Image above: Guarding the door
Guest blog by Jennifer Billot
Jennifer Billot, MSc CPDT-KA is a professional dog trainer and the founder and owner of Bone Ball Bark, a force-free dog training company based in Chiswick. Over a series of blogs she explores the most common problems she encounters when clients first get in touch.
Whether you have had your dog for many years, acquired a lockdown puppy within the last two, or just picked up a new bundle of fluff, complete with a set of sharp teeth, hopefully this series will provide some helpful tips.
How do I get my dog to stop barking at the door?
Barking is a classic example of a dog behaviour which is very natural for many breeds, and something we humans have benefited from and selectively bred as a trait we like through the domestication process.
It is mostly because we now live in built up and populated areas that we see barking as a nuisance, unnecessary and something to stop. The most common time a dog barks, that we see as a problem, is when the doorbell goes, or when they hear something on the other side of the door.
There can be many reasons why a dog barks at the front door, from excitement because that means someone will be coming in to give them some love, to uneasiness because a strange noise was heard outside.
For those puppies raised during lockdown, and indeed for those dogs who were raised before but then had a huge life change during the pandemic, people coming to the front door became a rarity. They might now be scared by the noise of the bell, or of strange figures wearing masks appearing in the doorway.
Here are some general points to think about, management techniques to implement to decrease how often they feel the need to bark at the door, and a couple of training exercises to change their behaviour to something positive and noise-free!
1. Can we reduce how often they bark by making a few environmental changes?
Management is often overlooked in dog training. We usually want to jump straight into the ‘how can I fix this behaviour so it doesn’t happen again?’ mode and this usually means we only focus on training.
However, by changing the environment to limit how often they feel the need to bark, we can really help and speed up the training process as they aren’t exposed to their triggers as often. A couple of my go-to management techniques for this are:
White noise machines to help drown out the sounds coming from the other side of the door. I use the rain noise setting with my dog, Griffin, when he is left alone to make sure he can rest soundly and not necessarily hear neighbours and deliveries.
If you have glass panels in your front door, cover these with a shaded translucent film to limit what they can see but will keep the light coming into your hallway.
These adhesive films are also fantastic for dogs who stare out of windows and bark at passers by. Usually with this type of alert barking, it is incredibly self-rewarding making it a behaviour that is likely to be repeated again and again:
“I saw someone or heard something come close to the house, I barked, they left…I DID IT!”.
By taking away their access to the sight of these triggers, the behaviour of barking in this context often decreases dramatically.
Image above: Jennifer’s dog Griffin window watching
2. Change their initial response to the doorbell
A great way of helping your dog stop barking at the doorbell specifically, is to teach them that the sound is nothing to react to. Firstly, we want to change the initial emotional reaction of the dog to the sound of the doorbell into something positive, and to turn to you instead.
To start, record the sound of your doorbell on your phone, or even better, if you have a doorbell device that means you can change the sound of the bell, choose a new sound that currently has no association for your dog.
Move to a different part of the house which isn’t by the front door, and have plenty of treats ready.
Turn the volume on your phone down as low as it goes. This is very important as we want the dog to be aware of the sound, but to not feel the need to react.
Hit play, and immediately feed your dog a treat. Pause the sound after this. Wait 5-10 seconds, then repeat at the same low volume.
Once your dog is not showing any reaction to the sound (think ears flicking, turning their head to the hallway, looking uncomfortable), turn the volume up slightly, and repeat the process.
Keep going, over a period of days and/or weeks, until you can play the sound of the bell on your phone at full volume and your dog does not react or bark, and happily takes the treat from you.
You can then connect your phone to a bluetooth speaker and place the speaker in the hallway near the door, and you can be in a different room. Be ready to treat as soon as your dog hears the sound.
For another level of this training, if your dog already knows a stationing cue on a bed, you can then work on changing the sound of the bell into a cue to go lay down on their bed.
Press play on your phone, pause it after the initial sound, then give your cue that means to go to their bed. Reward heavily when they do.
Repeat many times until they start to head to their bed once they have heard the bell, and before you have said your cue word. They have got it! Where the association used to be doorbell=run to door and bark, we now have doorbell=go to bed for something amazing.
3. Train an interrupter cue
I am actually very much okay with Griffin barking when someone comes to our door. We live in London, and I would rather people could hear that there was a dog on the other side of the door! However, this doesn’t mean I want him to go absolutely crazy and bark for five minutes straight.
Continuous alert barking is also stressful and anxiety producing for the dog and I don’t want that. When someone knocks on the door, like a delivery driver, I let him give a few alert barks then I use my interruptor cue of “Thank You”. This basically means, “Great, you can stop now!”
I like to use a snuffle mat for this exercise, as it helps decompress and relax the dog after something that is as highly stimulating as alert barking, prevents them from going back to barking again, and means there is a specific location that treats can be delivered and your dog will learn to automatically head there.
These snuffle mats can easily be bought online or homemade, and look like a shaggy rug that treats can be hidden in.
Place the snuffle mat in an area away from the front door, like in the kitchen or living room. Say “Thank You” in a nice bright tone of voice and drop a couple of tasty treats on to the mat. Wait for your dog to eat all of them, then repeat a couple more times.
Take a few steps away from the mat, pause for a few seconds, then say “Thank you” before heading back to the mat to drop some treats in.
Repeat this many times over a period of days, moving varying distances away from the mat. You are wanting to see your dog perk up at the sound of you using this cue word, and automatically moving towards the mat in anticipation of the treats.
Now you are ready to try this when your dog hears someone at the door and goes to bark. This is easiest to begin with if you know that it is a delivery as opposed to a visitor as you then don’t have to work on the greeting too and can just focus on the initial barking.
Bone Ball Bark training services are a part of The Chiswick Club card scheme, with 10% off training packages. If you need any in-person or virtual help with your dog barking at the door, please get in touch.
Jennifer Billot has a Masters Degree in Canine Sciences from Bergin University in California. She is a certified professional dog trainer, CPDT-KA qualified, and spent five years as an Assistance Dog trainer for an organization specializing in mobility assistance dogs in both Seattle and Hawaii. She offers in-person training sessions in London and virtual consultations worldwide.
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