DEAR DIDI: My dog flips out every time the doorbell goes off! I even asked my regular guests to knock instead and now he flips out over that. What can we do to stop this behavior? - Frustrated in Stockton
DEAR FRUSTRATED: This is probably one of the top complaints that all dog owners report to trainers. Think about this for a moment. ALL dog owners across America tend to have this same complaint. It doesn’t matter the breed, age of the dog, or whether the dog is a boy or a girl. Dogs bark at doorbells, or door knocks, whether they live in an apartment, motor home or house. The level of excitement the dog exhibits may vary somewhat, but that level is probably consistent with the dog’s everyday general energy level.
I absolutely adore this question from my clients because it is a real life example and testimony to why Marker Training works. The doorbell is probably the single most consistent thing in a dog’s life. It NEVER rings unless there is a person standing on the other side of the door! How exciting! How often you have visitors can have a direct impact on the dog’s excitement level. Super busy households that have doorbell rings dozens of times a day tend to have dogs that don’t “flip out” quite as much. The doorbell only rings at my house once a week, at best.
Step into your dog’s shoes for a moment and imagine that your family is sitting around one evening quietly watching television. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a deep toned single Dong sound occurs. Your family would probably stop watching TV, look around, worry a little about where the sound came from. Then a $100 bill floats down from the ceiling! This would likely be a momentous event and the family would be talking about it for a long time to come. Two months later, that same sound happens again. Would you be still be worried or would you be looking up to the ceiling waiting for a $100 bill? If your suspicions are confirmed and that $100 bill floats down every time this sound happens, you might also get to the point of “flipping out” when you hear the sound!
So how do we fix the problem? It will take a little bit of time to desensitize your dog to the doorbell. Let’s take the consistency out of the event. Ring the doorbell a lot and at random times, for absolutely no reason. If you have a standard sounding doorbell you can even use your iPhone doorbell ring tone. When the sound no longer has meaning for the dog, he/she will not get so excited about it.
I usually ask my clients to simultaneously begin training a “quiet” command. Many of us want the dog to bark once or twice when the doorbell rings just to let a would-be burglar know there is a dog present in the home. After one or two barks, we need to be able to ask our dogs to stop barking. To train the command, you have to catch moments when your dog is being calm and quiet. Praise them with a calm voice and in a low tone by saying, “good, quiet.” If your dog gets charged up and excited when being pet, don’t touch him while praising. Only say the verbal cue. He will eventually associate the word “quiet” with the act of being calm after 300+ repetitions.
Training the “quiet” command in conjunction with randomly ringing your doorbell for absolutely no reason should reduce the intensity and frequency of your dog’s reaction when someone comes to visit.
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Didi’s Dogs. For a free consultation with Dierdra or to ask your dog behavior question, email www.CaliforniaCanineUnleashed.com.