Chicago Paws Dog Training Blog

Covers positive reinforcement dog training strategies and tips. Jeff strongly believes that positive reinforcement training is the only option and he is a vocal critic of other methods. You can also find product and book reviews and clicker training tips.

How to stop your dog from barking at the doorbell

If your dog barks at the doorbell, the vacuum cleaner, noises in the hallway or other events in his environment, then you should work on desensitizing him to those noises. There are many reasons why it is important to work on barking problems including neighbor complaints, repeated anxiety for your dog, and the fact that barking is often a beginning indicator of territorial aggression. You can also read my post on barking out of the window or behind a door or fence, which can lead to barrier frustration.

The term desensitization describes working at at level that has no bearing on your dog's consciousness. If your dog is anxious during the exercises, he might eventually learn to be calm, but by definition, you are using the strategy of habituation, not desensitization. Habituation could backfire because a dog can start to generalize fear and actually become more reactive, not less. Some trainers use flooding for treatment, which I think is completely ridiculous. Flooding occurs if an animal is presented a level of stimulation that is too much and causes him to completely shut down.

In all of the exercises, I use a clicker, but if you don't have a clicker you can say, "yes" whenever I mention click and treat. You can mark the event by saying, "yes" and treating. I recommend the clicker in general, but especially for anxiety and aggression because the clicker is very consistent and the noise cuts through background noise in the environment.

Barking at the doorbell is very common. It is important to be aware that if your dog gets anxious when he hears the doorbell, this can escalate into territorial aggression. You should work on these exercises both when the events naturally happen and also do “setups” by having someone ring the bell or knock on the door when you are prepared.

One suggestion is to have each person that is coming home to call ahead so the person in the house can get prepared to do the exercises. Even if each person can ring the bell periodically for 30-60 seconds at a time while the person inside clicks and treats every time the doorbell rings. This will help your dog in two ways. First, each ring does not indicate that someone is at the front door, and then someone that he knows comes in the door after multiple rings. This can lessen the natural tendency to get anxious when strangers ring the bell.

There are a few strategies that you can use to lower the anxiety as well as redirect your dog's behavior to something more appropriate. These strategies can be used for noises in the hallway, knocking on the door, the doorbell or noises outside.

General Strategies

  • As soon as your dog orients towards a noise, but before he barks, Click and Treat
  • Put him on leash so he is not able to rush the door, and make sure you can get him to come to you when you call
  • As your dog gets more relaxed, start saying “Good boy, nice job” and then Click and Treat after a longer duration of the noise
  • The goal is to have him get used to the noise and redirect his normal pattern from: hear noise and bark, to: hear noise and be calm

Barking at the Doorbell Treatment Strategies

  • Have your dog on-leash. The time that your dog spends running towards the door barking can feed into his behavior and cause it to continue
  • Warm him up initially at the beginning of sessions, then do “cold trials”
  • Warm up – one ring, one treat with your dog right near the door, maybe even having him see you press the bell. You can say “Ready?” to give him even more of a hint that you are about to start “the game”.
  • Harder – you are farther away from the front door
  • Even harder – farther still where you try for two or three rings between treats. Say “Good Boy” after each bell and only click and treat (C/T) after the second or third ring
  • If you are stuck at any stage, go slower or back up to a previous level

Incompatible Behavior - Come When Called
This is another strategy that can be useful to stop barking. Make sure your dog is on leash, call your dog only once, and then gently pull your dog to you and reward him. You want to condition your dog to do the behavior quickly after the bell rings. Do not waste your time repeating the cue.

  • As soon as the bell rings, call your dog to you, while holding the leash
  • Call him even if he barks, and always gently pull your dog, no need to be rough
  • As you do more practice, have the treats in another room and call him into the room after the bell
  • If you do enough repetitions he will hear the bell and run to you and use his energy and tension in that manner instead of rushing the door

Desensitization to the Vacuum
It is important to introduce noises at a level that your dog does not react. If he reacts consistently to an event, he could generalize the fear to other events or it could get worse.

  • Break down the event into small increments
  • For instance, with the vacuum cleaner there is the sight of the vacuum, movement and noise
  • Keep the vacuum cleaner out and when he looks at it, Click and Treat
  • When he moves towards it, Click and Treat
  • Start moving it slowly and Click and Treat
  • Turn it on for one second and Click and Treat without moving it
  • When he is comfortable for a length of time, add movement while it is moving and continue the exercise
  • It is usually much more effective to work with two people and randomly turn it on and off in another room and reward him whenever it goes on and ignore him when it is turned off

Troubleshooting

  • Click and Treat BEFORE he barks
  • If the noise instantly causes your dog to bark, try and lower the intensity of the noise
  • Have your dog on leash so he can’t charge the door or the window
  • Do setups where you are prepared to do training so you can do a lot of repetition and control the level of the noise
  • Make the noise lower if your dog is anxious
  • Ideally your dog doesn't care at all about the noise
  • Increase the intensity as you do more training

Final Thought
Even though it may seem like slow progress, you will get to your goal faster if your dog is calm each session. I always say, "if it is boring you are doing it correctly", meaning that your dog ideally should not react the entire session.

Barking EBook
If you need more assistance, I have an informative barking EBook that you can purchase on my website. If you have separation anxiety issues as well you can purchase the Complete Guide to Barking and Separation Anxiety. You can purchase the dog training EBooks here.

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Friday, 17 November 2017

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