How To Stop Dogs From Barking At the Door (Step 1)
Most dogs go nuts at the door.
The doorbell rings and the dog loses his mind!
Your dog barks at people, he spits, he spins, and loses all control of himself.
He ignores all his commands.
The only thing he can pay attention to is whatever’s on the other side of that door.
Barking is complicated!
It is instinctual and sometimes needs to be tackled one form of barking at a time.
But our system will help you get your dog’s barking at the door under control.
Why Your Dogs Barks at the Door
There are four main reasons why your dog may be barking at the door. Depending on the reason, we’ll prescribe a different type of training technique to help you overcome the issue.
Reason #1: Your Dog is Alarmed or Fearful
Dogs who lack self confidence often bark their heads off at even the smallest of noises or sounds. Even if it’s YOU at the door. Dogs like this need to have what I call Bravery Training!
In the case of excessive dog barking at the door, here’s a list of things that will often set a dog off, in order of least intense to most intense:
- Person walks up driveway
- Car pulls into driveway
- Sound of the garage door opening
- The sound of a car door shutting
- Sound of someone coming up your steps
- Sound of jingling keys
- A knock at the door
- The doorbell ringing
- The door being unlocked
- The sight of someone open the door
- The sight of a person coming through the door
Dogs who bark for fear based reasons need to have all of these fears eliminated, starting with the least fearful option.
To do this, we recommend using techniques like this gal used to treat her Chihuahua’s incessant, fear based, door barking habits, so he’s better able to ignore sights and sounds that scare him.
Reason #2: Dogs Bark to Defend Their Territory
Territorial barking is another major cause of dogs barking at the door. After all, for thousands of years humans have been selectively breeding dogs based off their ability to warn them if an intruder or dangerous animal is near. So, don’t blame your dog for wanting to bark when he thinks someone has entered his territory because it’s quite literally IN HIS DNA!
That said, there are some strategies you can use to help avoid territorial barking becoming a problem.
Strategy #1: Filling the Security Void
For one of the more interesting strategies to cure a dog of territorial barking, look at how a pack of wolves treats the job of “watching out for trouble”.
A wild pack of wolves rotates the job of security duty between several members of the pack. And if one wolf stops his security detail, another wolf will pick it up. They know that for their survival, they need to make sure someone is watching for intruders at all times.
I find this very interesting, because what I have noticed with my own dogs and several of my client’s dogs is that I think this same “Who’s Got Guard Duty” mentality is being played out in the homes of dogs who are territorial barkers.
Dogs who see you ignore your “lookout duties” and think you’re not paying enough attention to looking out for intruders, seem to be more likely to automatically decide that it’s their duty to fill that role in your house. So, if the mailman is always coming up to your door, ringing the doorbell, dropping mail, and then leaving, and you aren’t doing ANYTHING about it, then to your dog, it seems like you are the WORST security guard of all time.
Therefore, he feels it is his responsibility to pick up your slack 😉
Of course, you and I know it’s just the postman at the door, but the dog thinks otherwise, and to make it worse, he actually thinks his barking was effective at getting the intruder to go away! This means every time you don’t do something when the doorbell rings, you’re actually reinforcing his barking behavior, and making his territorial barking problem even worse!
How to Fix Territorial Barking
There are several different techniques for fixing territorial barking in dogs. If you’re interested in learning about all of them, check out this program.
But one of the pre-requisites for all our strategies is that you must create a situation that allows YOU or something LIKE you, to be the first to spot an intruder, and not your dog.
Depending on your situation, there are a few different ways this can be handled.
For example, I used to work from my home office, which was in a suburban neighborhood, where my office window looked out at the sidewalk. The location of my office allowed me to see people walking by before my dog could.
If you have a situation like this, what I recommend you do is get yourself an automatic treat dispenser; I used this one: These types of dispensers have a clicker you can click to release a treat.
But here’s the key: put the treat dispenser by the door. Then, every time someone walks by, hit the button! Most of the machines will make a noise, which dogs figure out = treats REALLY fast, and it trains the dog to come running for a treat. Just make sure it’s full of really tasty treats!
But here’s the beautiful part! What does your dog see when he comes for his treat? He sees the intruder! But now he’s seeing the intruder EVERY time while getting a treat, so his emotional FEELING towards intruders becomes more positive each time you do this exercise.
What if you can’t see people coming up like I could…
I realize not everyone can sit by their home office window every day and give their undivided attention to looking out for strangers like I could from that home office. I get it. When I moved to a home out in the country, I no longer could either.
So, here’s what I did…
I got myself something called a Dakota Alert driveway detector.
I live on a piece of property now that has a 100 yard driveway, and by installing this sensor, an alarm goes off every time an object over 100 pounds comes up my driveway. The alert goes off, and it gives me the ability to go let my dog know that someone is coming before he sees them.
Again, for our complete video training library of techniques you’ll want to use during those interactions with your dog at the door, check out our Guest Manners program.
Reason #3: Dogs Bark to Alert/AlarmYou
Alarm barking is triggered the same way as territorial barking, but instead of the dog barking his head off incessantly, your dog just barks a few times.
