Even the best-behaved dog can become really excited when the door bell rings. After all it’s an absolute guarantee that something is going to happen! The owner will get up, the door will open and someone new may come into the house. Quite often, unwitting guests are treated to tumultuous barking, loud yelling from the owner telling the dog to be quiet, and maybe even paws pounding against the other side of the door. The visitor has no idea what sort of greeting he’ll receive once the door is open. He may be leapt at and covered with doggy slobber or torn limb from limb. It’s surprising many of them don’t make a run for it while they have the chance!
It’s important to have peace and quiet to greet your guests at the door so if you have this problem, try to anticipate it and recognise that the moment the doorbell actually rings is not the best time to try to train your dog.
The first thing to do is to calm yourself down. Your shouting will only serve to excite your dog even more.
If he will sit reliably, you can teach him to sit on a designated mat at the sound of the doorbell. Ringing the bell for a few minutes each day when no visitor is coming can also help to habituate your dog to the noise and make him less reactive. Once he reacts less it will be easier to teach him to go to his mat where you can reward him with a treat.
Enlisting the help of a patient visitor, you can train your dog to associate the arrival of someone new with treats, but only if he is sitting quietly. Ensure your visitor has a handful of treats and ask him to ring the doorbell. Send your dog to his mat, luring him there with treats if necessary, and open the door. If he leaps up, which he may well do initially, ask your guest to turn away from him and completely ignore him. Tell the dog to sit and ensure that he only receives the treat from the visitor once he is calm and all four paws are firmly on the ground. It may be useful to have him on a lead whilst training him, so that you have more control over his movements.
Of course, not all dogs are eager to see the door open in order to get some affection. Some will make a dash for freedom and still others may be more inclined to growl as well as bark at the strange intruders.
Training an alternative behaviour like sit or something similar can help the dog who may run out but also in general, ensure that he is not bored and gets plenty of exercise and stimulating toys to play with if he’s alone for periods of time.
With respect to the more aggressive dog, he needs to be helped to see that the arrival of visitors is a positive thing. Ask your visitor to be as non-threatening as possible towards the dog, in other words avoiding eye contact, not speaking to him and not reaching towards him or leaning over him in any way. Once the dog stops its threatening behaviour and becomes calm, a treat can be offered or even dropped on the floor if it is a safer option.
Other approaches include training your dog to go into another room when he hears the doorbell, where you have previously trained him to expect a reward. You’ll have to take him there to begin with and chose an appropriate command word so he comes to understand what you want him to do. Once he has relaxed you may then invite your visitor into the room to be with the dog and again ask him or her to ignore the dog.
For all training in which you offer treats as a reward, you can substitute a brief play with a favourite toy instead. Bear in mind that if you’ve asked your dog to sit on his mat with a toy in his mouth, he can’t then bark loudly even if he wanted to!