Teach your dog to remain quiet, or to bark just a little, when someone knocks or rings your bell.
Interruptor Number One: when your dog barks, get up quietly and calmly, walk over to your dog, say a soft “Thanks, Pup,” quickly feed her several treats, and then deal with whoever’s at the door. A surprising number of dogs will settle down almost at once. I hesitate to get into the head of a being who can’t talk to me in words, but my impression is that once some dogs know they’ve succeeded in delivering the alert, they’re done.
If you’ve been struggling with canine doorbell mania for a while, you may have noticed that raising your own voice generally doesn’t help. Interruptor Number Two, a soft whisper, may succeed where sharp reprimands fail. The reason might be that a whisper stands out from the sharpness and staccato of bells, buzzers, knocks, and barks. I like “Hush,” because it makes a natural cue for “Be quiet now.” Again, be ready with treats to reward a halt in the barking. The sequence might go like this: doorbell, barking, “Hush,” dog is briefly distracted, you take advantage of the distraction and reward the quiet by quickly feeding several treats.
Whichever form your interrupt takes, as your dog learns to associate it with treats she will orient to you more and more readily when she hears it. As far as I’m concerned, you’re welcome to spend the rest of your dog’s life rewarding every quiet with a bunch of treats. But if you want to get fancy, you can begin to stretch out the interval between treats. You can also hold out for longer and longer periods of quiet before delivering the first treat. Eventually you can give food rewards only occasionally. But always be generous with calm, warm praise.
Help for Bigger-Time Barkers
If your dog is a hard-to-distract barker, practice – say, a minimum of 50 times – when there’s no barking to interrupt. Go through the motions of answering the door just as if someone were actually there. Your dog will learn that your thanks or your hush means it’s time to look to you for tasty treats. Having learned that lesson solidly in a calm situation, he will be more likely to respond to you when excited. Practice without actual guests is also the starting point in teaching any dog to stay while you get the door.
Some dogs can’t be distracted. They always resume barking after they eat the treats, or they won’t eat the treats at all. Often these dogs react strongly to many sounds both at home and outdoors. They may belong to an especially vocal breed – Shelties and Min Pins come to mind.