One of the most common reasons dog owners hire a dog trainer is to help calm down the frenzied behavior at the homeowner’s front door. A door is a literal threshold, and many dogs seemingly lose their minds at this threshold.
The time for training your dog to greet new people calmly is not just after the doorbell rings and there is a stranger at your door. Most dogs overreact to the ding-dong sound, as they know someone new and exciting or scary and dangerous is standing on the other side. The dog pairs the ding-dong sound with activity at the door. Whether your dog is opting to guard you when you don’t really need it or your dog is nearly knocking down your guest with enthusiasm, either approach is less than ideal and can be dangerous.
From a dog’s perspective, someone at the door can be really exciting or really scary. There is a new person to sniff and to get attention from or there is a potential threat to the homestead. If you were a dog and you spent most of your day indoors with little mental stimulation, boy-oh-boy is it exciting to hear that doorbell!
The very best time to train more preferred door behaviors is when the dog or puppy first comes into your home. If we teach a dog no other desired behaviors at the door, the dog chooses the ones that make the most sense to him.
I encourage clients to get a handheld remote doorbell device (on Amazon or at a hardware store) and use it to train the behavior you want first with no human on the other side of the door. The idea is to pair that ding-dong sound with a certain behavior from your dog. Many of my clients like training their dog to run to his bed when he hears that particular sound. Others have their dog sit and stay, and they build up those behaviors before working at the door. In other words, the ding-dong (or knock) can become the cue to sit, lie down, go to his bed or any behavior that is incompatible with rushing the door and mobbing your guests.
Now that you know you can and should train alternative door behaviors, what happens next — when the person moves across that important threshold from the door into your home? How your dog reacts to meeting new people out on a walk can give you some clues.
Here are top training words of advice:
Dogs need our guidance. They do not arrive on our doorstep understanding the ways of their human families. Keep in mind the idea of training an incompatible behavior and/or heavily reinforce the behaviors your dog offers that you do like, as that makes both species happy and on the same team.
Thumbnail: Photography by: ©Thomas Northcut | Getty Images
Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA, is a professional dog trainer based in Utah. She is a force-free trainer specializing in working with troubled dogs. She is the author of The Midnight Dog Walkers: Positive Training and Practical Advice for Living With a Reactive or Aggressive Dog. For more information, visit phenixdogs.com.