If your dog hears the doorbell and starts barking like crazy, what is the right thing to do? A) scold him; B) ignore him; or C) give him a treat? As odd as it sounds, C is the correct answer — with a few extra steps.
Option A doesn’t work because your dog won’t fully understand what he did wrong. Plus, punishing your pup may increase his fear and aggression whenever he hears the doorbell ring or the mailman’s footsteps approaching the house. Option B doesn’t work because your dog won’t understand what you want him to do instead, and he’s unlikely to adjust his behavior in the future. That’s why option C works best; it uses treats to change your dog’s perception of a negative sound (like the doorbell, footsteps, or a vacuum). Below, learn how to use this technique to completely change your dog’s behavior in one afternoon.
How To Stop Your Dog From Barking at the Doorbell
According to For the Dogs, a certified dog training company in North Carolina, the first thing you should do is record the negative sound — like the doorbell — on your phone. (If you have an iPhone, use the Voice Memo app.) Then, make sure you have plenty of small treats on hand, such as tiny pieces of chicken or training treats. (Use treats that are very tasty. If your dog really enjoys the flavor, he’ll give you his full attention.) Here’s the method:
- Phase 1: Change your dog’s perception. Play the sound in front of your dog. As soon as he starts barking, offer him a treat. If he barks after receiving the treat, let him and don’t react.
- Repeat step 1 until your dog stops reacting to the sound. (If you are training with the doorbell sound, for instance, your dog should not even look at the door when the doorbell rings.) Your dog now associates the noise with something positive (a treat).
- Phase 2: Pair the sound with a “place” command. Play the sound, then say “go to your place.” As you give the command, lead your dog over to his bed (or crate, or preferred spot) by using gestures, moving toward it, and offering a treat. (If he doesn’t follow you immediately, reward him for taking steps toward you.) Give him a treat as soon as he reaches the desired spot.
- Repeat step 3 as much as you can, reinforcing the new behavior. Once your dog has gotten the hang of it, you won’t need to reinforce the behavior every time the sound occurs — your pup will know to go to his place without the help of a treat or praise. (Though it’s always good to occasionally reinforce your dog’s new behavior with praise and treats!) To see this training technique in action, check out the TikTok video below.
Why This Method Works (and Tips on Making It Successful)
This training technique is a form of positive reinforcement, or the act of reinforcing a behavior with a desirable or pleasant stimulus. The reward makes the experience positive for the dog, and makes it more likely that he’ll want to repeat the behavior. In addition, it tells the dog exactly what he should do when he hears a certain sound or command.
While this technique is relatively straightforward, it can be hard to teach. The most important rule? Make sure you are reinforcing the desired behavior rather than an unwanted behavior. For instance, if your dog reverts to barking at the doorbell and you decide not to re-train him and just put him outside, you are instead rewarding the bad behavior (i.e. barking) by giving him outdoor play time.
So, you have to stay strong, and continue to reinforce only the wanted behaviors (no barking; going to his “place” when the doorbell rings). Make sure to give your dog the treat immediately after he performs the desired behavior.
Another tip: Try using a few different small treats when you’re training your pup. Otherwise, your dog may get tired of eating the same treat and lose interest in the activity. Adding praise (“good job!” or “good boy!”) when your dog repeats the desired behavior is a great idea, too. With a little luck and a lot of repetition, that bark will become a thing of the past.
Looking for more training tips? Check out these six commands that could save your dog’s life, and how to get your pup ready for a trip to the dog park.
This article originally appeared on our sister site, First for Women.
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