Does your dog go wild when anyone comes to the door? Someone new visiting or a parcel arriving is a very exciting event in the doggie calendar.
This exercise will teach your dog what to do and where to go after the doorbell rings so your guests or delivery people are not accosted by your dog! Rather than hoping your dog will just stop going crazy or wishing you did not have to wrestle your dog away from the door every time you have a visitor, place your bet on a sure thing by training your pup what to do after the doorbell rings.
With some effort on your part and a commitment to practicing with your dog the completion of this doorbell game will make you feel like you just won the lottery!
Teaching your dog an alternative behaviour to barking like a mad thing at the door is complicated by the fact that there are often three triggering events at work here:
Dogs tend to respond to all three and so the secret to doorbell training is to address each of these step by step to make it easier for the dog to succeed.
This exercise aims to:
You will need:
Exercises 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 6.1, 6.2, 6.3 trained in a variety of places. Exercise 5.4 is also very useful.
Get the Behaviour Started
Before you begin, decide where you would like your dog to go and/or what you would like your dog to do after the doorbell rings.
If your dog has a history of jumping and behaving like a circus act gone mad when the doorbell rings, your goal might be to send him to another room, to a crate, or outside for simplicity or safety reasons.
If your dog just barks or pushes you out of the way to “greet” your guests, you can train a sit or down after the doorbell rings. Your final decision should be one based on safety and realistic expectations. It isn’t reasonable to ask a dog that escapes or has a history of nipping or aggressing when guests first arrive to sit or lie down - however, that is achievable for a friendly dog who just gets overly excited.
Reaching out to touch the doorknob is often one of the triggers that sends an already excited dog over the top with anticipation that someone is visiting or is a potential intruder. This being the case, it’s important that you first train your dog to calm down and give you space so you can actually walk to the door unencumbered and without a wrestling match. Once you have this component, you can inform your guests that you will be with them in a moment, just before you direct your dog what to do, and before actually opening the door.
Step 1 - Teach your dog to move away from the door as you reach for the doorknob.
The preliminary step in training this diversion exercise is to teach your dog to move away from the door as you reach for the doorknob, one of the three triggering events. During the early stages of this training, your dog doesn’t have to do anything except move away from the door, so don't also ask for a sit or other trained behaviours just yet.
Invite your dog to come with you to the closed front door. If you are using a clicker, place a number of treats in the hand with your clicker (you want the other hand free), take a deep breath, reach out with your empty hand, and touch the door handle while you observe your dog. Watch your dog carefully since you will be looking for subtle movements during these early stages. At this point, be sure to not open the door, just jiggle the door handle.
Let your dog move around freely, but look for any movement away from the door. Use your marker and treat when your dog moves or backs away even the tiniest bit. Mark and treat again once your dog is in a position away from the door, toss the treats to him so he doesn't have to move toward you to get his reward. Release your dog with “All done” or another release cue. Repeat this several times.
Step 2 - Approach the door from different directions
As you practice this, approach the door from several different areas in your home, rewarding your dog for any movement away until you have repeated this eight to ten times. You want to vary your approach to the door so your actions are similar to when you actually go to the door after the bell rings. Be sure to tell your dog “All done” or use another release cue after each successful movement away from the door. Remember to take breaks between your practice sessions.
Continue to practice just holding the door handle and then marking and treating for movement away from the door. When you see that your dog has figured out that the mark is happening by moving away after you touch the doorknob, you are ready to train the next step.
Keep in Mind
If your dog continues to move toward the door when you reach for the doorknob, you may need to practice these first two steps for many days. The length of time required depends on your dog’s history of rushing the door. Take your time teaching this part of the exercise since this is the part that will help your dog stay focused when you do add the doorbell / knock.
Building the Behaviour
As noted above, there are up to three triggering events in this scenario. Now you are going to add a verbal cue “Just a Minute” as well as reaching for the door. If your dog has a history of associating the words “Just a Minute” with someone at the door, choose another verbal cue like “Hang On” or “I’ll Be Right There.”
Step 3 - Add the verbal cue
Steps 1 and 2 deal with the trigger of you reaching for the door, and by now your dog should be giving you some space at the door. Once you have achieved that element, add a verbal cue which tells your dog there is something you want him to do when the doorbell rings. If your dog has a history of reacting to whatever you typically say (assuming you have a habit of doing so), you will need to choose a verbal cue different from what you have said in the past. For the sake of simplicity in this exercise, let’s assume that your dog has no history with the cue “Just a minute.”
Step 4 - Encourage the dog to move to your designated area
Once you have walked to the door, touched the doorknob, and announced the “just a minute” cue, turn, and move away from the door, encouraging your dog to move with you by pointing to his mat/bed (you could also use a hand touch if necessary to move him onto his bed).
The goal is to get four to five steps away from the door, then mark and treat several times where you stopped, using your best treats. Then cue your dog to “Down” or “Sit” (and hold position) where you want him to remain. Soon, this will become one fluid movement and you won’t need to mark and treat the initial movement from the door, only the final desired behaviour.
Keep in Mind
It's best to use average-value treats as you begin to add movement away from the door, while marking and treating for the initial movement. Switch to high-value rewards once you get your dog to the area where he will be confined or where you want him to be stationed in a sit or down. This will help plant the seed that the best rewards come after he moves away from the door.
