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Front Door Manners

Please come in so I can jump all over you!

In my private practice I go to several homes a week for behavior sessions, and sometimes I wish I would have worn a metal shark suit and steel-toed boots to avoid the bodily injury I get from over exuberant dogs. (I know, I know….. it’s my job and I don’t mind, but I’m sure a lot of other people might!). At times I leave with a bloody lip, deep scratches down my back and legs, and bruises all over my body. It’s not like the owners don’t try, because they try really hard to keep their dog off me. But, as I always point out, when the dog is jumping around and barking, and the owner is pulling and pushing and yelling and pleading, their dog is getting the biggest thrill out of getting all the attention. Would you believe that we inadvertently train our dogs to act like that when the doorbell rings? We try our best to get them to settle down, without the benefit of a leash or treats, but in the end we open the door because someone is waiting to come in.

What to do:

Since dogs learn that when the doorbell rings, and they run around barking, squealing, growling, and jumping off the walls, they will be rewarded with visitors to jump on, it is important to teach your dog the behavior you want him to do rather than what NOT to do. I highly recommend training a quiet sit stay when visitors ring the door bell, and the door will not open until your dog is sitting peacefully waiting for his reward- attention from people coming through the door.

First, train ‘sit’ and ‘sit stay’ without and then with distractions in every room of your house. Work your way up to a 2-minute ‘sit stay’ in the living room and backyard, and then start asking for a sit-stay at the door and the front gate before you go outside for your evening walk. Do not open the door until your dog is sitting nicely in a sit stay. If your dog gets up as you open the door, immediately shut the door and redirect your dog back into a sit stay. (The best natural consequence there is for getting up as you open the door is you shutting the door so the dog cannot go outside.) Say ‘stay’ and attempt to open the door again. Practice this every time you go out an entrance, and once your dog stays as you open and then walk through the door, say ‘Free’ or ‘let’s go’ from the other side of the threshold. ALWAYS give your dog a release word at the end of the stay.

Whenever you expect visitors, put your dog’s leash on ahead of time. Carry the leash with you so you can react quickly when the doorbell rings. Have plenty of tasty treats by the front door or in your pocket. When the doorbell rings, walk your dog to the door, and ask for a sit far enough away so that you can open the door without it touching your dog. Do not attempt to open the door until your dog has stopped barking and is sitting somewhat calmly. If your dog gets up when you start to open the door, shut the door! Ask your dog to sit and stay again and try to open the door. Every time you start to open the door and your dog gets up, shut the door. This will teach your dog that he must stay sitting in order for mom or dad to completely open the door, and for the really fun people to come through and pay attention to him. It works fabulously! Your guests may have to wait a minute or two, but your dog will catch on quickly. You can even leave some treats out on the front step so your guests can reward your dog once they come through the door, but only if he is sitting quietly and not jumping or barking. Some of my clients have even had ‘Teach Fido Front Door Manners’ parties, and including jumping behavior as well.

It may also help to start desensitizing your dog to the doorbell. Start by ringing the doorbell many times a day for no reason. When you go out to get he mail, when you come home from wok, when you come in from gardening, when you come in from your evening walk, while your dog is eating, etc, so your dog will learn that the sound of the doorbell ringing doesn’t necessarily mean someone new is coming through the door. You can even tape-record the sound of the doorbell and play it a hundred times a day. Or better yet, get a remote doorbell from Home Depot and ding it all the time! It won’t take long for your dog to learn the doorbell isn’t that exciting after all.