Change the association with the doorbell

Using Counter Conditioning/ Desensitization

  1. Record the sound of the doorbell on your phone, or recording device.
  2. Cease using the doorbell in real life contexts. Put a sign up asking people to text or knock. Disconnecting the doorbell all together can help. The doorbell sound should only occur in training contexts for now.
  3. Play the recording at a very low level, loud enough for your dog to notice the sound, but quiet enough that they don’t react. We will call this volume level, level one. As soon as they hear the sound, toss them a treat or their special toy. This will teach them that the doorbell sound means they are about to get a treat/toy.
    1. Practice 1-3 times daily for 2-3 minutes. Stay at this step until your dog hears the doorbell and enthusiastically looks to you for a treat without barking.
  4. Once your dog seems enthusiastic about hearing the doorbell, raise the volume of the doorbell recording to a level two, always delivering the reward just as your dog notices the sound. If your dog starts to bark, then the volume is too high. Go back a step.
    1. Practice 1-3 times daily for 2-3 minutes. Stay at this step until your dog hears the doorbell and enthusiastically looks to you for a treat without barking.
  5. Continue to slowly raise the volume one level at a time, always making sure to stay at that volume until your dog looks at you for a treat without barking. If your dog starts to bark, then the volume is too high. Go back a step.
  6. Once your dog is no longer barking at the doorbell played at a loud/normal volume, you can begin using the actual doorbell, and start to combine it with the door greeting protocol that you will be building separately.
    1. NOTE: For some dogs it will take only days to achieve normal volume, but for most dogs it will take daily practice over the course of weeks.

Teach your dog to get a toy when guests arrive

END GOAL: With this solution, the dog hears the doorbell as a cue to grab a special toy and engage a guest in play. This will prevent most toy driven dogs from barking and jumping on the guest.

  1. Counter Condition your dog to the doorbell sound separately from the below protocol using the instructions above.
  2. Place a special toy outside the door and ask guests to engage dog in play when they enter the house
    1. Tip: a good “drop it” behavior could be helpful in this context (see our “drop it” handout)
    2. Practice 1-3 times a week if possible. Stay at this level until your dog is fully desensitized to the sound of the doorbell and no longer reacts when they hear it.
  3. Combine the doorbell ring with a guests coming through door with special toy
    1. Practice 1-3 times a week if possible. It would be helpful to even practice with your partner or roommate when they come home each day to make sure your dog is getting regular practice even when a guest is not available.
  4. Begin to phase out placing a toy on your doorstep: The Doorbell rings → you, the owner hands the dog their special toy when doorbell sounds → guest walks in through door → Dog should bring the toy to guest to initiate play.
    1. If your dog is not bringing the toy to the guest and instead reverts back to barking at them or jumping on them, then go back a step and continue to pre-set the toy on the stoop. Stay at this step until your dog is consistently engages your guest in play.
  5. 5.Begin to simply place the special toy near the door: Doorbell rings → dog goes to find special toy placed near door → guest walks in through door → Dog initiates play with guest.
    1. If your dog is not bringing the toy to the guest and instead reverts back to barking at them or jumping on them, then go back a step and continue to pre-set the toy on the stoop. Stay at this step until your dog is consistently finds the toy and engages your guest in play.
    2. With all steps be sure to instruct your guest to ignore your dog or cease play if they trying to jump on them or mouth them.

Teach your dog to go a mat when they hear the doorbell

END GOAL: With this solution the Dog hears the doorbell as a cue to target a mat, and lay down until released. This will teach them that the only way they get to say hi to the new guest is if they lay calmly on their bed.

  1. Teach your dog to go to a mat placed in view of the entry, lay down, and stay until released (see our Go-To- Mat handout)
  2. Counter Condition them to the doorbell sound separately from the below protocol using the instructions above.
  3. Teach your dog that the doorbell is a cue to go to their mat: Play doorbell recording → motion the dog to go to their mat → reward them for targeting mat
    1. (no guest present, practice 1-3 times daily for 1-2 minutes)
  4. Ring actual doorbell → motion to dog’s bed → reward for going to their mat
    1. (no guest present, practice 1-3 times daily for 1-2 minutes)
  5. Add the element of a fake greeting at door → reward for staying on mat
    1. Use a leash tether as backup and if your dog gets off bed, close the door. Ask them to go back to their bed but don’t give them a treat since they broke their stay.
    2. (no guest present, practice 1-3 times daily for 1-2 minutes)
  6. Add a real greeting with known person → reward for staying on mat
    1. Use tether as backup and if dog gets off bed to greet the person, the person should immediately turn and walk out the door.
    2. This stage will be most successful if practice with someone that your dog sees often such as your partner or a roommate.

Troubleshooting

Some dogs will need a significant amount of time with desensitization and counterconditioning to the sound of the doorbell. During this time it is important that you disconnect the doorbell or put up a sign up instructing people not to use the actual doorbell until your dog is no longer barking at the sound of the doorbell with consistency.

If your dog is not successful at a certain step in any of these exercises then you have probably moved too quickly through the training protocol. Go back a few steps and try building it up more slowly.

Finally, every dog is different. If you and your dog are struggling it may be worth booking a private lesson with a certified professional dog trainer who can help you troubleshoot what adjustments need to be made for your dog to be successful.