Being a one to one dog trainer I visit a lot of people's houses, I know that I might be met by an owner who is showing embarrassment or frustration because their dog is going crazy at the doorbell and at me, their guest. Door greetings are something many owners struggle with and it can seem like a mountain to climb to work on the problem. Looking at it from a dogs perspective, they have learnt by association that the sound of the bell or a knock normally means someone comes in, which to them is pretty exciting. It is also worth pointing out that some dogs may bark at the doorbell or someone entering their home because they are anxious or fearful of the situation.
With the Covid-19 lockdown, I decided to do some work with my own dog, as she goes mad when the doorbell rings, for Luna I think it's a combination of excitement mixed with a little bit of fear. Luna isn't great with strangers coming into our home so I guess for her she doesn't know if it's going to be our friends or a scary person coming to fix something. Regardless of why she is doing it, I want to make her feel relaxed when she hears the doorbell, doing this will benefit her but also me and my partner as it is quite annoying.
My goal is that Luna will hear the doorbell and calmly go and lie in her bed, without barking. To be honest, I don't mind one or two barks but I don't want her to feel like she needs to carry that behaviour on.
My Training Session
1. I recorded the doorbell on my laptop, so I had control of the volume. I chose to work in the living room, away from the front door.
2. I prepared high-value treats and placed Luna's bed on the floor next to my laptop.
3. I asked Luna to go to her bed and then I played the doorbell recording, at this point the doorbell recording played at the lowest volume. Even on the lowest volume, Luna was visibly unsettled by the noise, her left ear closest to the sound would twitch and she looked towards the door. When working with your dog, you must look for signs that you're dog is uncomfortable because that gives you information that you either need to decrease the volume if possible or have the recording play at that low volume further away from the dog.
4. I spent a good few minutes playing the doorbell recording and immediately feeding Luna a couple of treats, I fed her regardless of her behaviour. I worked on this until I could see that she wasn't reacting to the doorbell sound at that volume level.
5. I then increased the volume, just a little, again looking for any signs of discomfort. We repeated the process of playing the recording and feeding some treats. We worked over the next few minutes at increasing the volume to the maximum level that my laptop would go. I was confident that I was seeing no reaction from Luna other than she was now looking at my hand with the treat expecting the food.
6. At this point I asked Luna to come out of her bed, I then played the recording of the doorbell and immediately asked her to go to her bed using her already learnt to go to bed cue, she was then rewarded for doing so. This step I repeated about 10-15 times.
7. My aim with this training session was to replace Luna's old go to bed cue with the new cue, the sound of the doorbell. After playing the recording then asking Luna to go to bed around 20 times, I then played the recording and waited to see what Luna would do and she did it, she heard the doorbell and went to her bed. This was my jackpot moment, no barking at all just a nice calm dog laying on their bed! Result!!
8. I continued this session for another couple of minutes and then ended it, I wanted to finish the session on a high for both of us. I decided to set myself a challenge and work on this every day for 5 minutes, increasing criteria when appropriate.
If You Are Trying This At Home
1. Don't rush the process, work at a volume level that you're doing is showing no reaction to and if your dog reacts at the lowest level then work on that stage for that session and try increasing the volume in a later session.
2. Always work away from the hot zone, the front door area.
3. If you have a fancy bell where you can change the door chime then you can pick a new doorbell sound and work on creating a new association with that, if you do that use the above steps.
4. Keep your sessions nice and short and try to end on a high for both of you.
5. Try to not allow your dog to practise the behaviour, which can be hard with the doorbell because you don't always know when it is going to ring so my recommendation is that you have treats available to quickly grab if you hear the doorbell, it'll be too late digging them out of your kitchen cupboard, you need to react quickly.
6. Try to have fun with this, it'll make a big difference to you and your dog.