Through my experience as a dog trainer I have learned that people are often embarrassed by their dog's behavior at the door when visitors arrive. I have worked with a number of clients whose dogs behave terribly when someone knocks on the door or rings the doorbell. Their dogs have reacted in many different ways. Some were overly friendly and excited to have company while others would growl or bark.
In fact, over the years, I have seen very few dogs that do not go crazy when visitors arrive. When you think about it, knocks at the door and a ringing doorbell are cues; the same thing happens every time we hear them. We get up and rush to the door and our kids even run to the door to see who is there. Based on our reactions our dogs learn that it is something to be excited about. When dogs react in this way it is common for owners to grab their collar, shake a can of coins, or spray them with water from a bottle. These methods are ineffective and do nothing more than prompt dogs to react to the doorbell even more because they are now learning that something bad will happen every time the doorbell rings.
Preparing to Train Your Dog
Knowing that this is such a predictable cue, the challenge is to keep our dogs from becoming overly excited or upset when someone knocks on our door or rings our doorbell. In my opinion, one of the best methods you can use to change your dog's reaction to visitors at the door is to teach them an alternative behavior, such as going to a special place. This is not only one of the easiest behaviors to teach it is also a fairly simple behavior for your dog to learn as long as you take the time to work with your dog.
In order to be prepared to teach your dog this new behavior one of the first things you will want to do is have some really high value treats readily available. I have learned to place treats in different places around the house so I can grab some when I need them. Once you have your treats ready you will need to decide where you want your dog to go when he hears the doorbell or knock. One suggestion, and what I do, is to place a dog bed about ten feet from the door. This will put your dog in a place where he can see the door and will allow you to be close enough to give him treats when needed.
Use "Pretend" Visitors to Train Your Dog
Once you are prepared with your treats and a special place for your dog, ring the doorbell or knock on the door. When your dog reacts, lure him over to his place and give him a treat. At this point it is not important for him to stay there. At first, all that you are trying to teach him is to go to this place when the doorbell rings. You will want to practice this until he goes to his place on his own approximately 90% of the time when he hears the doorbell or knock.
As he starts to understand that going to his special place is what he is to do when he hears the doorbell or a knock, you will then want to teach him to lie down once he gets there. To teach this, ring the doorbell, but this time when your dog goes to his bed or special place you want him to lie down before giving him the treat. He should pick this up a little quicker and should start to go to his special place and lie down on his own as soon as he hears the doorbell or knock.
Next, it is time to teach him to stay in his special place while you go to answer the door. This process should be taught in increments. First, ring the bell and when he goes to his special place and lays down, tell him to stay. Next, take a step back before approaching him to give him the treat. Do this until you can count to ten once you've stepped back, making sure he is staying put the entire time. Once he's mastered this, try it again, but take two steps back this time. The idea is to build up the time and distance slowly. As you increase the distance or steps back, decrease the time before a treat is given.
Have a Friend Help Train Your Dog
The next and final step is to have him stay on his bed or in his special place while you open the door and actually let your visitors in. I usually ask a friend or family member to help and have them ring the doorbell or knock on the door. Once your dog is on his bed or in his special place, treat him, ask him to stay, and walk over to the door and open it. If you practiced the above steps thoroughly your dog should stay in his place the whole time. You can also teach him to stay there while your guest walks over to give him a treat for being such a good dog!
Remember to keep the training consistent and make it fun. You will be amazed how quickly your dog will learn to go to his place when he hears the doorbell or a knock on the door.
-- Article by Pet Care Expert, Rick Touhey
About the Author: Rick Touhey is a professional dog trainer with expertise in obedience training, dog behavior and pet products. He earned his certification through Animal Behavior College. His education and experience have provided him the skills required to effectively and humanely train your dog while keeping alive that special bond that makes your dog so special to you. For information on trainer recommended products, visit http://www.petcollarshop.com or http://www.pawsitivek9.net for training information.