All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Barking at the Doorbell (or knocking)!

Dear Marie,
My three dogs go nuts each an every time someone comes to the door and knocks or rings the bell. I'm not talking a little, "Hey, there's someone at the door," kind of bark. I mean ferocious, "I want to eat them," barking! I yell (so they can hear me over their barking) and tell them to quiet down, and I pull them away from the door, but they just won't stop. You should know, though, that as soon as I open the door and talk to whoever it is, they are fine. They are not aggressive at all. But they have intimidated a lot of visitors with their doorbell barking. I don't know what to do. They are like a barking super-ensemble; as a group, they are unstoppable. Do you have any thoughts on how I can get them to behave? Thanks, Monique

Dear Monique,
Your problem-barkers are part of a larger canine crowd. Next to house-training troubles, this is one of the most common behavioral difficulties I hear about from readers. You will be happy to know that it is also one of the easiest issues to resolve, and can probably be dealt with in just a few days. So, I would recommend making this weekend your designated training time. Or if you have a more unconventional work schedule, try to find a block of time where you can be home for a couple of days to do some repetitive work with your dogs.

As you have learned, yelling at your canine companions and using your brute strength to pull them away from the situation is not very effective. If anything, it just adds to their frantic energy. Instead, you must create an environment of calm that prevails whenever the doorbell rings, or there is a knock on the door.

First, enlist the assistance of a family member or friend. Have that person walk up to the door while you are seated in a comfy chair reading the newspaper or pretending to sleep. Your accomplice should then knock or ring the doorbell. As soon as your dogs get into bark-mode, quietly and calmly tell them to "shush" and then toss a few treats to the other side of the room. If they go there, tell them they are good dogs, and then put them on "Sit-Stay," give them another treat, and then go answer the door. Hopefully they know basic obedience; if not, you need to take care of that before you do anything else.

Repeat this routine over and over again, until your dogs start going to the designated "treat spot" without any treats getting tossed. Begin to exchange treats for praise and petting; but always make sure they are in "Sit-Stay" before you answer the door.

Mix up the training a bit. Have your partner ring the bell every 10 seconds or so, while you remain in the "treat area." As soon as the bell rings (or there is a knock), tell your dogs to sit, and if they remain with you, and do as they're told, give them a treat. (You don't need to answer the door – you are just desensitizing them to the doorbell.) Pretty soon they will begin to associate doorbell/knocking sounds with this training, and if all goes well, they will move to the designated spot and put themselves on "Sit-Stay" without you even asking.

This takes a lot of repetition, but as it becomes clear that your dogs are getting the idea, you can take a little break and ask your partner to assist you later. Your dogs will probably forget some of their training in a few hours, but it will come back quickly once you follow-up with them; and by the end of the weekend, you should be able to have anyone walk up to your door, knock or ring the bell, and hear nothing from your dogs.

It's always good to add a little refresher training as time goes by so your dogs don't fall back into bad habits. But you know your dogs best, and should be able to gauge what's needed. Just remember, any time you ask your pets to do anything, you should always praise them when they do. Animals are a lot like people on that front, a kind word and a pat on the back goes a long way.

Good luck.