your Dog From Barking at the Door
Counter conditioning is taking something that was once paired with a stimulus (like the above examples) and pairing it with something else.
Counter conditioning is much, much more difficult because it is hard to change a habit, and stressed dogs often revert back to what they learned first; so just keep that in mind when you become frustrated.
Beginning Counter Conditioning
First, we must begin the counter conditioning process.
We must teach the dog that the doorbell does not always equal someone being outside!
There Are Two Ways to Do This:
Stick your hand outside the door and ring the doorbell yourself for a while.
This is a great way to get started.
However, usually dogs catch on to you going to the door.
Buy a similar doorbell at a home store, and put the ringer next to your evening sitting spot.
This way, you can reach over and ring the doorbell at any time without seeming to move.
Leave the Door Open
At first, I leave the glass door or window open so that the dog can literally see that there is no one there.
They will still bark their head off in the beginning, but if you ring the doorbell 3 dozen times during the day (general number), you will start to desensitize the dog.
The dog will learn that the majority of the time, no one is there.
Remember in order to desensitize or counter condition, the new meaning has to happen WAY more often than the previous stimulus happened.
You literally have to do this multiple times per day, for many days, if not weeks.
I know it is frustrating, but it is worth it and will lead you to step 2.
Teach an incompatible chained behavior.
I like incompatible behaviors! They are an easy way to give your dog something else to do that is acceptable rather than allowing them to choose bad behaviors.
After all, sometimes we need to tell them what behavior we want to see!
For further help, check out the game that we have created to help stop your dog from barking whenever the doorbell rings.
Click here to download the next step of the Doorbell Ditch Game.
Begin Teaching Place
Next I begin teaching my dog “place”.
But, essentially I want to teach my dog to go to a very specific “place” or spot.
This place can be his bed or laying on a towel, and then you can move the bed (or the towel) around the house and condition him that going to that “place” on command is fun and rewarding.
Next, we must teach the dog that the doorbell is also the command or the cue to go to his “place”.
So, when you ring the doorbell, you teach him to go to that specific spot!
Since you have already desensitized the doorbell, and you have taught the dog that the “place” command is fun and rewarding, this step should be easy!
Don’t expect to skip the desensitization or counter conditioning of the doorbell or the dog will be too excited to learn.
Don’t expect the dog to learn to go his “spot” or “place” when someone is actually at the door at first.
You must first build the foundation of positive reinforcement and reward.
Once you have desensitized the dog and built the foundation, you can begin asking for it when you have company (I like to use friends and family first).
Yes, this takes a bit of time, but I promise you that it is worth it!
And, it works!
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.