Dinner parties, trick-or-treaters, or package delivery can all be downright scary for dogs. Think of it from their perspective: the doorbell rings, and chances are that a stranger is about to encroach on their territory. (On Halloween, it might even be a bunch of small people in masks!)
Read on to learn why dogs bark at the doorbell and how you can help stop the behavior. (And if your dog is really having a hard time, like, say, on Halloween or a big party you’re throwing, you can always give him a break with a stay at a local pet sitter.)
Why Your Dog is Scared of the Doorbell
Let’s start by investigating the reason behind your dog’s doorbell dilemma. Some dogs are simply startled by loud noises. Doorbells are designed to be loud enough for humans to hear over the noise of the household, and their sudden ding-donging can be startling to dogs with sensitive hearing.
Excessive barking can be a sign of stress, along with these other common fear signals in dogs:
- Ears pulled back
- Tail low and/or back between the legs
- Shaking, pacing, or spinning
- Head lowering or turning away
If your dog exhibits any of these behaviors when the doorbell rings, chances are, she’s afraid of the sound.
Why Dogs Bark at the Door
Not all doorbell barkers are scared! Some dogs learn that the doorbell ringing equals a person arriving, and they get excited to greet whoever’s at the door.
If you dog barks when the doorbell rings but doesn’t seem scared, she may simply be barking from excitement. You can tell your dog excited if she:
- Runs straight to the door when it rings
- Wags tail rapidly with hip and even full-body wags (a classic sign of doggy happiness)
- Runs back and forth excitedly between you and the door
- Pants in between barks
Learning how to read your dog’s body language will help you manage her reaction to the doorbell.
What to Do When Your Dog Barks at the Door
Desensitizing your dog to the doorbell or a knock on the door takes time. When your dogs barks at the doorbell:
- Never yell. Yelling over your dog’s barking simply adds to the noise, and can encourage her to bark more.
- Remain calm, positive, and upbeat! Just as you read your dog’s body language, she will react to yours; the more relaxed and happy you can seem, the easier it will be to manage your dog at the door.
- Use consistent training techniques (and make sure everyone in the family applies the same ones every time your dog barks). In other words, don’t let your dog “get away with” barking at the doorbell sometimes, and not at others.
When your dog barks at the doorbell, one option is to simply ignore her. Sometimes, dogs will bark for attention, and you can encourage them to settle down by not giving it to them.
How to Stop Barking
Training your dog to be quiet and calm when the doorbell rings is very doable, but it can take weeks of consistent training sessions.
- Work on training a “settle” or “quiet” command.
- Have “practice” visitors (i.e., friends or family members) come to the door, and practice ignoring your dog (or working on the commands above) so barking isn’t rewarded.
- You can also ply your dog with high-value treats as the visitors approach in order to help desensitize them to the sounds, and create positive associations.
Check out our post on tips to stop barking for more detailed information.
Managing Your Dog When You’re Expecting Lots of Visitors
On a big visitor night, no matter how much training you’ve done, it’s all about managing your dog’s behavior. You don’t have to have a perfectly-trained pooch, you just need to have good management practices in place!
- Create a “safe room” for your dog, on the opposite end of the house from the door. Set her up with a cozy spot to sleep, something to chew, and a radio or television to keep her company (and cover up noise at the door).
- Have a member of the family hang out with your dog in their “safe room” and ignore the doorbell all night long. Or, hire a dog sitter to take the dog out and away.
The doorbell doesn’t have to be scary. With a combination of training and behavior management, you can help your dog learn to love it, or at least, ignore it.
Top image via Flickr