Dingdong! Get the door! Unfortunately, often it is the unruly dog that first greets whoever is on the other side of the threshold. Your dog may dash to the door, bark, scratch at the door, jump up on it, run around excitedly, or even escalate his behavior to aggressive displays.
This behavior is understandable if we remember what the dog’s perception of the event “doorbell rings” means. Your dog hears the doorbell ring or the approach of someone at the door. This may even start with sounds in the driveway. You, and possibly everyone else in the house, then stop and drop everything in order to go to the door, and all attention is focused on the entrance of the home. Often, people are greeted enthusiastically as well. This, just like the ringing of the telephone and subsequent attention paid to it, is a highly predicable behavior pattern on the part of the human.
Your dog thus latches onto the fact that you get excited when the signal (doorbell, telephone ring, car in driveway, etc.) appears. Small wonder that your dog follows your example and gets excited too! Then, at the door, you have conflicting priorities: dealing with the person at the door and dealing with your dog’s behavior.
There are several approaches you can take in training your dog to become well mannered at the door. One such approach is to teach your dog to station at a particular place such as a mat or bed when the doorbell rings.
- Put your dog’s favorite goodies in a drawer/closed box/ cupboard within sight of the door or telephone.
- Show your dog where these items are.
- Have a dog bed, mat or rug very close to the box of toys/chewies.
Without paying attention to the door, teach your dog that going to the mat will result in you giving him something out of the box. If your dog gets off the mat, take the item away and return it to the box. Train this several times a day for several weeks. The worse your dog’s behavior, the longer it will take to do this. Don’t lose hope … if you give up too soon your dog will learn that he does not have to comply, making it harder on you and your dog (and your visitors) in the long run. Meanwhile, do not allow your dog access to the door when the “stranger arriving” situation occurs. Keep your dog completely away from the door area when anyone enters the house by keeping your pet in a different area of the house.
Once your dog readily and enthusiastically goes to the mat, work with family members first. Each person should enter without ringing the doorbell. As each person arrives, they must go to the box first (even before putting down keys, bags, etc.), wait for your dog to go to the mat, and then reward it with an item out of the box. Four family members doing this six times in one training session will enable your dog to practice the “go to mat” routine 24 times.
When your dog readily goes to the mat with all family members entering the home, begin practicing ringing the doorbell before each family member enters. The purpose is to teach your dog that the signal “doorbell” (or “telephone”) is the cue for him to go to the mat and wait for a reward. (Use your cell phone to call your home.)
Now it is time to introduce friends and neighbors. These people should know the routine, i.e., approach door; ring doorbell; enter; if dog is on the mat, go to the toy box and get out an item; reward dog. (Ideally this would be a longer lasting chewy such as a stuffed Kong, etc.) If your dog gets up, the person leaves, you close the door, and return the chewy to the toy box. Then you leave the door area and ignore your dog for several minutes. Repeat this until your dog settles comfortably on the mat in anticipation of a chewy.
Finally, to practice for total strangers use family and friends to act as strangers. When the doorbell rings, go to the door, open it, and don’t do anything but stand at the door looking at the “stranger.” If your dog goes to the mat and stays there, go to the toy box and reward your dog. If your dog gets up, your “visitor” turns and leaves and you close the door, ignoring your dog for several minutes. In real life “stranger” situations, you may want to initially put a note on your door saying that you are training your dog to behave at the door. This will go a long way towards making the UPS driver your friend.