Who Let the Dogs Bark?

I tried not to while house sitting this weekend. It was me, a house full of excitable dogs, and lots of things to be barked at just outside the door.

How are we, subconsciously, rewarding dogs to bark at the door when we have visitors? What are we doing to reinforce their behavior?

I played around with this thought quite a bit while staying with those dogs… Not much barking is heard at my house. None of my dogs have ever barked at a visitor knocking on the door. They simply greet them with wagging tails. How sweet.

The dogs I was caring for until yesterday had another tactic. The youngest, and largest, dog would sit and stare out the window for a majority of the day. If anyone rang the doorbell or simply walked past the house, all of the other dogs would join him in barking and leaping at the door. Hey, that was how I was greeted the first time I came over. You had to wade through a sea of pushy, hyper, highly obnoxious dogs.

In the past, they’ve simply been pushed aside. “Oh, silly dogs. Please excuse them, they’re just so excited.” That’s the kind of thing a person with “aggressive” dogs might say to make up for the barking and frantic leaping. It can be intimidating for the visitor. After all, they don’t know these dogs.

Being allowed to bark every time you have a visitor, is enough incentive for the dogs to continue this routine in the future. Someone shouting at the dogs and making a ton of commotion to get them to go away is what feeds the dogs’ energy. Their shouting (“Stop it! Be quiet already!”) can be seen by the dogs as barking. In other words, the human is imitating the dogs’ behavior every time the doorbell rings or someone knocks. You’re being no better than them!

I changed things up during my stay. The door would not open until the dogs were quiet and away from the door. On the stairs or in the living room. Asking them to disperse and quiet down, without getting riled up myself, was a challenge. I’ll admit.

Within two days my patience paid off and the dogs barely barked and wouldn’t go rushing to the door. They even started to look at me when the door bell rang. “Someone’s at the door, ma’am, want me to go bark at them? Should I stay here?” Their reaction to visitors completely changed and I felt as if they viewed me as a pack leader. If they don’t ask permission to do something, protect you or the property, they don’t view you as a leader. The dog is protecting you, his pack, instead of waiting for your command. (Sometimes it’s nice to have a dog bark at a stranger if you’re home alone or walking at night)

The key with dogs that bark and get very excitable when guests come to visit, is to not get excited as well. Don’t yell at them to stop yelling. Calmly point away from the door, stand facing the dogs, and quietly move them away. Ask them to be quiet with, at most, a simple “Shhh…”.

Think about a library (I know, this metaphor’s a stretch…). Never in my life have I heard a librarian react to people talking with “Be quiet!! You’re being so loud, I can’t believe it!! STOP TALKING!” Sure, they will be a bit peeved, but they don’t yell across the entire library. A librarian will walk over to your table and tell you that you can’t talk that loudly in a library – use your indoor voices.

I asked the dogs to use their indoor voices. It’s okay for them to get excited about seeing a guest, that’s understandable – I’m excited too, but they have to be quiet and away from the door if they want to meet the person at all. Don’t reward frantic behavior. You’ll soon see your dog think to herself, “Aw, this is no fun anymore…”, and go lay down by the sofa.

Try it out! Have your dogs been barking? What tactics have you tried and have they been effective?

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