As a trainer, I never discourage dogs from barking to alert you someone is at the door. In fact, I think alert-barking is useful because it lets the person at the door know you have a dog (which could be discouraging if an uninvited knocker has ill intentions). However, some dogs become so excited by the doorbell that it is extremely difficult to calm them, much less get them to hold a sit-stay so you can safely let your guests in.
With some dogs, extreme reactions to the doorbell may stem from territorial instincts. With others, the excitement may be related to an overblown desire to greet visitors. Either way, the trick to training a calmer response to the doorbell is the same – desensitizing the dog to the sound of the doorbell and then linking the doorbell to an alternate behavior. Here are a few tips for accomplishing this:
• Teach your dog the doorbell does not always signify a visitor. Arrange for a friend to ring your door bell and then hide. Open your door to let your dog see nobody is there. Then close the door. Repeat this many times (per day if possible).
• Teach your dog the doorbell precedes a treat. Once your dog begins to find the above step boring, ask your friend to ring the doorbell every ten to fifteen seconds. There is no need to open the door this time. Each time the bell rings, instantly produce a piece of the dog's favorite treat and pop it in his mouth. Make sure it is in his mouth before he has time to think about barking. Do this on a regular basis until the dog starts to look at you for a treat when he hears the doorbell.
• Start linking a desired behavior to the doorbell. Once your dog anticipates a treat when the doorbell rings, place a small rug or mat approximately ten or more feet from the door. This step requires some coordination between you and your doorbell-ringing assistant. Cell pones work great for this. Have your assistant ring the bell. Immediately produce a treat, quickly lure your dog to the mat, have him sit, and pop a treat in his mouth. Repeat this until the dog moves toward the mat at the sound of the doorbell.
This process may not keep your dog from barking at the sound of the doorbell. However, it should decrease the intensity of his reaction to a manageable level, redefine his understanding of what the doorbell means and give him a more manageable habit to engage in.
From here, you can require your dog to sit-stay on his mat until you answer the door. While beyond the scope of this article, teaching a sit-stay is best accomplished by incrementally increasing the distance you can move away from your dog before moving back to him to deliver the treat. Gradually build distance until you can answer the door and let your guests in.
About the author: Thomas Aaron is a certified dog training instructor and the owner of FetchMasters, LLC in Denver, Colorado. He is a strong advocate of positive reinforcement training, believing it provides the most humane path to a well-trained dog and nurtures an appropriate and strong bond between people and their dogs. He has trained hunting hounds since childhood and currently specializes in off-leash obedience training, behavior modification and positive gun dog training. FetchMasters.com