To me, this is an acceptable happy medium for dogs. Many dog lovers appreciate a dog who pays enough attention to let them know someone is there, but to then be quiet and let you handle the intruder after a few barks vs. continuing to bark his head off.
This is best handled with a combination of two techniques.
The first is by training your dog the “Quiet Command”.
The “Quiet Command” teaches your dog how to stop barking after he’s started. It’s the perfect command to teach dogs who alert bark, who you don’t want to eventually become incessant territorial barkers.
And it’s easier to teach your dog how to control his barking problem than you’d think, if you know how to teach it the right way; which is why we created this free exercise you can download and print that’ll walk you through exactly how to train your dog this behavior.
Then, after you go through the exercise, we recommend you train a command we call the “Doorbell Ditch”. It’s a more advanced exercise that we cover inside our Guest Manners program, and it teaches your dog how to pay more attention to what he should be doing AFTER he hears the doorbell, instead of simply reacting to the doorbell. In this exercise we teach your dog how to recognize the ringing doorbell as a cue to go sit on his bed. We recommend teaching your dog to instantly go to his bed and wait there for you to release him every time he hears the doorbell ring.
The “Doorbell Ditch” is a great game for territorial barkers, alarm barkers and dogs who just bark out of excitement.
Reason #4: Dogs Bark Because They’re Excited
Some dogs bark out of excitement, to greet a person on the other side of the door a LOT; luckily, it’s probably one of the easiest behaviors to handle. These types of dogs will bark, spin, jump and be ALL different kinds of happy to see the person on the other side of the door.
If your dog barks from excitement, the key to fixing this is to give the dog a replacement behavior. Train him to do something else when the doorbell rings, instead of barking.
The video below shows you exactly how to train this type of behavior to fix excitement barking:
First Thing’s First
Counter conditioning is a technique employed in animal training, and in the treatment of phobias and reactivity, in which you use an incompatible behavior with a habitual undesired behavior (pattern) is induced.
This technique is scientifically proven to help pair a high value treat or reward and creates an emotionally positive reaction in the dog which carries over through training.
Here’s a little video that shows you the first steps for how to train your dog this game:
Giving Your Dog Something Else to do
Does your dog have inappropriate behavior and barking when people visit?
Give your dog an incompatible behavior, such as sitting, to help him get his impulses under control.
The dog trainer in this video recommends you record your doorbell and use your phone, or a helper, or buy a similar doorbell that you can use indoors (I often recommend putting the button next to where you sit at night to help finalize the skill).
Condition the dog that the sound of the doorbell means, “Get on your bed”. Lure, click and reward.
Release the dog from the bed.
Ring the bell, lure and reward for all four paws on the bed.
Reach outside and ring the doorbell. Reward dog for going to the bed.
You may add the cue “bed” or work toward the doorbell being the cue for the dog to go to the bed.
Eventually, invite a friend over to help proof this behavior!
We have also created a game to help stop your dog from barking whenever the doorbell rings.
Click here to download the next step of the Doorbell Ditch Game.
Replacement Behaviors Work!
You can see how replacement behaviors, like training dogs to go to a bed and be calm when people come to visit, can really make a difference.
I certainly recommend that you get started on this training!
You are teaching and conditioning the dog that the ringing doorbells bring positive feelings and commands, whereas in the past it has brought stress and negative emotions.
And, even though this is a great first step, you aren’t done yet!
[add for fix your dog’s other impulsive behaviors]
Now Let’s Talk About What NOT to Do
Many people reading this article might be wondering if all this sounds like too much work, and if maybe just using something like a shock collar would be a more simple and effective way to train their dog to not bark at the door.
I strongly caution you against this.
As companionanimalpsychology.com points out, there have been several studies published that seem to show using shock collars as a method to control dogs has some serious side effects.
Side Effect #1: Shock Collars Create Negative Association with Anything Seen While Being Shocked
In these studies, dogs whose owners used bark collars to shock their dog when they bark too much at the doorbell are actually making the problem worse!
Think about it…
Who’s around when someone comes to your door and you shock your dog? Probably you, and a stranger coming to your door, right? Well here’s the problem with that: research shows that dogs develop what I call “Slave Anger”, towards people or things present while being shocked.
I call it “Slave Anger”, because, in the past when human slaves were beaten, yes, it might have been effective for getting a slave to behave in the way you wanted, but you know it only made them hate you more and more with each lashing they received.
Is that what you want for your dog? A dog who hates you more every time someone comes to your door?
Hey, maybe you’re ok with that… I don’t know. Maybe you value your dog obeying your authority no matter the cost. I guess that’s your prerogative. But remember, it’s not just the dog obeying your authority… your dog is building up a hatred for those strangers who always make him receive shock, too.
So while your dog’s bark may stop because you’re threatening him with pain, what happens one day when someone, like a child, leaves the door open and your dog gets free reign of a stranger who he’s been building up a hatred for?
I can tell you what happens… because my own father wouldn’t listen to me when I told him not to use shock to train his border collie to stop barking at strangers. His border collie got out and mauled 3 different joggers before the courts finally ordered him to get rid of the dog because he’d lost control of his behavior.
