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Training your dog not to bark when the doorbell rings

August 1, 2011 -

Knock, Knock!  Who’s there?   

Barking dog!  That’s who.  As you know from my last post, we recently moved.  This new neighborhood has a ton of friendly neighbors that just like to stop by.  This new house also has a doorbell.  Kyra learned very quickly what the doorbell means – intruder!!

I have lived alone most of the years I’ve had Kyra.  Because of that, I haven’t minded her barking and carrying on at the door because it’s a great deterrent.  Now that I live in a neighborhood where everyone stops by and I don’t need her so much for protection, I decided I needed to teach her some better door manners.  It’s not easy to undo 10 years of habit, I’ll tell you that.

I decided that when the doorbell rings I want her to go to a designated spot and sit/stay there, quietly, until released.  Determining exactly what I want her to do, rather than what I don’t want her to do, is an important part of the process.  We are nowhere near to the finished behavior, but I thought I’d give you an update in case you wanted to start the process yourself.  Here are the steps I’ve taken so far:

    •    Practice her sit/stay in the designated spot while I go open the front door.  That was EASY!
    •    Same as above, although this time I pretend to talk to someone.  That was HARD!  Actually, if I spoke in a monotone voice she didn’t care at all; however, if I spoke like I really do when I say “hello” she immediately barked and ran to the door.  With some practice she is now able to remain in the sit/stay with minimum anxiety and barking when I pretend to talk to someone.
    •    Separate of the above to steps I started a plan to desensitize her to the doorbell ringing.  The first time the doorbell rang and she saw a workman on the other side of the door, her mind was made up.  Doorbell definitely equals intruder!  Changing her association is done through classical conditioning and it feels very counter-intuitive and wrong.  Let me explain… I want her to think doorbell=food.  To make this association I have to ring the doorbell and then before she barks give her a treat.  I can do that most of the time.  However, if I ring the doorbell and she barks before I get the treat to her I still have to give her the treat – even though she barked.  Do you know how hard that is for a trainer?  Although I imagine it would be near impossible for an uninformed owner.  It seems as though I’m rewarding bad behavior, but I’m not.  The more sessions we do of doorbell=food the less likely she’ll be to bark because the doorbell will be taking on a different meaning.  And I know this is true because we’ve done numerous sessions and she’s almost to no barking, even on the first ring!

That’s as far as we’ve gotten for now.  A combination of laziness and not wanting to let the 100 degree heat in (while I hold the door open to ring the bell) has prevented me from doing too many sessions.  We do this about twice a week and she’s doing well, but not good enough to go on to the next step.  My next step will be having her stay while I walk to the door, open it, and ring the bell (so it takes me longer to get the food to her). 

Interesting side note:  After the first session when Kyra was doing pretty good, my boyfriend asked if I wanted him to sneak out the garage, go the front door and ring the bell.  NO!!  He said, “Don’t you want to test it?”  You see, that’s the difference between a professional trainer and your average Pet Parent.  A trainer knows that you don’t “test” things too early.  The behavior needs to be rock solid and you need to be positive of how the dog will respond before you “test” something.  Once you’re at that point, a trainer calls it “proofing” the behavior   My boyfriend can’t wait to help me “proof” it!

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