10 Tips for Teaching Dogs to Behave with Ringing Doorbells


What happens when the doorbell rings in a home with a dog?

In our experience, all too often, a ringing doorbell used to set off a chaotic display of canine barking. Our Golden Retriever would holler wholeheartedly at the sound. Our Lhasa Apso used to even make a puddle on the floor in his excitement. Initially, we would respond by shouting and carrying on as well, which only seemed to increase the barking dogs’ enthusiasm and energy.

When the door would open, the Lhasa Apso puppy would try to jump all over the visitor.

Surely, this canine conduct was unacceptable, bothersome and potentially dangerous. Of course, many dogs bark and become over-exuberant at the sound of a doorbell. We were not alone in our dog conduct distress.

How can this bad behavior obstacle be overcome?

Can a dog be taught proper doorbell decorum?

Absolutely, a dog may be trained to behave properly when visitors approach the home and ring the doorbell. Here are ten tips for overcoming this common canine bad behavior obstacle.

Don’t yell at the barking dog.

How many times have we seen this? Our natural response, as pet owners, is to grow frustrated and shout right back at our barking dogs. This is a particularly difficult temptation when company has arrived on our doorsteps.

Yelling begets yelling, and barking begets barking. The Humane Society of the United States says, “Don’t yell at your dog to be quiet. It just sounds like you’re barking along with him.”

Instead, smart pet owners may actually whisper at their dogs to stop barking. A dog’s hearing is especially sensitive, so a quiet whisper or a soft whistle may be a real attention-getter.

Doorbell-train one dog at a time.

A ringing doorbell will excite most dogs – at least, until they are conditioned to respond differently to this stimulus. By training one dog at a time, the pet owner can aim for maximum canine attentiveness and remove dog distractions.

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In homes with multiple pets, the other animals can be confined elsewhere on the premises until the training time has passed.

Try doorbell desensitization training to overcome this bad behavior obstacle.

Canines are territorial creatures, so it seems only natural that a dog would be incited to respond aggressively to an outsider’s approach to the home.

Barking is an important means of canine communication, explains Cesar Milan, TV’s Dog Whisperer. “In nature, dogs bark to raise an alarm at the first signs of possible danger or to herald a new arrival.”

For this reason, repeated sensitization training can be helpful. This training method has also been tagged “the flooding technique,” because it floods the dog with a certain stimulus to remove its novelty or alarm.

The process is simple. The dog owner enlists a familiar helper to ring the doorbell several times. Inside, the owner does not answer the door. Instead, each time the doorbell rings, the owner rewards the dog for one bark, but ignores the animal’s repeated alerts.

Eventually, many dogs will learn to settle down. Of course, this doorbell sensitization training takes time. The helper may need to ring the doorbell 20, 30 or even 50 times (with pauses in between) before the dog grows accustomed to it.

Use negative reinforcement to stop a dog from doorbell barking.

Compassionate discipline is an important element in dog training. The Upper Valley Humane Society of New Hampshire suggests the use of water for this purpose. Other dog training experts agree.

A basic spray bottle is ideal for this purpose. The owner can spray a bit of water (gently) into the barking dog’s face to encourage him or her to stop the bad behavior. Of course, only the owner should practice this dog deterrent, so the dog will not perceive this as a threat.

Spaying or neutering can help to minimize this territorial dog behavior.

The Wisconsin Humane Society (like similar organizations) recommends spaying (females) and neutering (males) dogs for population control, but this medical procedure may also help with such aggressive misbehaviors as doorbell barking.

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Debarking surgery is available, but this option surely seems extreme.

Leash the dog before answering the door.

Until a dog can accept the doorbell and visitors uneventfully, the owner may need to put the pet on a leash for welcoming guests. Each time the dog remains calm for the doorbell and the opening door, he or she should be rewarded with affectionate attention, verbal affirmation and perhaps a dog treat.

Use a knot to stop naughty doorbell behavior in a dog.

Sarah Hodgson, author of Puppies for Dummies, calls this dog training technique “the reverse yo-yo.” Here’s how it works. Tie a knot in the dog’s lead (or leash), about four inches longer than where it would meet the dog’s front paws. When the doorbell rings, step on the knot. The dog will be forced to sit or lie down. Do not let up until the dog remains calm and attentive.

Train visitors to approach the dog properly.

Many people (even dog owners) unwittingly reinforce bad doorbell behavior in dogs by welcoming barking, jumping, licking and other missteps. A smart dog owner will politely instruct guests to ignore the pooch until he behaves politely.

Certain dog behavior modification experts, such a Karen Pryor, recommend clicker training for this stage as well. Others suggest the use of special sound training collars during this process.

Set up a pet welcoming spot in the home.

Dog training experts often recommend that the pet owner place a small mat near the front door and teach the dog to remain there when the doorbell rings. If the canine complies, both host and visitor will reward the dog with positive attention and petting.

Confine the dog before answering the door, if needed.

Until a dog has been successfully trained to behave properly when the doorbell rings, he or she should be confined at such moments. Using gates or closed doors, the pet owner can keep the dog away from the door and prevent problems with visitors.

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Once the guests have entered the home, the owner can hold the dog until he or she has become sufficiently calm for the visitors to approach.

This practice also helps to establish the dog owner as pack leader (or the alpha animal), rather than the dog. A canine that pushes his or her owner out of the way to reach the door first is exhibiting dominant and aggressive behavior. This must be stopped, so that the human can take the leadership position with the animal.

Do these bad behavior obstacle cessation strategies actually work?

Indeed, they do.

Repeated training and reinforcement are required to prevent a dog from regressing into bad doorbell behavior, but dog obedience experts unanimously agree that canines can learn to accept ringing doorbells and home visitors calmly and courteously.

Although we are occasionally grateful that our little Lhasa Apso faithfully announces the approach of callers to our home, we are even more pleased that he does not fly in to a frenzy at the occasion. And the Golden Retriever seems to have decided that even unexpected guests do not merit an interruption of her nap.

Of course, if intruders encroach, particularly in the wee hours of the night, both canines are likely to bite their heads off.


Personal experience

Advice from various dog trainers






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