But, in reality, my father didn’t lose control. He actually, unintentionally, trained his dog to hate people, because he fell for the trap, and the seemingly quick-fix illusion that shock collar training seems to provide; but doesn’t.
Shock based training and negative reinforcement based training have been proven to increase stress, anxiety, and aggression based responses in dogs in numerous studies. Avoid them at all costs!
Ultrasonic Dog Deterrents & Citronella Spray Collars
There are a few types of devices on the market that deter a dog’s bark without the use of shock. It should be noted that while a little more humane than shock collars, these devices still carry negative consequences and should only be considered after consulting a Veterinary Behaviorist, or animal behaviorist who specializes in dog barking behavior.
Ultrasonic Dog Deterrents are devices that set off a high-pitched frequency only dogs can hear, that are so loud to a dog it’s painful. I had my first run-in with one of these devices by walking my young Golden Retriever past the yard of someone who had installed this device to prevent their dog’s barking problem. While effective at stopping some dogs from barking, not only did the dog we were walking by bark at my dog, but then my dog FREAKED out like someone had tazed him, because the ultrasonic blast didn’t just hit the dog who barked, it zapped my dog too.
You would NOT want to use one of these devices in a home with multiple dogs, as they can only be effective in one dog households.
Then there’s the Citronella Spray Collar…
Citronella spray collars spray a burst of citronella into the face of a dog that barks. Dogs hate the smell of citronella, and these can sometimes be effective as a last resort for getting your dog to stop barking at the door, particularly when you are forced to leave your dog home alone. However, like with the other negative methods, we recommend you only do this after making sure the other methods in this article have been tried and found to not be effective, or at the recommendation of an animal behaviorist.
WARNING: Please do not resort to these types of “stop dog barking devices” if your dog is barking out of boredom. Boredom barking should be handled with non punishment based methods like foraging chew toys filled with frozen peanut butter or some other tasty treat, mental stimulation training games, and physical exercise – not punishment, as punishing a bored dog can increase the chances of him developing separation anxiety.
Beware Underground Electric Fencing…
Before I say too much on Electric Underground Pet Containment fences, first let me say that I fully believe that people who use these devices have their pet’s best interest and safety in mind.
While yes, pet owners understand that they will be using electric shock collars to automatically shock their dogs if they get too close to the boundaries, they justify this type of training because the alternatives of a dog running off and getting hit by a car, or running off and getting lost, are WORSE than just getting shocked.
At face value I totally get this argument.
But what you need to understand is that pets who live within electric containment areas have been shown in studies to demonstrate even more anxiety towards anything that comes onto the property.
Plus, even electric containment systems warn their clients that they should only be used under supervision, and that they are not an appropriate substitute for a real fence.
This begs the question then… what should you do instead?
Well, here’s one idea I’d suggest…
Training the Vacuum Boundary Game
Watch the dogs in this video.
Instead of being told where they cannot go, and having the focus be on the training of that… these dogs have been trained where TO go and eagerly wait for instructions on where their owner would like them to be. What a difference in behavior!
(And they’re obeying off leash! We should all aspire for our pets to be this well behaved!)
These dogs are pumped to be in a certain area, and they’ve been conditioned to be there, even though they have the freedom to go elsewhere.
Spending more of your time on positive reinforcement games like this, instead of negative reinforcement based methods, will yield you a MUCH happier dog. And if you are getting ZERO success with any of these methods, please, please, PLEASE see an applied animal behaviorist before resorting to punishment based methods.
The REAL Key to Stop Dog Barking at the Door
As you can see, there are a lot of different techniques at your disposal that can help you stop your dog from barking at the door. But the one constant with all these strategies, even the negative ones, is that to be effective at stopping a bad, self-rewarding behavior like barking, you have set a firm boundary of what’s acceptable behavior and what isn’t. If you slack off and sometimes let your dog get away with barking and then other times are strict, you will NOT be successful.
For behaviors to be changed, we need to be consistent.
The last thing I’d like to recommend to people whose dogs bark at the door is to please, please, PLEASE, realize that it is NOT OK!
If your dog is barking because he’s afraid, it’s not ok to willingly let your puppy live his life with that kind of fear. It’s a fixable thing, and it’s our duty and responsibility to help them live a happy, well-adjusted life.
If your dog is barking because he’s being territorial, it is not ok to let this trend towards aggressive behavior continue to develop. Dogs can be turned into alert barkers that bark only once or twice. This gives us the ability to still have them play a role in our protection, without the risk of them hurting someone.
And when it comes to dogs who bark out of excitement, I get it… it’s cute that your dog is excited. It’s cute that he loves you so much. But the barking is only cute to you. When I go over to my Mother’s house and her dog won’t shut up for 10 minutes because its been trained to bark until someone pets it, it is not cute. Letting this type of barking continue is a bad look on you, it annoys people, scares small children, and hurts people’s ears!
But the good news is, now you’re equipped with all the tools to start getting your dog’s barking at the door finally under control. So, get to it, and leave me a comment letting me know how it goes; I’d love to hear from you!