This article, from Modern Dog magazine online, is near and dear to my heart! After being with us for about a year (after 5 or 6 years as a Mom in a puppy mill) my dog Nikki decided that this really was her new home and she should protect it! (Or whatever it is dogs think about these things.) Since that time she has barked her fool head off whenever anyone comes to the door, including my husband! I have recently lessened the barking by using a technique similar to this article, by getting her to sit, giving her a biscuit and saying “in your bed!” (which she already knows, from treat-time).
Here’s the Q and A article – I think you’ll find it worthwhile to try this method! I actually met the author, Teoti Anderson, an expert trainer, at a Pet Sitting Conference last year!
Q: My Collie, Blue, goes crazy every time the doorbell rings. I would like to welcome guests without a round of insane barking. Help!
A: The doorbell is an exciting trigger for a dog. Think about how people react: everyone in the house jumps and dashes to the door. Blue is just joining in!
You can teach Blue to do something else you like better, such as getting a toy and lying down on his bed. I find this to be a more realistic alternative for boisterous dogs, rather than just asking them to lie quietly. Blue can chomp on the toy to “take the edge off” his energy, and it also helps muffle the barking.
First, pick one of Blue’s favourite toys. If he will already retrieve it on cue, practice this exercise. If not, you can teach him. Put the toy on the floor. Click and treat him for any attention to the toy. Gradually up the ante. When he is reliably looking at the toy, wait to click and treat him when he noses the toy. When he’s reliably nosing it, click and treat him for teeth on the toy. When he reliably takes the toy in his mouth, then add the cue, “Get your toy!”
Next, teach Blue to go lie down on his bed. Put the bed a comfortable distance from the door. Click and treat him for any attention to the bed, then for putting one foot on the bed, etc. When he’s reliably going to bed, add the cue, “Go to bed!” Combine the two cues. “Get your toy! Go to bed!” When Blue is reliably doing this, have someone knock at your door, then give Blue his cues. Click and treat for all success.
When Blue has this down pat, then you’re ready to add the doorbell. Your efforts will save you and your guests lots of headaches in the future.