Best way to stop dog barking when there’s a knock on the door?

You can train dogs to be quiet when there is a knock on the door or the doorbell sounds. It’s useful to know why dogs bark under these circumstances. Dogs don’t bark to frighten the person knocking on the door. They bark as a canine alarm call for other members of the pack including the human pack to which the dog belongs.

Barking under these circumstances carries a message and it is: “There is something strange happening over there. Be alert!”

It causes puppies to hide and adult dogs to assemble for action. Humans do something similar. The dog does not know whether those that are arriving at the door are friend or foe. This is revealed later but the barking does ensure that precautions are taken by pack members.

That’s the fundamental reason but it can be muddied by a frightened or anxious dog who barks out of anxiety or fear as well. Under these circumstances there is a combination reason for barking but the fundamental reason is still there.

Dog barking at the door when doorbell rings or there is a knock on the door
Dog barking at the door when doorbell rings or there is a knock on the door. It can be trained out. Image: iStock.

It is instinctive but it has to be trained out because it is disturbing to all those involved including the person behind the door, the dog’s caregiver and the neighbours.

One potential issue might exist from the owner’s side of the relationship. Sometimes owners are not the leaders of the pack when they should be. Through their actions they may be reinforcing barking when the doorbell rings.

For instance, there is a video online of a fearful dog barks incessantly not only when the doorbell rings but on other occasions. The very nice woman wants to hug her dog to reassure him which reinforces the barking when she should be the leader who takes control and distracts her dog. That’s just a brief example.

It can be trained out using distraction, positive reinforcement and training to be quiet.

Training out barking at a knock on the door

The best way to stop a dog barking when there’s a knock on the door is to take the following steps:

  • When your dog barks you call their name and then say the word “Alert!”. It is just a sound which triggers the next phase of the training process. I would also call it a distraction. I think you can combine that with clicking your fingers or tapping your dog both of which will distract him or her.
  • You then present a treat to your dog’s nose. It should be placed right in front of their nose and held there. It has to be a genuine treat not standard dog food; something that he or she is really interested in. It is impossible for a dog bark and sniff a dog treat at the same time. Therefore, they stop barking. This is the magic trick to this training process.
  • After the treat has been held to the dog’s nose for a few seconds and the dog is quiet you say “Quiet!”. It’s important to wait for a least a couple of seconds before you say quiet for the training to take effect.
  • Then you give them the treat.
  • This should be practiced and you do it in real situations to reinforce it. It might be two or three weeks for the training to be bedded in to the dog’s mind.
  • It may need reinforcing later. I think you can also a clicker training aid when you provide your dog with the treat as this is a bridge between the dog doing the right thing and the reward.

Postscript: if a dog barks because they are frightened or anxious as well as barking as an alarm call to pack members, it may help if the dog is put on a lead if the owner knows that there will be an arrival and also to distract their attention by tapping them or clicking their fingers. Putting a dog on a lead creates a different dynamic between dog and person. It helps to make the owner the leader of the pack.

On a commonsense baseness, by the way, if the dog owner knows that there is going to be an arrival and that they will knock on the door they could ask the person not to knock or ring the doorbell or they could open the door before they arrive when watching out for them thereby precluding the need to ring the doorbell. Although this training should preclude the need for this.

Below are some more articles on dog behaviour.

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