Q: My dog gets really excited when someone comes to the door. How can I get her to greet the visitor appropriately without barking and jumping?
A: This question has two big things to address – the sound of the doorbell or knocking and the actual person coming through the door.
To get Fluffy used to the sound of the doorbell or knocking (whichever is more common for you), we need to desensitize her to the noise. Until now, every time she’s heard that magic sound, a visitor has shortly after come through the door, and Fluffy has responded with abounding excitement. To desensitize her to the sound, we’re going to help Fluffy associate it with her favorite reward and her assigned “spot” (bed, kennel, rug, etc.) to wait. This task will require two people: one person will go outside the door and be the “visitor” ringing the bell or knocking while the other person (the “handler”) will work with Fluffy inside.
- The handler should have in hand Fluffy’s most valuable reward – a delicious treat, her favorite toy, a Kong toy with peanut butter – whatever she loves the most.
- The visitor is responsible for providing the distraction – ringing the doorbell or knocking on the door.
- When the handler hears the distraction, she should get Fluffy’s attention with the reward, lure her to her spot, and give her the reward for ignoring the sound and focusing on the handler. Remember, she only gets the reward when she is quiet, ignoring the sound, and staying on her spot. At first, the visitor doesn’t need to enter the home; we’re just working on the sound.
As Fluffy becomes desensitized to the sound, she’ll start to go to her spot and wait for her reward simply at the sound of the bell or knock. At that point, we knows she’s associating the noise with something other than a visitor, and we can start inviting the visitor into the home.
- When the visitor is entering the home, continue to reinforce Fluffy’s staying on her spot with the reward.
- As long as she is calm, the handler can release her from her spot to greet the visitor.
- If she gets over-excited, the visitor should ignore Fluffy, and the handler should lure her back to her spot with the reward. She only gets to greet the visitor in a polite manner – quietly with her feet on the floor.
It’s important to remember that desensitizing a dog from anything takes times. Consistent and frequent practice is essential for success. I recommend practicing three to four times a day for about ten minutes each time. Longer sessions can frustrate both the dog and the handler, making training more difficult. In addition, remember Fluffy will respond to everyone coming through the door in the same manner. If she’s allowed to jump up on and bark at her human pack members, she’ll assume that’s ok for visitors too. Consistency and structure are key!
by Jodi Hoyt, Hoyt Consulting