Crazy dog at the door? Trick or treat!

Hallowe’en comes every year.  If you have a dog that goes crazy at the door, Halloween is a nightmare.  At best you can hope to take your dog somewhere else where there are no tricker-treaters (good luck!).  Or perhaps you can hide out in your house with the house dark as if no one is home.  You would not be the first, you know.

But if you have kids and they are out tricking and treating the night away, you almost have an obligation to feed the rest of the neighbourhood kids candy, too. So even though its probably too late to make a big dent in crazy so close to Halloween for sure you are going to be thinking about how you can improve your dog’s behavior.  Here are a couple of ideas we have pulled from our e-book:

If your dog is barky:

When the doorbell rings, reward the dog for the initial bark to begin with, and then ask your dog to go to their spot for a second reward.  Repeat.  It may seem counter intuitive to do this if they are carrying on, but bear with me. Then, fade out the treat for the approach to the door once the dog links the two things together: 1) doorbell rings and they bark and 2) they then run to their mat for a treat (so keep treats nearby to this spot).

What people start to see is the barking becomes shortened because dogs start to get a little lazy and take the easy route. Dogs will often do the minimum amount of activity they can get away with for a treat, and if then the treat starts to not appear, they get lazier about it. Great! A lazy barker!

Just make sure you are continuing to reward when he or she goes to his mat because let’s face it, when the door bell goes, it’s a whole lot more interesting to hang out at the door than to go lie down. Putting a sign outside your door explaining that it may take you a minute or two to get to the door takes the pressure off you to open the door immediately, and allows you to reward your dog.

If your dog is aggressive:

Unfortunately, many people complain that their dog see the threatening dog or person, they won’t take a treat. Of course they won’t: they are too stressed. By the time that dog is that stressed it’s too late. Even if they do take the treat, it doesn’t mean that they are comfortable with the target of their aggression. Dogs can be ambivalent.

But the doorbell is neutral. It is not threatening to a dog that is aggressive towards people who enter the home. Instead, the doorbell signals that the threat is coming and this sets off the dog’s nervous system response to threat. Therefor the treat is given to the sound of the doorbell repeatedly without having anyone come in.

This way it may be possible to lower the dog’s arousal and engage the parasympathetic nervous system response. If a dog is given a treat too late when anxiety is in full-force, it will have virtually no effect. The dog either eats it mindlessly, doesn’t appear to enjoy it, or he or she simply won’t take (or notice) the treat. In this scenario, the best way to handle this is simply have someone ring the bell, and someone gives the dog the high value treat regardless of how the dog is behaving.

Several repetitions of this technique are necessary to make the change, upwards to several times a day for a month or more. In this case, you may have only reduced reactivity, but not eliminated it, nor have you changed his attitudes towards the actual threatening thing. But at least the dog is not going ballistic at the door, and you may be able to try desensitizing and counter conditioning.

Check our e-book for more tips on tricking treating your aggressive dog.


The Dog Aggression System Every Dog Owner Needs E-book

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