There is a knock at the door and you prepare yourself for the onslaught of frenzy barking. One starts, then the next and the next until you think that you might go crazy. Perhaps there is added in a scramble to the door and general chaos as well. Door barking can become an issue quickly if you do not nip it in the bud. I am at the nipping stage myself. Although I am lucky that I don't have barking issues I do have over excited door greetings from our new girl. A good problem but one that needs attending to.
What do you do if you have a dog or dogs that barking non stop when people come over? They bark so bad that people stop coming over and you are at your wits end. First you must look at your relationship, the relationship between you and your dogs. Who is the boss? I know you think you are but are you really? Who makes the rules? Does your dog go to the cookie cupboard and you deliver the goods? Do they bark at you at meal time and you get up off the couch and go get dinner ready? Do they nudge and paw at you and you oblige with the massage? It can be tough to admit but many people are not the master of their domain.
Being the boss means that you deal with everything, yes the dogs can bark to tell you that someone is at the door but you take it from there. Having a boundary and not allowing them to cross it when someone comes in really helps. Taking away the job that they have taken on as door greeter is essential. It is not their job to answer the door and deal with whoever is at the door. It is your job. Many dogs don't want the job but because the owner has not taken it on they feel obliged to do so. If a dog is fearful or apprehensive this can cause a huge problem with overly aggressive behavior due to an apprehensive dog.
If your dog has been a crazed door barker for a long time you cannot simply say, okay today this stops. It is ingrained in their day to day, you must give them an alternative. If you have more than one dog you have to start working with one at a time until they get the general idea, then put them together to work on it. You cannot expect to get through to a charging pack of dogs who have habitually barked in a frenzied pack over time. You must teach each dog separately so that you have some sort of possibility of success.
But the biggest and most important factor to work on is yourself. So many people become frenzied themselves by the crazed barking. Yelling at the dogs, pushing and pulling that they are themselves creating a more frenzied atmosphere. Staying calm, cool and collected during a frenzied situation can be tough but it is a must. Dogs watch us and if we are acting crazed then they think that there is a reason.
Here is an example that is going on at my house: As I have said before, my office is at the front of my home, Elsa watches out the window during the day. As day to day passes by our window she is watching. Every so often she starts to bark, a little bit of barking I allow. If it continues I ask her to stop, if she does then she gets a treat and I will continue to praise her as the object of her barking passes by. If she does not stop I calmly get out of my chair and usher her out of the room. She is not allowed back in until she calms herself. Note: I said I calmly. If I got all freaked out and yelled and pushed I would fuel the situation.
So the training starts with one dog. You need someone outside to knock on the door or ring the doorbell. As the first couple of barks are out you say "STOP," calmly but loud enough to be heard. If you get a fraction of a second of quiet, reward it. Use whatever your dog thinks is fabulous food, if they don't like food use a tennis ball and toss it for a reward. If you can, toss the treat back behind your dog so that they have to go get it. This helps to load "quiet" time. You then go to the door, open it, and then close it. If your dog has remained quiet the whole time then you should have been tossing treats the whole time.
Once you start to get some quiet you must quickly extend the length of time for quiet before rewarding. If your dog barks and you say stop, they get a treat and bark again immediately then you can actually teach them to bark more. To get some time in between "stop" and the treat use redirection. You can go from treats in your pocket to start with and then move to getting treats in the kitchen. The act of going to the kitchen once your dog is quiet adds more quiet time. You can fill quiet time with praise as well once you are building and asking for more quiet time between the initial "stop" and reward.
Not only are you rewarding your dog for being quiet, you are also creating a "positive" association to someone being at the door. There are many things that you can do with over exuberant door barkers. Teaching a "place" exercise is a great assistance to the problem. Someone rings the bell and they are trained to go to a certain rug or area, there they receive their treats. It becomes a good habit instead of bad. A boundary away from the door is also a big help. Dogs are not in charge of answering the door and dealing with whoever might be behind it, we are. The boundary enforces this way of life.
Barking is not all bad, when it becomes annoying is when we cannot stop it. Stopping it is one thing but giving your dog an alternative action is another. Some dogs don't know that there is another option other than frenzied barking, they've never tried it. You can teach them that quiet is an option and one that will be rewarded. If your dog is food motivated it can wield a great deal of power. Use it.
You can also help with door issues by simply desensitizing your door. This means that a knock on the door or door bell ring does not always mean that someone is behind it. If you do it during the day and then do not react to it, you will slowly desensitize it. If you have a willing neighbor who will help you out for a couple of weeks have them come by and simply ring the door bell and walk away. Knowing that it was just your helpful neighbor you ignore it and go about your business. If you have a pack of frenzied barkers when the doorbell is wrung, involve them in something fun out back. You need to switch it up, change the meaning of the doorbell or knocking at the door.
By no means is this an easy task once it has been ingrained in your dogs day to day. It becomes an instant reaction to a simple action. If you are serious about changing the behavior then the first step is saying to yourself "I can do this." You are in charge, not the dog or dogs. You are the boss and no matter how cute that little munchkin is, he/she is a dog and you are the rule maker of the dogs. I often find myself saying "I'm not having this," as my guys start to join in with some neighborhood frenzied barkers. I just won't have it. Perhaps it's okay with the neighbors who live with the frenzied barkers but not in my house.
Take it one step at a time, even the smallest fraction of quiet is a success, reward it. As you reward the small successes they will grow. The goal is to extend the time between when you say "stop" and they are rewarded. It must be done fairly quickly or you will end up rewarding for more barking. Dogs are smart, far smarter than most people think so ask for longer lengths of quiet as soon as you start to get some quiet. Promoting barking can cause a great deal of problems down the road, stop it now.