Somebody is outside (drives up, walks up), my dog barks and runs to the door and then really barks and I get to the door and pull him back while he’s barking or just open the door while he’s wildly barking. And what happens?
1. It’s possible that the dog will rush out and sniff the person and then go pee on something in the yard.
2. It’s possible that the person at the door will chortle with glee at the dog and the dog will love it and climb all over them.
3. It’s possible that the upset dog will confront the person and a bad meeting will ensue — with either an interaction that gets the next person who comes to the door bitten or gets the current person at the door bitten.
4.It’s possible the dog will run out and get hit by a car as he barks at the person standing by his door.
What do I actually want to happen: warning barks, dog stops barking when I thank him and say it’s alright, dog sits by me or goes to designated spot while I answer the door and if I call/release the dog he will come and greet politely or if indicated resume barking and scare the person at the door.
How do I get to the preferred scenario? Break it into parts and lots of good socialization. Then to proof it, ratchet up the excitement and make it a game. It comes down to how important is this to me and will I put in the segmented practice to get it to work. (see Dog trainer)
Here’s the main parts, there may be others needed depending on you and your dog.
Practice: Meet and greets with lots of people (a dog that is confident makes better decisions) with your pup on leash sitting or standing still next to you and with your pup free. At least 50 – 100 per week, find stuff to go to, observe and depending on your pup.
Shy? work your way closer and make greeting people more fun. Add in great food rewards, tug game rewards. For shy dogs and aggressive dogs make sure people don’t stare, talk to or walk up and try to pet … you want this dog to openly telegraph (wag, happy face) that he wants to meet someone and let him do the overture. And then they only pet with one hand briefly below the ear.
Social freak? work on making each greeting less exciting and more boring. A head halter can help control the overly rowdy greeter. Keep greeting short and don’t let strangers ruffle/play/rowdy him up. Reward for feet on the ground. Play tug with lots of control cues interspersed to trigger the next round of play (control, play, control, play … etc.)
Aggressive? Head halter or muzzle, practice at a distance giving rewards for being calm when people appear. Depending on level of aggression … be careful, find a good trainer, you know the risks.
Practice: Go to spot – rug, crate, when there’s no other distractions and make it a fun game. Then add duration while you work/computer/read/watch TV. You want the pup to get real sticky about their spot (they want to be in it) – lots of value in being there. And to be able to run to it from a distance (seed the spot with rewards).
Practice: Going to doorway (knocks, ding of doorbell), thanks, reward, go to spot/place with family member or yourself creating the noise at the door. This way it’s easy to have the alarm barking stop. Then practice with more excitement and see if it still works, wait for your dog to make the right choices, then reward based on how well they did.
Practice: Bark cue — so you can get barking when you want it.
Practice: Come or here — so your dog will come to you even when excited or upset. (see Why come)
And for yourself, plan and practice what you will do when you’re surprised by a visitor. Remember you have more time than you think you do, you don’t have to run to the door and open it immediately. Think of your dog and get him situated where you want him (on leash, in crate, behind gate) so he’s safe and not learning to do things you don’t want him to learn to do.
To help people at the door to know what you’re up do, post a sign: Dog in Training – add any directions here that you want like ‘please don’t pet, or don’t ring doorbell (and cover it up) or ‘please don’t stare at the dog’.
Sometimes people actually read signs and cooperate. Lots of times you’ll just have to be ready to tell them what you want and perhaps block them from doing what you don’t want.
Have you thought of anything else that was key in this training? Something that was important for you and your dog?