No more suffering when the bell rings!

Do you also end up shouting at your over-excited dog when the bell rings, hoping that somehow he calms down? If this resonates with you, then this is what you should be reading!–by Siddh Trivedi

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A lot of pet parents complain that their pets either bark uncontrollably, run around the room, knock over objects, become aggressive, attack or even bite visitors when the doorbell rings. Some of the pets need to be locked in another room as they won’t stop barking until the guests leave, have spoilt guests’ clothes, or have jumped on them and hurt them. It can be such an embarrassing situation for the pet parents.

Root cause of your pet’s excitement

Dogs are territorial. It means their natural instinct is to protect their territory (applies more to aggressive dogs). In nature, they are at constant competition with their siblings for food from the mother. When we adopt them, it’s a different story. The puppy jumps on you and you find it cute, so you reward him with cuddles, hugs, and even treats at times. Since he is rewarded for this behaviour, this continues through adulthood. Also, puppies and adult dogs are much shorter than human adults and most children. So, they feel the need to jump to get your attention and reach your hand to tempt you to pat them. As a puppy, it works like magic and they feel rewarded.

Normally, when you bring a puppy of say around 4 to 8 weeks of age at home, he is observing everything in your home, which includes the different doors. Soon, he realises the moment when someone enters the main door, it is when people in the house are excitedly greeting each other, even greeting him. This is not the case when people enter or exit the other doors in the house.

Keep calm and let the bell ring!

Now that you’ve understood the root cause of your pet’s excitement to the doorbell, here are a few tips to help contain it.

Love when all fours on the ground: When your puppy or even your adult pet jumps on you, don’t give him any attention. Don’t react. Give him love, care, cuddles, food, treats, etc. only when all four legs are on the floor. If he starts jumping, simply fold your hands and look the other way. With time, your pet will forget the act of jumping.

Cut the excitement cord: Avoid asking your pet “See who has come!”, “Dekhokaunaaya?”, etc. when the doorbell rings. This creates unnecessary excitement. Also, avoid greeting your pet when you enter the room and saying bye when you leave.Instead, play with him or pamper him at random times that are not associated with your entry or exit from your home. This way, he will learn to dissociate excitement with the doorbell ringing.

Dash of socialization goes a long way: Dogs who haven’t been socialised as puppies have a natural instinct to become territorial and protect their surroundings from intruders (in this case your home). They learn to perceive visitors to be intruders. This becomes worse with time.

Socialising your puppy is very important. It need not be done daily, but you must make time for it. Socialization prevents 70 percent of the behavioural problems commonly found in dogs, which include – aggression towards strangers, attacking other dogs, getting into fights with strays, and many more. Introduce your puppy to your friends, other dog lovers & other dogs at dog camps after he has received his first vaccination. Arrange for visits to other people’s homes, visits to the park, picnics etc. This goes a long way in preventing stranger anxiety.

Sit, stay and be calm: Designate a place for the pet to go and sit when the doorbell rings. This could be a mat or his bed. When there are no distractions or visitors around, lure him to that place with his favourite treat. Ask him to sit there, call him a “Good boy” and give him the treat. Once he learns this, use the doorbell as a learning tool. Ring the doorbell, and immediately offer him a treat at the place you want him to go and sit calmly when he hears it. Repeat this process frequently, and with time, he will learn to go and sit in his designated place when the doorbell rings. For this process to be successful, the dog should have some basic obedience training, for instance, obeying commands such as “sit” “stay” and “no”.

Go on, but with permission: Train your pet to seek your permission to go upto a visitor and smell them. Allow him to do so with a close friend, family member, or dog lover, basically anyone who won’t be scared of him. This fulfils his curiosity and doesn’t leave room for insecurity. Slowly, he will stop being suspicious of strangers.

It’s just a bell, no big deal: Desensitise your pet from a doorbell by training him to sit when it rings. Offer him a treat for doing so. This way, he will learn to keep his attention on you instead of the visitor. Also, he will perceive the ringing of the doorbell to be positive. This method can be used on puppies as well as adult dogs.

Another effective strategy is to ring the doorbell randomly every now and then throughout the day yourself. Get your family members to do it too. Soon, he will realise that there’s nothing special about people ringing the doorbell and entering the house, and he won’t be over exited any more.

If your pet is friendly, you can ask your friends or frequent visitors to ask him to sit, and then offer him a treat. Automatically, whenever there’s a visitor, he will learn to sit in front of them instead of barking and jumping.The advantage of this method is that he will learn to sit or lie down if he wants someone to pet him. Ask your family members to avoid petting him when he is standing.

Teach him – Zen mode on: Often pet parents get worked up and hit an over-excited pet who is barking, running around, and jumping around when the doorbell rings. You need to understand, at that point your pet might not be able to contain his excitement and when you hit him, it can have a bad effect on him.

So, how to deal with it? At a random time in the day, take his favourite treats and run around the room, jump and shout to get him excited. He too will do the same. Then stop all of a sudden. He may stop his excitement immediately, but he will realise there’s something wrong and would stop. He might sit or stand right next to you. When he does that, offer him the treat in your hand. Take a break of a few minutes, and repeat the same. This will teach him to be excited when you’re excited and calm when you’re calm.

Training a dog is not as complex as we often perceive it to be. Consistency and patience are the keys.

(Siddh Trivedi is an animal trainer and behaviour specialist. He has over a decade of experience in training dogs of various breeds and has a deep understanding of their behavioural patterns)