The Struggle is Real
Can you relate to this?
Someone knocks on your door and the scramble, the frenzy, ensues. Whether you have one dog or several, this melee at the front door can turn a friendly visitor into an unfortunate victim as soon as the front door opens.
Would you like to know how to prevent this front door fracas? To have your big dog(s) become passive bystanders rather than an uncontrollable force of hair and slobber when someone rings your doorbell?
Dogs will be dogs. And for those of us with guardian breeds, we should expect that our dogs will very naturally alarm bark when someone is outside. This is normal. But what is not normal or acceptable is pandemonium when guests enter the home.
Believe it or not, this isn’t the most complicated skill to teach, and I am going to share with you the 5 steps I used to bring peace and order back to my front door.
However, before all you actual dog trainers out there start screaming… no, I am not a certified dog trainer.
While there are absolutely times and places for enlisting the services of a professional, I believe for most non-reactive big dogs (who happily greet friendly strangers), this issue can be solved with the help of Big Dog Mom!
Let’s begin.Would you like to know how to prevent this front door fracas? To have your big dog(s) become passive bystanders rather than an uncontrollable force of hair and slobber when someone rings your doorbell?Click To Tweet
5 Steps to Restoring Order to Your Front Door
1. Define Your Dog’s PLACE
Decide where you would like your dog to go when guests arrive. This will be his new “place.” This includes any and all events that lead up to the person actually coming through the front door. Knocking on the door, ringing the doorbell, or the person actually walking through the door. You will want to make this easy at first using a spot that is somewhat close to the door, but that you can move further from the door as your dog’s front door greeting gets better.
Some examples might include:
- a crate off to the side with the door open (if your dog loves his crate),
- a mat, rug or blanket you lay off to the side and can easily move
- A dog bed like this
- a room near your front entry (this is the “place” I have chosen based on the set up of our house (see the linked video below)
Use tricks and games to solidify your dog’s understanding of this new “place.” Since I use the sunken living room off to the side of our front door, I started defining their “place” by trick training in this location (sit, down, stay, come, play dead, etc). Whenever I had a clicker and treats the dogs would go running to their “place.” This is classical conditioning at it’s best!
If you are just starting out you can also move to the next step while incorporating the pairing of other tricks and training using your dog’s new “place.”
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2. Train a Reliable Sit-Stay
If your dog doesn’t yet know the word “stay,” you will want to work on that BEFORE attempting the front door greeting training. This skill requires your dog to understand the word and the expectations behind the word “stay.”
This does not have to be a rock solid stay that is unshakable no matter the temptation. Most of us may never achieve that. What I am referring to is a stay that is pretty good MOST of the time with you at a distance and for a reasonable amount of time (10-30 seconds). As long as your dog can do this, he will be able to move through the rest of this exercise smoothly.
And for those of you who have puppies or are still working on your sit-stay, I would ask that you continue to practice a couple times a day in, say, 5 minute sessions, apart from your front door greeting training. This will ensure that sit-stay gets better and better as time goes on.
The next three steps are a little more complicated, so stick with me. And if you want to watch a video demonstration of how to put all this together, click on the Facebook Live Workshop video below.
3. Pair KNOCK with a TREAT on the PLACE
Because my dog’s “place” is in the room off to the left of our front door, I started with me (holding treats) knocking a couple times on the front door and saying to them “go to your place.” I was basically re-creating the sound they hear when someone knocks from the outside.
The first few times doing this Junior and Sulley had different reactions. Junior frenzied near the door eager to greet, and Sulley immediately ran to his place and ran back to me. To get both dogs on the same page, I would knock, and with treats in my hand, walk into where their “place” is and ask for a sit and a stay.
I repeated just the knock and the sit-stay in their place at least 20-30 more times over a few days. My goal was to be able to have them hear the sound of the knock on the door and obediently go to their place, sit and stay until I released them.
4. Pair KNOCK and OPENING the door with a TREAT on the PLACE, Pretend GUESTS
Once the boys were loving the knock on the door – place trick, I upped the ante by first jiggling the door handle, then opening the door just an inch, then opening the door all the way. I worked through all of this in tiny increments that essentially built on prior learned skills.
The process was the same each time with only one small variable added. For example…
- Knock, “go to your place,” sit, stay, jiggle the handle, treat, then release.
- Knock, “go to your place,” sit, stay, open the door an inch, close the door, treat, release
- Knock, “go to your place,” sit, stay, open the door wider, wait a little longer, close the door, treat, release.
- Knock, “go to your place,” sit, stay, open the door and say hello to imaginary UPS guy, close the door, treat, release.