Building the Behaviour
Step 5 - Practice sit or down at the designated area.
If you choose to have your dog go to a particular spot and perform a sit or down, make sure he is very fluent with that behaviour. I also recommend that you have a mat or bed in position for the dog to sit or lie on (ideally the mat used for Exercise 6.3). The mat acts as a visual cue for your dog and makes it much easier for him to find his spot each time.
Step 6 - Back away from the dog while he sits or lies down
Direct your dog to the mat right after the “Just a minute” cue, and ask for the sit or down. Then begin to slowly back away so you can observe him as you move toward the door to open it. The goal is to move back to the door again as your dog remains on the mat. You should accomplish the distance from your dog in small pieces, taking one step away and then coming right back to mark and treat him. Next, try two steps, quickly moving back again to mark and treat. Continue to add more steps until your dog can remain at the station and you can get all the way to the door.
As you work on getting the distance, take breaks and resume your training sessions by going to the door from different areas in the house. Continue at this level until you can get all the way back to the door with your dog staying in place.
Step 7 - Add opening the door
Once your dog can wait on his mat, you will now add opening the door as he remains in position. The sequence should look like this:
If he did, walk all the Way back to him to mark and reward, then repeat several times before adding the next step of opening the door.
When you are ready to open the door, open it just a little, close it, and then go back to your dog to mark and reward. Continue until you can open the door completely with your dog remaining in place.
Step 8 - Add a “visitor” at the door
Once you are able to open the door entirely, have a helper assist you by waiting outside the door as you open it and have him/her walk in as you go back to your dog to mark and reward.
If your dog gets up at any point, your helper should stop and back up (even going all the way out the door and closing it if needed). You can gently block your dog with your body and direct him back to his mat until you can convince him that the way he gets to visit is to continue to sit or lie down.
Practice these components until you can see your dog moving away from the door when you say “Just a minute“ and you are successful at directing him back to his station.
If You Need to Confine Your Dog
As noted above, if you cannot trust or train your dog to perform this behaviour reliably, and especially if he has a history of getting loose or displaying aggression toward guests, you should confine him rather than having him try to maintain a sit or down. If that is the case, here is what you should do after you say, “Just a minute”
Practice getting further and further away from the door until you are able to have your dog move to the area where you will confine him.
When you are ready to confine your dog, you may need to go all the way into the area with him the first few times, so he doesn't think you are “tricking” him into getting locked outside or in another room. This is where the high-value treats will come in.
Go all the way into the confinement area or all the way outside with your dog then have a mark and treat party with the high-value rewards! Also, add lots of praise and fun talk at this point. You want your dog to think this is the most wonderful game in the world so when you add the doorbell, it is no big deal and he will head toward the confinement area. You can also do a food confetti party by tossing lots of food around as you leave. After you’ve successfully trained your dog to automatically go to the confinement area whenever someone comes to the door, you can offer a stuffed Kong or wonderful chew treat as you leave to keep him busy while you go to the door.
(Note: if you are working with more than one dog, it's important, that you only do this if you know they won’t fight over these things).
Raising the Bar
Now we add the third and final triggering event, the sound of the doorbell ringing. Of all the triggers, this is the one your dog is most likely to have developed a strong association between hearing the sound and reacting in a way that you do not like! You need to make sure that you have completed the above steps successfully.
Your dog should be able to demonstrate the appropriate response to the “just a minute" cue, i.e., he moves away from the door and goes to the place you have designated for him to wait. Now, what you need to do is pair the verbal cue with the doorbell so he will respond appropriately when the doorbell rings.
Step 9 - Without opening the door, pair the doorbell ring with the "Just a minute" cue
Eventually you will need a helper stationed outside who will be the doorbell ringer. After your helper rings the doorbell, walk to the front door, touch the doorknob, and say “Just a minute.“
Move your dog to the sit/down station or confinement area, and mark and treat when he completes the behaviour successfully.
At this point, don’t be surprised if your dog regresses a bit as adding the doorbell sound has raised the criteria significantly. Also, don’t worry if your dog barks during this phase, especially if he has always barked before when the doorbell rings. In fact you may always have a little barking with the doorbell before your dog moves to the confinement area or his station, but it often becomes limited as he learns what to do. He may also run back to the door as you move away, but hold your ground and wait until he comes back to the area where you stopped and then mark and treat. Be sure to do a number of reinforcements when he comes back to the right spot. Proceed as before with your sessions while ringing the doorbell and not opening the door. Keep repeating these same steps until you can see that the “just a minute” cue after the bell rings has your dog turning and moving toward his destination.
Step 10 - Practice and generalise with new people and opening the door
If your goal is to confine your dog, do so, then go back and invite your helper in after you have your dog in place to simulate someone actually coming in the house. To generalise this to different people, enlist several helpers to assist you with this final stage and explain that they may have to wait outside a few minutes as you work through this step.
If your dog is training to a mat and he is consistently moving there with ease after the bell rings, go back to the steps of just turning the door handle, and then opening the door a little, and so on just as you did before the doorbell was added. The only difference is that the doorbell now comes before all the other pieces. Continue until you can open the door and your guest is able to walk past you and your dog.
As always, have fun and keep your practice sessions short and lively leaving your dog keen for more next time!