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Unruly Behavior at the Door

Dogs are easily over stimulated when you return home, when there is a knock at the door, the bell rings or someone new comes in. The excitement in the dogs' behavior is building with each step toward the persons' arrival. The most effective way to correct the behavior is to address it in steps. Dogs have excellent hearing. They are aware of the presence of someone coming to the door well before you are. They first become alert to the sound of a person arriving by car or by foot. Then, after the knock or bell, the person appears at the door, enters the house and then talks to the dog – sometimes its just all too much!

Plan Ahead - Start with placing a sign on your front door instructing visitors to ignore the dog (removing one stimulus). Example: "Please Ignore The Dog, He Is In Training" -- this provides an explanation without drawing attention to the dog.

It Starts With You - Each greeting should be used as an opportunity to practice the appropriate way for the dog to greet you and your guests. Keep treats in your car or your pocket. Do not give the dog any attention until he is calm. Turn away and ignore him if he jumps (because he is doing it for attention). and when he gets off, say" off" and drop a treat on the floor. The dog is learning what "off "means and the treat provides positive reinforcement while keeping him off. Since you most likely need to take care of the dogs' toilet needs as soon as you get home, do so with as little interaction as possible. Greet the dog only when he is calm.

Doorbell/Knock Game - This is a counter-conditioning exercise for unruly behavior at the door & preliminary to sit/ stay at the door. Reach out and ring bell or knock on the front door. Have food on hand. When the dog runs to the door, show food and say, "sit.” When the dog sits, praise, say, "free", (meaning the dog is "free" from the command). Throw the food away from the door. This enables you to ring or knock again and repeat the exercise. Repeat this exercise a number of times. Progress by adding a familiar person at the door. The person should ignore the dog until they enter and the dog is calm.

Sit/Stay at the Door - This exercise should be done after practicing the doorbell/knock game and when the dog has learned sit and stay. Don't set the dog up to fail by expecting him to stay too long at first. Take his first sign of cooperating as time to praise and release him from command and gradually build on it.

  • First start by ringing the doorbell with no one there. Bring the dog to the door on leash (or long tether). You should be closer to the door than the dog.
  • Have the dog sit at your left side, an arm distance from the door. Say "stay", and use the stay hand signal the dog has learned. Hold the leash up alongside the dogs' right ear; make sure it is loose, not too tight (the dog must choose to stay, there not be held there).
  • Open the door. If the dog goes to get up, use a leash correction (straight up with your left hand) and say " no", and start again. If the dog stays in position, praise and treat. Then use his "release word" ("free") to release him from command.
  • Practice this as often as necessary for the dog to maintain the sit position while you open the door. Then gradually add the following distractions;
  • Act as though you are greeting someone.
  • Have all family members knock or ring and act as company instead of walking in. The person handling the dog should be the only one interacting with him.
  • After the dog has maintained the position, when people he sees all the time enter, have him “stay” while they greet him. They should not pet him or use his name (when a dog hears his name he has a tendency to move). Repeat the above steps with people the dog doesn't usually see.

Re-active Greeting

Dogs are social animals and have a natural instinct to investigate everything they see. The inability to act on this instinct due to constant confinement behind a window, a gate or a door can lead to "Barrier Frustration." The dog becomes agitated or re-active when someone goes by or enters the house. People often mistake this for "protective" behavior. To avoid this, make sure to socialize the dog by providing regular exercise and exposure to the world outside of your home.

If the dog is fearful or anxious, use music to calm him. When you are alone relaxing, repeatedly play a soothing selection of music. You will be building a positive association with this music and it will begin to calm the dog whenever he hears it. Once the association is established, play this music whenever you have guests.

Keep leash or a light piece of cord (a tether) attached to the dogs collar whenever you are home. Your goal will be to eventually have the dog “sit” and “stay” at the door. Until then, try different ways to have your dog greet guests.

Your guests should ignore the dog. Ignoring the dog provides "calming signals," sending a message that you are not going to be confrontational in any way so the dog can relax.

  • Have your guests alert you of their arrival without coming to the door (honk the car horn or call). Bring the dog outside on a leash while you greet the person. Enter the house together. Keep the dog on a leash.

With each method of greeting, once everyone is settled and you are comfortable with the dogs' behavior, drop the leash. Praise the dog for appropriate behavior and eventually have your guest give the dog treats without making eye contact.

  • Put the dog in the yard or a room with music where the dog cannot hear or see your guests arrive. After your guests are settled, bring the dog in on a leash. You can help make the presence of the guest a positive experience by creating a trail of different treats that get better as the dog gets closer to the person.
  • Have your dog behind a gate where he can see your guests and become accustomed to their presence. When the dog is calm, bring him out on a leash.

In each case keep the leash on the dog at all times and be especially cautious of the dogs reaction when people get up to move about.

As long as there is no sign of aggressive behavior, you can also try the "Jolly Routine." Each time the doorbell rings get happy and excited and give the dog a special toy he only sees at this time.


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