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Friday, 1 June 2012

A not-so-warm welcome

Can anyone help with a really good method for training my dog to stop barking so much every time someone comes to the front door? My collie cross, Poppy, is seven years old and we’ve had her for four years. She’d been a stray. When she first arrived she never barked at the door, until she boarded with other dogs while we went on holiday and I assume she learnt this from the other dogs. I didn’t mind then, as she only gave a short warning bark, which was good as I often don’t hear the bell or knocking. But recently she has started really barking when someone comes to the door and it’s reached the point where I worry she’ll give herself a sore throat! As soon as the door is open she then stops and licks whoever it is; she is really a very friendly girl. She doesn't do this when she hears a car she knows, for example my husband's or children's. The only other time she barks is at squirrels who’ve dared to run up a tree, as opposed to allowing her to chase them, when we’re on a walk.

I don’t mind her giving a warning bark, but I want to control the level, and I want her to stop when I ask rather than when I open the door, as obviously some delivery drivers and other people who don’t know the dog beneath the bark are terrified by the noise she makes. She will do anything for food, so any methods based around treats would probably work really well, but is noise phobic and wasn't impressed when we attempted clicker training!

Thanks in advance for your help.

June Walker, by email

Karen Wild, behaviourist (, advises...

Hi June

A bark can herald all sorts of things and it sounds like this is a habit that balances between the control you have and the self control your dog has, too. If she is happy and friendly when people are visible it may well be an alert/excited bark although dogs will bark for many reasons, including fear or frustration so it’s worth monitoring her to make sure this is the case.

My aim for dogs who bark for this reason is to give them a job to do that not only interrupts the barking, it gives them something useful and fun to do as well. This would be my choice rather than a ‘shh’. My preferred option would be to teach Poppy a ‘Go to your bed’ signal first of all, before anyone is at the door. This is a lot of fun! All you need is a favourite toy or a treat that you toss onto her bed (or a mat nearby if you would like a new place for her to go to). As she arrives, praise her and allow her the toy/treat whilst on her bed. Next, begin to give a ‘Go to your Bed’ command as she arrives, and gradually move away from the bed yourself, including a ‘point’ with your hand as you toss the treat or toy. This gradually builds up into a gesture from a distance (and a well targeted throw) which should have her happily racing to her new favourite place.

Teaching her a ‘stay’ whilst she is there is your next step of course. Once this is established, begin to make knocking or door bell noises very quietly and at the same time, give her the ‘Bed’ command. You can allow one or two barks, then the command. She has to run there from the door area so build up to this.

Eventually Poppy should be conditioned to hearing the doorbell or a knock, and diving on her bed in anticipation of a reward. Finally (as you can see this must be done in stages!) Poppy can wait there for a beloved visitor to come over and offer her treat, toy, or a bit of fuss whilst she is still on her bed.


  1. This is a whole series on door behaviour but Part 2 specifically looks at barking:
    Best of luck!

  2. Put the bark, and stop bark on a cue word. Do not let her practice the barking behaviour so keep her behind a gate or in another room to start.

  3. if your dog is already clicker trained (IF NOT START NOW!)then you can enourage him to go to his bed when the doorbell rings and then click & treat. get someone to stand out side ringing whilst you practice. it does work, just takes time and patience. then your dog will be conditioned that when the doorbell rings, he/she goes to their bed and they will be treated ONCE the person comes into the house. might be a good idea to put up a small notice at the front dor, 'DOG IN TRAINING...MAY TAKE A COUPLE OF MINUTES TO GET TO THE DOOR'! My dogs know that when someone comes to my door they go to their bed and once the person is in the house they get a treat, the person obviously must ignore the dogs! till the excitement has worn off.

  4. A successful and very easy method is to make food appear 'as if by magic' every time the doorbell (or knocker) goes. No clicker required. For the first dozen or so, you must orchestrate the situation.

    Have someone knock or ring and that split second you must toss some food (dry kibble?) into an area you want the dog to be in (could be a corner of a room, bed or crate) so she sees it and follows to eat the food. Repeat this randomly throughout the day and night for a few days.
    It is important that you toss the food before Poppy barks if possible. Also Poppy may see it initially appear from you but once she knows it's coming try and make it look like it magically appears. Ideally, the association must be with the door and the location and not the door and you (although that's not a bad problem to have).

    You are now classically conditioning her to associate the doorbell/knocker with going to a specific place in the house. After a week or so of rehearsing you can have pots of her food (dry kibble) around the house in preparation for an unexpected knock. In the early weeks, perhaps receive some notice when a visitor is coming so you are prepared. You could even progress to a pre-loaded Kong toy that appears in the location when a visitor knocks/rings. This will keep her quieter for longer if the visitor enters and so stops her potential excitement building backwards to create an excited anticipation of the front door.

    If the kibble isn't sufficient and she's not eating it because the doorbell is more exciting, check your timing or try a higher value food like a couple of small pieces of low fat cheese.
    Good luck!