Dogs and Doorbells: How to Manage the Madness

Dogs and doorbells.  They go together like…well usually like oil and water. The doorbell rings, the dog goes wild. Sound familiar? The heightened excitement as the dog races to the door, the barking which escalates in pitch with each step of the dog, the pushing and pulling to get your dog out of the way so you can answer the door, and the frantic conversation you have while simultaneously trying to prevent your dog from squeezing through the open door to run outside. And if you actually have to let the person in the house, this situation is even more chaotic! How can you manage the madness that happens when the doorbell rings?

Here’s one thing that has worked at my house:

Teach your dog to go someplace else when the doorbell rings.

When my kids were younger, I didn’t want them opening the door with the dogs nearby. I was worried my dogs would race outside, or that they would scare another child coming over for a play date.  So, I taught my dogs to run to the basement, rather than the front door, when the doorbell rang.

Dogs are not hardwired to know what a doorbell means. It is through their daily life with their family that they learn the association between the doorbell and the front door. Instead, why not just teach your dog that great things happen in another room when the doorbell rings?

Dogs are masters of learning associations.  The leash means a walk. The opening of a cupboard means they get a treat. Picking up the food bowl means dinner is on its way. You can make a similar association with the doorbell. For my dog, the doorbell meant it was time to search for food in the basement!

To teach this simple association follow these five steps:

  1. Have someone ring the doorbell.
  2. Pick up some very tasty treats (the smellier the better) and show them to your dog.
  3. Toss the treats in the basement (or any other room).
  4. Shut the door when your dog goes to search for the treats.
  5. Answer the front door.

With practice, your dog will soon learn the doorbell means treats show up in another room and will run to that location willingly. Eventually, my dogs would run downstairs to the basement when the doorbell rang even without treats being thrown down the stairs. This allowed me (or my kids) to shut the door to the basement and safely open the front door.

Rather than fighting the dog at the front door, the dog is now in a completely different room and safely behind a closed door. Simple…and easy enough that a child can do it!

What do you do to manage the madness at the front door?

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TRAINERS: CLICK HERE to get Robin’s outline you can use to create your own “How to Know if Your Dog Is Happy” class.

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27 thoughts on “Dogs and Doorbells: How to Manage the Madness

  1. You can buy plug in door bells(receiver) with a remote button(battery operated transmitter). I used mine without any assistance. When I was training my dogs I would ring the bell and lure them with treats to the kitchen area. Then go to the door and act like I was answering it. It didn’t take them long to figure this out. I’d also do this with a piece(4×6 or so) of wood in my pocket, and knock on it. Sounded like someone knocking on the door.

    • Great idea, Catherine. We used to use one of those doorbells in our training classes too. Like the knocking idea as well. Thanks for sharing those ideas.

  2. hi!

    i know exactly why my dog, dandy, goes nuts at the door and also why he goes berserk every time my daughter’s father comes home: saari is autistic so whenever someone rings the bell, she would scream and rush for the door. clearly he learned it from her.

    so step one would actually be to make sure that everybody else in the family is behaving calmly when the doorbell or the phone rings.

    =)

  3. Great idea! I don’t know if it’s too late to re-condition my 8-year-old mutt, but if it involves treats, he’ll enjoy the attempt. He’s so wired to the doorbell he’s taught me to pay attention to which TV commercials have doorbell noises in them and scramble to hit “mute”. 🙂

    • Hi Anne, I did have to laugh about the tv doorbells! I do know a few dogs that respond to that sound as well. But it’s never too late to try a new response from your dog. Good luck!

  4. You are so right, associating the doorbell with some other fun activity works great. One very easy one is to throw treats away from the door as soon as visitor enters. Scavenging for the treats calms the dog so now we can do a proper greeting. Also, particularly the guard breeds thrive from rules and rituals. So I install a ritual at the front door very early with the puppy. doorbell goes off, run to a place 6-10 ft away from the door, sit, get lots of treats, then greet visitor properly. Repeating this ritual makes the dog feel secure and happy.

  5. Well, that’s very clear and succinct! I have all kinds of resources to share with clients but you described it so well that it’s easy for anyone to give it a try. Made it sound fun, too! (I think some of the success is from having more than one dog because the possibility of losing out on the treats is motivating to hurry on over to the spot.)

