Door Manners Part One

What does your dog do when the doorbell rings?

For most dog owners, it’s a scene of chaos. Barking, jumping up, scratching at our doors and guests, or in more extreme cases; nipping, biting or excited urination.

So, why do our dogs do this?
In most cases, the same reason anyone does anything:
it’s reinforcing!

**For dogs who are fearful or possessive, the motivations are quite different and the training process will involve counter-conditioning and desensitization in addition to the plan outlined below. Reach out to a qualified force-free trainer for help if your dog is exhibiting fearful or aggressive behavior towards guests.**

So how do we fix this? Well, we need to change the way our dogs access that reinforcement. In other words, teach your dog that barking and jumping isn’t how they make new friends.

Step one: Management

The first step to any training plan is going to be managing the behavior. Instead of ignoring or punishing it, we stop it from happening in the first place.

For door manners, a physical barrier between your dog and the door when company is coming over is usually the quickest and easiest solution.

You could use:

* A baby gate
* An exercise pen
* Or a tether or leash

Use your management strategy consistently, during and outside of training sessions.

Step two: Identify the function of the behavior

The function of behavior is essentially the WHY to what our dog does. We can’t read their minds, however, we can analyze the situation objectively to try and identify what exactly is reinforcing the behavior.

We’ll start with our ABCs:

Antecedent: the event that triggers the behavior
Behavior: what the dog does as a response to the antecedent
Consequence: the event that follows the behavior

In our door manners model, this probably looks something like:

Antecedent: doorbell rings
Behavior: dog barks and jumps up on the door
Consequence: someone comes into the house

Which is followed by:

Antecedent: someone walks into the house
Behavior: dog jumps up on the person
Consequence: attention is given to the dog

Step Three: Decide what you DO want.

In some traditional training circles, the focus is almost fully on stopping unwanted behavior. However, modern science-based trainers have found that it is far less stressful for the dog’s and their owners to replace unwanted behavior rather than trying to punish or extinguish it.

First we need to decide what behavior we want to use. You’ll want to use a cue your dog already has a solid understanding of. A few good options would be:

* “Place” or go to your bed
* Kennel
* Go to a platform such as a K9 Klimb
* Go get a toy

It is best to use something that will get your dog away from the door rather than sitting or standing near it, where they may be tempted to fall into old habits.

Our new ABCs will look like this:

Antecedent: doorbell rings
Behavior: dog goes and lays on their bed
Consequence: reinforcement is delivered to the dog.

In both of the example videos shown here, I am using small food reinforcers. As we build duration and distraction, I may choose to opt for long lasting chews or stuffed food toys to keep my pet out of the way while guests are over; OR I can reinforce my dog with the opportunity to interact with the guest.

Step four: Start training!

Now that we have an idea of what we want, it’s time to put a plan into place.

We always want to set up our dogs for success in any training plan. Set up your initial training sessions to be distraction free. That means, we don’t want to wait for someone to come over and try to get our dog to perform in the moment! These beginning sessions should be just you and your dog.

Step five: Add in the “Three D’s”

Once our dog fully understands the cue and behavior we’re asking for, it’s time to proof this behavior for real life.

That means we need to bring the the Three D’s:

* Distance: performing the behavior from farther away. This will include being farther away from you and farther away from their go-to spot
* Duration: increasing the amount of your time your dog will stay in their kennel or place.
* Distraction: making sure your dog is able to perform and maintain the behavior no matter what’s going on. We want guests to be able to enter and move around while our dog stays put.

You’ll want to introduce all of these factors slowly, focusing on one thing a time. Stay tuned for my Part Two article for a step by step plan on taking this behavior to the next level.

Happy Training!
-Ashlee Osborn, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP

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