Why do dogs bark at the front door?
Your dog may be excited to greet visitors or alerting you that someone is arriving. They may have an urge to guard their home or they may be startled and afraid of an unexpected sound. Some dogs have just copied another dog in the family! This was the case with my youngest dog Lawrence who only just managed to hone this particular behaviour before my oldest dog, the barker in the family, sadly passed away. And we are just about managing the legacy behaviour but it’s taken a bit of strategy and patience!
Most dogs who bark at the door have learned that a knock or a door bell means something is going to happen for them e.g. greeting. If, every time the doorbell went absolutely nothing happened for them they would likely gradually habituate to this noise like most dogs habituate to everyday household noises like a toilet flush or a washing machine on spin. The problem is often that when they are puppies and we are anxious for them to meet lots of visitors, we end up teaching them that a doorbell means visitors or excitement or some sort of other stimulus for them.
What can you do about it?
The first thing is to double check what exactly is going on. Does your dog run towards the door in an excited, happy, frenzy or do they run away from it? Do they ‘trigger’ to the sound of a door bell, a door knock and keys in the door in the same way? What about if you play the sound of different doorbells on your phone? Do they carry on barking at visitors as they arrive? Is it all visitors? It's thoroughly worthwhile to get a bit of professional help at this stage ... sometimes its hard to really 'see' what is going on when it is your 'everyday'.
First things first, don’t yell or raise your voice. If you raise your voice you are setting the wrong example to you are dog: you are “joining in”! Your dog will think that they are on the right track with barking because their owner is also clearly anxious and getting loud.
Next, keep dog below their threshold of anxiety and reaction for 3 – 5 days before any training. This sounds hard but here are some ideas to manage the practicalities:
This last point is important. If your dog has access to the front door during the day at the moment, then it would be worth considering moving them toward the back of the house so they are less aware of post coming through the letter box and can’t see visitors arriving. Make sure your dog has their own ‘safe space’ to retreat to …. This is their space where they have their food and treats and toys. If you don’t have this at the moment feel free to message me, and see the video at the bottom of this blog.
Finally, you are going to need to stop inadvertently rewarding your dog for barking at the front door. In fact, for a while, it would be better if the front door, visitors and doorbells were simply something that did not involve them. All the training in the world won’t work if every so often they bark like crazy at the front door and then they are rewarded by the stimulus, sights, sounds, of visitors.
There are two very different aspects to the training we need to do here:
1.Training an alternative behaviour
I'd recommend training a down stay on their mat or bed. You’ll need a training plan and I’d thoroughly recommend getting a bit of support with this bit. You’ll need to spread the training out into very short fun sessions over a few weeks. For a down stay to help us with this issue you’re going to need to make sure that it’s ‘proofed’ against distractions and that it works at a distance and for some duration. These are all things you can practice at home. It’s better to add these aspects in separately first and keep your training super positive with lots of treats on their mat or bed when they hold their stay.
Here are some ideas to practice.
Distractions – try turning in a circle, bending down to tie your show or doing a star jumps near to them. Start moving slowly and give lots of rewards. See if you can walk around them. Try playing some interesting sound effects on your phone or dropping a toy near them while they are in a stay. Move on to rolling a toy passed them while they are in a stay. You might even add in the distraction of a doorbell noise on your phone or the sound of the door of the fridge being opened or moving their food bowls.
Distance – try moving away from them a short distance and return and give them a treat. Very gradually increase the distance that you move away until you are out of sight for a moment. You keep yo-yoing back in to give them a treat so its all fairly quick and fun. Work towards being out of sight for a minute or two.
Duration – gradually increase the duration of the stay while they are next to you on their bed. If you are watching the TV or working you can put the bed by you and keep rewarding them with a treat between their paws on the bed every few seconds or minutes as they improve. Work towards a 5 minute calm stay.
This is often a tricky one to work with. For desensitisation to work we need to be able to control the amount of the stimulus of the door knock/bell so that we can start in a really small way. You need the sound of the doorbell or knock to be so quiet that although the dog may notice he or she doesn’t react. You may need to get creative. I’m directly working on this with my youngest dog and here are my tips:
It’s critical you start in such a small way that your dog is able to notice AND to stay relaxed. Repeat the stimulus 5 or 6 times and if they are able to do this you can give them a treat or a play with their toy. At your next session you can increase the level of the stimulus slightly.
Once you and your dog have a consistently good down stay on their mat or bed you can start to combine the desensitisation and the down stays by having pretend and then actual practice visitor sessions. You should be able to leave your dog in a down stay on the mat and go and ring the door bell yourself and come back and reward them before you move on to real visitors.
Remember that there is help available and this is just a phase that you and your dog are going through.
I'm absolutely delighted to announce that I'm now a full behaviourist member of the International Companion Animal Network (ICAN) as well as the Association of INTOdogs!
INTODogs are a members-only organisation for Dog Trainers, Behaviourists and other dog professionals, promoting positive, kind methods in order to enhance the quality of life for owners and dogs. INTODogs also promotes the highest standards of professional conduct. These are both a really good match for my own ethos and my aims in setting up Harmony Professional Dog Training.
For you, our customers, this means that you can relax and know that you are in a safe pair of hands with an INTODogs professional! You know that we maintain the highest professional and ethical standards AND that we keep the welfare of your dog central to our work. You can also rest assured that we keep abreast of continually with new regulations and teachings.
ICAN is an umbrella organisation which sets and maintains high standards within what is currently an unregulated industry. Anyone can currently call themselves a trainer or a behaviourist regardless of their experience or theoretical knowledge. ICAN are putting welfare first and bringing high standards, cooperation and unity to the industry.
