“My dog keeps barking excessively at guests and it’s really getting on my nerves. How do I go about stopping this behavior?”
We all want our pooches to offer a polite greeting when we have company. If the sound of the doorbell ringing sets your dog barking at guests, there is a training method that can help your pooch be more comfortable when a new human enters their space.
In this article, I’ll explain how to teach pup that visitors are not a threat, and can actually be a fun part of day-to-day life!
Why do dogs bark at visitors?
The first step is to figure out why your pup is barking. Are they shy around strangers? Dogs get vocal for many reasons when anyone comes to visit – maybe they’re excited, or maybe your dog is afraid. Many dog breeds do it to try to warn the humans away, while others may simply be asking for attention.
If your dog or puppy barks at visitors,
- Don’t yell at them, or punish them. This will only make them more anxious and could lead to problems later on.
- Don’t ask your dog to sit, or pick up your dog and move towards the person – this doesn’t give them the option to move away and could increase their anxiety.
- Don’t lure them toward the person with food.
When a dog is wary of visitors, pet parents will often ask their guest to drop treats, or lure Fido towards them and hand feed the dog. The dog takes the food but they then realize they are too close to the person for comfort and will then feel more threatened and display behaviors such as barking, lunging, growling and even snapping.
This puts them into a position of conflict – they want the goodies and get close to the human to get them, but once the food is gone, the fear overcomes them and the dog starts to bark. The behaviors get worse and owners wonder why the tactic isn’t working.
Although we very often use food to help with a behavior modification program and to change negative associations a dog has with something that worries them, I tell my clients not to have any visitors lure the dog or drop treats near them on the floor. This puts the dog in a position of conflict and they often go over their threshold.
So what to do instead? If you’re a pet parent with a pooch who likes to greet your house callers with a volley of vocalisation, then read on for a training program that really works.
This is where Treat and Retreat works wonders. The Treat and Retreat game is a technique that was invented by a famous dog trainer, Suzanne Clothier. This game helps those pooches who are shy or skittish and might become aggressive around certain people or things.
I have found this game to be very helpful when working with nervous, wary, and reactive dogs. The game does not put the dog in a position where they have to make a decision that may cause conflict and stress. It allows the dog to move away and get rewarded.
This is a good way to train your dog because the dog will learn that guests mean treats, but it won’t be as stressful as if you were to give the dog treats directly or in a way that means they have to move closer to the visitor.
How to Play the Treat and Retreat Game
You’ll need some excellent high-value snacks and some people to play the Treat and Retreat game. If you don’t trust your doggo around humans, either have them on a leash out of range of your visitor or have them behind a stair gate for safety, as a temporary management solution, keeping them separated.
You’ll also want to know how to identify canine signs of stress so you can help them stay calm to prevent any excessive barking before it starts.
- This game is really simple – all you need is a bag of yummy treats and to recruit friends or family members who are willing to help.
- Give your volunteer some of your dog’s favorite high value rewards.
- Ask them to ignore your dog and not to make any sudden movements.
- As your helper arrives through the door, have them throw the high-value goodies behind the dog, so that Fido has to add distance between themselves and the guest in order to get the food.
- Your volunteer is not to drop goodies between them and the dog, or anywhere that will make the dog decrease the distance between them and the human to get the reward.
- The dog will gradually and naturally choose to come closer in between each repetition.
- Repeat with everyone who enters the property.
Regular training using this approach and providing a positive experience around visitors can help your pup get over their fear. Encourage other people to keep their distance until your pooch is more comfortable by using this game, and in no time they’ll start to be relaxed and happy around callers to your home.
If your dog has problems coping in other situations, check out this article on reactivity.