- Knock, “go to your place,” sit, stay, open the door all the way, talking to an imaginary friend, laughing, short convo with your “friend,” close the door, treat, release.
- Have someone you know knock from the outside, “go to your place,” sit, stay, open the door, short convo with a pretend guest, close the door, treat, release.
- Have someone you know knock from the outside, “go to your place,” sit, stay, open the door, short convo, ask the person to come in, close door, treat, release.
So you may find that your dog needs 10-20 iterations of each of these steps. The trick here is not moving too fast, but changing up tiny aspects of each step to practice every possible scenario.
For example, vary the fake conversations you have to something your dogs may have heard before. Slowly increase the duration between the knock on the door and the treat, release.
I tried anything and everything to break my dog’s sit-stay in place. Because when I would be able to break it, I knew what triggers I needed to work on more.
5. Repeat Step 4 Using the DOORBELL
At my house, this is a more advanced skill, which is why I work on JUST the knock on the door first. The sound of our doorbell is loudest right around our staircase further away from the door. So, for the dogs, not only is the doorbell not a sound they hear all the time, but it’s a sound that doesn’t obviously come from our front door. This is important to consider as you think about how to train a “go to place” at the sound of the doorbell.
I started this doorbell exercise by beginning with the knock at the door, “go to your place,” sit, stay, open the door. Once the door was open, I walked outside briefly, came back in, closed the door, treat, release.
You may notice I didn’t say ring the doorbell. There is a reason for that. Training something like this is best accomplished in tiny increments. Once the dogs stayed for me when I walked outside for, say, 5 seconds without coming to look for me, I introduced the doorbell. So that step looked like this:
- Knock (or no knock… I practiced both), “go to your place,” sit, stay, open the door and walk outside, ring doorbell, walk back in, close door, treat, release.
I worked up to doing that entire process numerous times adding in the convo with an imaginary guest, and eventually adding in my daughter or son who would ring the doorbell from the outside mimicking what would happen with an actual guest arriving at the front door.
Want to save this for later? Grab your FREE How to Teach Front Door Greetings Worksheet which includes the 5 step process and space for taking notes during the workshop below.
TIPS for Successful Front Door Greetings
Here are a few tips and alternate strategies to increase your success in bringing order back during front door greetings.
1. Consider whether you should train multiple dogs together or individually.
My thought process was that because Junior and Sulley would almost always be together when guests knock on the door, I needed to be able to manage them both at all times. So I trained this skill with both dogs together at all times. I also knew that Sulley would be a good influence on Junior. Sulley is extremely responsive to training and eager to please.
Junior really just wants what he wants, no matter who he needs to bulldoze in the process of getting it.
He is an over-greeter in the most slobbery sense. But, he does follow Sulley’s lead, so I use that to my advantage.
2. Use high value treats, especially as you increase in complexity.
I also recommend using the jackpot strategy – a series of 10-20 tiny treats one after the other when doing the “treat” and release.
3. When you start, you will want to go TO your dog to treat and release them from their sit-stay.
But as you move towards the more complex behaviors and mimicking an actual guest coming inside, you can also work on a remote release. So this might be treating your dog closer to the guest and for being calm and respectful when they are released from their sit-stay.
4. If your dog is more toy motivated, all of this will work if you replace the TREAT with a TOY like a small ball or plushie or whatever your dog likes.
Teaching your dog to catch a ball in the air would be a great foundational skill. Then you can add on a sit-stay with the reward being ball time. When this is obviously something your dog is enjoying, you can add on front door greetings using a ball as the TREAT.
5. Be patient.
Your dog will break his sit-stay countless times during this process and that is ok.
DO NOT SCOLD OR REPRIMAND HIM FROM GETTING UP!
Just stay silent and walk him back to his “place” and try again. If you find him getting up more often than not, you are going too fast. Take a few steps back to get a better foundation.
Bringing Order to Chaos at the Front Door
In this Facebook Live Workshop, I will be demonstrating all of these steps, one by one, so you can visualize the process outlined above. Before you watch, be sure to download your How to Teach Front Door Greetings Worksheet to take notes and keep on hand for when you are training your dogs.
If orderly front door greetings are something you struggle with, I encourage you to try this method. Share in the Big Dog Mom Community the progress you are making. We would love to encourage and support you along the way. Not a member of the Big Dog Mom Community? Click here to join.
I will leave you with this.
Most of us are not certified dog trainers. The majority of us are not defined as academic scholars in the areas of canine behavior or dog training.
But what we all have is a love for our dogs and a desire for peace in our home.
That peace is possible, I promise you.
If I can get 450 pounds of Mastiff mayhem at our front door under control, I guarantee you can too.