It gives me great pleasure to be both a behaviourist and a trainer member of both organisations.
Find out more here
A staggering 80% of you have dogs who pull on the lead at least some of the time! For most dogs they can walk with a loose lead in some situations, often not the ones that matter to you the most. So first, take a look at what’s really going, even ask someone to video for you. It’s often good to check out if they can walk on the lead in the house as many can do this. What about as you leave the front door, the whole time you are out or is it just if there is a really good distraction. Is their lead walking just as difficult in a town centre as at the park?
You’ll need to put together a practical training plan and allow yourself a few weeks to start notching up some successes. Remember that your dog may have spent weeks, months or years learning to pull so we need to allow ourselves some time to relearn this life skill. This is where a professional consultation can be really helpful, they can help manage our progress through specific stepping stones and also manage our expectations! Here are my seven secrets to unlock a perfect loose lead walk!
1 - Stop stepping forward when they pull
is to make sure that you no longer allow the pulling to be rewarded by you taking a step forward. So, if they pull you stop until the lead pressure has reduced. In fact, pulling stops the walk. You’ll need to be careful here because you may find that you have actually got quite used to all the pulling too!
2 – Practice little and often
This is a new skill and a hard one at that. So practice for two or three lots of fifteen minutes a day only for the first couple of weeks. If your dog is particularly hyped at the start of a walk, perhaps because he has been home alone during the day, then you may want to go out in the car for some off lead running or alternatively some training or extra enrichment at home.
3 – Practice in a new environment
Some dogs will have become used to always behaving in a certain way in a particular environment. So if you have an entrenched steam train style puller then starting the training on a different footpath or park can help your dog to realise that you are doing something new
4 - Consider your equipment
Consider changing your walking equipment! If your dog has never walked in a harness before then this change may also help them realise that you are doing something new. It’s also worth remembering that if your dog is pulling on their collar they may be at risk of damaging themselves. Head collar’s can make your dog more sensitive to lead pressure and slow them down, but many dogs find them really uncomfortable so they need to be introduced in a very slow and positive way.
5 – Prepare to reward your dog for their small successes
This will involve lots and lots of tasty treats to start with because really High Value Rewards for the dog help them to remember and repeat a particular behaviour. You may want to use some of your dogs daily food allowance by the amount of the kibble that we want to use in the training session. If the dog isn’t particularly motivated by kibble to start with then reduce the previous meal but use fresh food like hotdog, sausages or cheese cut into tiny treats. All this can feel a bit over the top especially if you are actually a bit annoyed with your dog in the first place. I remember not really believing that they deserved all these treats because they were the ones not doing what they should be!
6 – Teach your dog to ‘look’
Teaching your dog to look at you is a really useful trick. Dogs often forget where you are and some forget that you are on the end of the lead altogether! So, teach them to ‘look’ by lifting a treat from their nose up towards your eyes and then rewarding them when they make eye contact. It can be worth getting some professional help to make sure you get your timing right here.
7 – ‘Lure’ your dog into a few steps of loose lead walking
Finally lure your dog into walking to heel first of all (if necessary) by holding a treat a nose height between thumb and forefinger in the palm of the hand and stepping forward for three to five steps as they nuzzle the treat. When you’ve practiced this a few times then break up the stepping to heel with sits and downs. Concentrating on this new behaviour is hard so lots of sits and downs help to give them a little break.
You can now gradually increase the number of steps between treats and if they get it wrong you can use your ‘look’ command to get them to look back at you. You'll need to build up their endurance slowly and then vary the locations and distractions that you use.
Your dog’s pulling behaviour has taken a long time to be learned by your dog, so good, positive practice is essential. Entrenched pulling can result in neck injuries and so this effort now is thoroughly worthwhile. Enrolling in a training class is a good opportunity to practice this new behaviour in a new setting and around new dogs. To kick off though I'd thoroughly recommend working with a professional. Contact me now for a 121 consultation on email@example.com or call 01462 504722.
If your dog is pulling like a steam train it can make your morning walk stressful for you both. It certainly used to cross my mind that this wasn't how I imagined it would be when I first brought my beautiful puppy home! Often you may find you pull them back to you and that helps for a bit, but before you know it they are back at the end of the lead and there seems nothing you can do but be towed along.
Which of these seem right to you? My dog pulls on the lead because ....
There are lots of reasons that a dog may start pulling on the lead and it could be all of the above! Most mid-sized and larger dogs will naturally walk faster than most humans, so our poor dogs have to learn to walk more slowly! This may be a new and frustrating concept for some of them!
This is coupled with the practical issue that once your dog is ahead of you and the lead is loose they may forget where you are anyway.
Unfortunately, rushing ahead of the owner is often a "self-rewarding behaviour". Pulling towards another dog/lamp post/bit of litter means that they get there sooner. They pull and the owner steps forward. Any behaviour that is rewarding is likely to keep happening and this is where the problem really begins. Your dog starts to remember that this is a good strategy to use next time they are frustrated by your slower pace of walking and your dog is eager to get to a good smell ahead of them.
Isn't it uncomfortable for them? Yes it is! And it can cause permanent damage if they are pulling hard on a traditional collar. The problem is that they become habituated to any discomfort over time. Some breeds have a genetic predisposition to pulling and may actually enjoy it for its own sake, whilst others who are a little anxious may get comfort from knowing exactly where their owner is from the feeling of tension on the lead.
Luckily you can rest assured that you are not alone. I've certainly been there at various times with all three of my dogs!!! There are luckily lots and lots of ways we can change this behaviour which I will cover in my next post.