When it comes to training your dog, sometimes it's harder to train a no than a yes. What do we mean by that? Well, simply that teaching a dog to do something he didn't do on his own can be easier than trying to train a dog to suppress a natural instinct. Case in point: barking at the door.
If your dog is naturally inclined to bark like crazy to alert you when there's an intruder...or a mailman, or a friend or a phantom noise that could be coming from the general door vicinity and you'd like them to, you know, not do that, then keep reading. Here's your guide to getting your dog to stop barking at the door (or anything else he barks at, for that matter).
Why do dogs bark at the door?
First, let's start with a universal truth: Dogs bark. Every dog. It's natural and it's not something that you can ever train out completely. But, if your dog is barking excessively, whether at knocks at the door or something else, that becomes an issue.
So, why do dogs bark? Well, there are lots of reasons, actually, according to the ASPCA. Here are a few of the most common:
- Territorial or Protective Barking: Dogs are animals and animals tend to be territorial. When they feel like something or someone is encroaching on said territory, they react by barking. If this is what's driving your pup's excessive barking, he'll be very alert and maybe even a little aggressive. Basically, this is the "GTFO of my space" bark.
- Alarm or Fearful Barking: If your dog isn't just barking when they're at home, then chances are, they aren't defending their territory so much as expressing fear. This is your dog's way of saying, "Hey human, look at that scary thing and take care of me, please."
- Boredom or Loneliness Barking: Dogs aren't usually lone wolf types. Most are pack animals, through and through and being alone takes them out of their element in a big way. if your dog is barking when you leave the house (or even just the room), then there's a good chance that loneliness is behind the behavior.
- Greeting or Playful Barking: If your dog barks whenever another dog or a human approaches, it might just be his way of saying hello. If this is the case, your dog's body language will be happy and excited (think a wagging tail and maybe even a happy jump).
- Attention Seeking Barking: Does your dog bark when things aren't going 100% his way? Like when he gives you the "let's go outside and play" vibes and you ignore them? Or when another dog at the dog park isn't feeling the game of tug he's trying to get started? If so, your dog is suffering from a growling hunger for attention and it's manifesting as a bark.
- Anxious or Compulsive Barking: Finally, some dogs bark because of an underlying emotional issue. Dogs who suffer from separation anxiety will bark a lot any time they're left alone (unlike plain old lonely dogs, however, dogs with separation anxiety will often have other symptoms too, like depression, destructiveness, or potty-related accidents). Some dogs are compulsive barkers and their excessive barking often seems to have no purpose whatsoever. These dogs will often exhibit other compulsive behaviors like running in circles repetitively.
How to train a dog to stop barking at the door
If your dog is barking at the door, specifically, he's probably exhibiting territorial/protective or alarm/fearful behavior. In other words, he's either upset that someone is invading his turf or he's feeling spooked by the unknown cause of the noise and trying to get you to take care of it (and, of course, of him).
According to the Humane Society, there are a few methods you can try when training away excessive barking.
The silent treatment
Warning: This method is not for the faint of heart (or for the easily annoyed of neighbor).
If your dog is barking excessively, whether it's at the door or at some other form of stimuli, you can (eventually) break the habit by actively ignoring him every time the barking starts. In order for this method to work, you have to be 100% consistent (and this is the royal you—meaning you need to get everyone in your home on board with the plan) and give your pup zero attention until the barking stops.
This can be tough—especially if your dog is a marathon barker. But, remember, your dog is barking for a reason. Even if you yell at your dog when he barks, he's still getting attention of some kind for his behavior, which reinforces it. It may take a while, but eventually, your dog will learn that barking at the door doesn't get him anything.
To help drive home the idea that barking = bad and quiet = good, be ready to shower your dog with praise and treats and love when he does finally stop the bark-fest. This will teach him that quiet behavior when there's a knock at the door gets him more of what he wants than barking does.
If you think that your doggo is barking out of fear, it may help to practice exposing him to the thing that triggers the barking, thereby giving him a chance to learn that it's not so scary after all.
Start out with whatever it is that makes him bark at a distance (this is especially useful if what your dog barks at is, say, other dogs on walks). If it's a noise at the door that triggers the barking, enlist a friend to start by making a relatively quiet noise outside a little ways away from the door. When you're sure your dog hears said noise (he looks toward it, for example) but he doesn 't bark, shower him with all the love and praise and lots of yummy treats. Move the stimulus a little closer (and make it a little louder, in the case of a door-related bark) and repeat. Eventually, you'll build up to the full encounter—whether it's a loud knock at the door or a strange dog passing within sniffing distance on a walk—without barking.
The Speak First, Shut Up Later method
If your instinct is to yell "Shhh!" or "Be quiet!" at your dog when he barks, you're not alone. It's a very natural, but very human reaction to the situation. Remember, though, that your dog doesn't have a framework for what "shhh" or "quiet" mean—yet, anyway.
If you want your dog to STFU on command, you first have to teach him to speak on command, which may feel more than a little counterintuitive.
Once your dog knows how to bark on command, give him the speak command and wait for him to bark two or three times. Then, take a very tasty, high-value treat and put it in front of his nose while saying "quiet." When he stops barking to sniff the treat, praise him and hand the tasty morsel over. It will take time, but eventually, you'll have a dog who knows to shush up on cue.
Distract, distract, distract
If you don't have time to train a new behavior or to take the long road of ignoring the noise until your dog gets the idea on his own, you can try distraction. For this method, when your dog is barking his adorable little head off at the door, ask him to do a trick he knows—ideally one that he can't do while barking. Have him roll over, play dead, engage in a game of tug—anything that he knows how to do well that might break him out of his barking fit.