    • Good point about it working with more than one dog because they don’t want to miss the food. That was certainly the case when I did this with three dogs at once!

  6. I have two small “turbo terriers.” My Min Pin/Jack Terrier mix considers doorbell gymnastics an Olympic sport. That includes doorbell sounds on TV. I don’t get too much door traffic here but there are many TV commercials and shows with doorbell sound effects (but not so many knock-knock sounds) so I taped up my outside doorbell button and cut down on the yapping by 90%.

  7. When the doorbell rings, dogs to the dog bed, they lay there until they get the command ok. Also the door bell is not a big deal, I calmly answer the door. People come in, they know they do not greet the dogs until the dogs have been told to leave the beds and then only calmly.
    If someone os coming over with their dog, it depends on their dog. We sometimes do the greet outside, old pals come on in. It is then more play time.

  8. This would not work with my two. They are far too aroused by the sound of the door to take a treat, much less chase it away from the door. Also, if you did shut them in the basement, they would in their highly aroused state turn on each other. This may work for dogs who are less excited by the front door.

    • Good point, Mel! For your dogs I would start by just working on letting them hear the doorbell and having nothing happen. You are correct that the arousal level for them is too high so I would focus on lowering the arousal level first. Good awareness of your situation!

  9. Great advice! I read the article on big/small dogs as well. We have an 11 lb Morkie and a 60 lb 8 month old German Shepherd. They play well together. Actually, the Morkie looks out for the German Shepherd, but I do worry about the little one being injured. But our main problem is with the barking at the door. We will certainly try the treat idea in a different location. My biggest concern is the German Shepherd barking at children and only children. She doesn’t seem aggressive at all but it terrifying to a small child to have this dog barking in your small face. We’ve tried several different corrections. Voice commands to no bark, treats to show her there is no threat, spray bottle to the face to get her attention. The spray bottle works, but is there anything else we can do other than crate her? We have 2 small grandchildren that would love to love on her but can’t get close enough to even pet her. Any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  10. I race to the door with the dog and at the last second say “place” with the “place” mat conveniently about 10 feet from the door. I use the arousal instead of trying to fight against it. Of course this means place should be a very reinforced behavior.

  11. OMG! And here I thought I was being a baaaaad person by sending my pack out the back door every time the doorbell rang! They don’t even need a treat. Just being able to see thru the breezeway at who is arriving is apparently reward enough! And it made it so much easier for me.

    • Great job! You aren’t bad at all. Sometimes you just have to be smarter than the dogs. LOL!!! Glad you found an easy solution that works. Those are my favorite kinds!

  12. I loved your idea and was able to apply it to another situation. I currently have long term house guests that include a rescue dog (Ava) who is obsessed with tennis balls. The short story is we had a “situations” when it was missed that Ava had brought her ball into the house. My great dane (Blu) approached Ava which ended in a dog fight (no biting but lots of ugly crawling). So after keeping them separated for a few days to cool off Blu was still tensing up every time Ava came down stairs to go out and do her business. I now tell Blu “Here comes Ava lets go get some treats” and I bring her to another room to enjoy them. After just a week she now runs to my bedroom and sits when she hears Ava coming down. FYI I wouldn’t have chosen this method if the guest weren’t leaving soon. I would prefer they were able to be together but that would be a slower training process and one my in-laws would struggle with.

    • what a great story, Vicki! And excellent job using the basic principles of how dogs learn and applying them to your situation. That’s terrific! Keep up the good work.

  13. I have 2 dogs and have done the same with my art studio but they go there yammering all the way. I have decreased the treat frequency but even with treats, one keeps barking (I am sure I know which one but I can’t prove it). They are way too loud but I can’t manage to get them to stop the barking.

    Going to the studio is pretty solid and they know that word so I can even send them there without the doorbell. Add in the doorbell however and they break decibel levels. Any tricks to turn down the volume?

    • Hi Jordi, Can you give them something the keeps them occupied? I would recommend stuffed kong or something with peanut butter in it or that sort of thing. Perhaps if they are preoccupied and it takes a while to finish the treat that might help.

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