Is your dog one of those dogs that goes crazy barking like a wild monster at the sight or sound of someone at the door? A lot of dogs become boisterous, loud monstrous little beasts when they hear a knock at the door or the familiar sound of the doorbell.
We will use Sargent as example. Sargent knows that sound means someone is at the door and feels totally justified in barking like a fanatical protector or he could be simply sounding off in glee at the prospect that someone is coming to visit. Either way, this is a familiar behavior seen with many dogs.
It is very easy to see how this can be dangerous or at the very least upsetting and aggravating to any visitors/company. Not to mention the potential disaster that could ensue, if Sargent is a runner and the door unfortunately opened.
There is a very common adage among trainers, to stop a bad behavior train an incompatible behavior. There are many examples of utilizing this tactic, but for the purpose for this article, it simply means Sargent can’t be barking like a maniac while resting calmly like a gentlemen.
We are going to train Sargent to lie quietly, while you answer the door.
I know that too many of you believe that this behavior seems way out of reach. Trust me it isn’t, we will just break the behavior down into little slices until all the components are realized.
Please understand that there are three prerequisites for this behavior:
1) is a solid down and
2) is solid stay
3) this is not really a prerequisite, but it is what works best is if you have a clicker and some high-value treats. If you don’t know clicker training, please go to the featured article on this site, and develop a working knowledge of the fabulous training tool.
First, you will need a mat or something similar that can be placed in any location that Sargent can retreat too, either on cue or at the sound of the door. Many people use a regular bath mat or even apiece of carpet with non-skid attached; if it is in your budget, buy Sargent a nice, comfortable bed to lay on.
Place the mat at a nice convenient, out of the way, place, but still within vision, so Sargent doesn’t feel like he is missing all the action; nothing will destroy a stay like Sargent not wanting to miss any of the action.
Get Sargent on lead and encourage him to stand on the mat, (well-placed treats on the mat, will do plenty in terms of encouragement). Once all four feet are on the mat, click and treat. Gradually move both you and Sargent back from the mat and begin to phase out that placed treat; just click/treat from your hand for each success of his hitting the mat.
When you are sure that Sargent knows what the mat is about and has connected it to the click/treat, it is time to raise the criteria. When he hits the mat, cue a down, and then click treat for the down. Remember, in the beginning, we are not doing the down stay, just give him the click/treat and praise for a nice compliant down.
So far, he knows to go the mat, and to down. Now once again, we raise the criteria by giving a down cue and waiting with a stay cue, so that he must hold the down on the mat for a few seconds to a couple of minutes before hearing the release sound of the clicker or your verbal OKAY good boy signifying that the exercise is finished.
At this point, we have slowly shaped the mat, the down, and the stay, and (hopefully) Sargent is fluent with each behavior. If not, go back to where he was fluent and start again from there.
Now is the time to put the behavior on a verbal cue. Use whatever words you like, it could be go to your bed, to your place, to your mat, or to your “whatever”;, the words do not matter, all that does matter is that you just pick something and stick to it.
Its time to raise the criteria once again with some lightweight distractions by throwing a toy, dropping a treat or just walking around, use your imagination and vary the distractions so he doesn’t get used to one specific thing.
Now we up the criteria once again by progressively adding more heavyweight distractions.
Get yourself a helper, someone who can act the part of a guest.
With Sargent on lead, you and Sargent are standing next to the mat. Your assistant is planted at the front door and without giving Sargent any cue that someone is there, the doorbell rings or there is a knock on the door.
No matter what Sargent’s reaction, (if he freaks out, just wait until he stops; he isn’t going anywhere, he is on lead) say his name, give the verbal cue that you chose for the behavior, and when he responds by hitting the mat with a nice down stay, click/treat and praise.
Once the entire routine is solid and he can do plenty of reps without incident. It is once again time and to raise the criteria for the very last time
Now we take Sargent off lead right next to the mat and when he gets solid doing it there, we start to slowly move away from the mat and toward the door. Now he has to actually turn around and go away from the door to get to the mat. Eventually you should be able to stand anywhere and under any distraction, just give the verbal cue, and expect Sargent to go to his place, lie down, and stay, in the face of any distraction
There you have it, the ways and means to make a mannerly gentleman out of Sargent, in the face of company.
Please don’t think that once he knows the behaviors, it is over. Not by a long shot, depending on the degree of habituation Sargent has experienced of going bonkers at the door, it may take, many many sessions with lots of distractions, to get proficient, but please take heart and have faith, it will get trained.
AFTER THOUGHT: if you like the idea of Sargent barking when someone is outside, allow him to bark, and praise him for barking. Then when you feel the time is right, give the verbal cue, go to your mat, and insist on quiet from him from that point on.