Dogs have been developed over thousands of years to alert us to potential intruders or threats to our territory. In the modern age this most often translates as the dog reacting to any activity at the front door. Many owners have a dog that will bark and excitedly jump all over visitors, others have the sort of dog that goes ballistic when they so much as hear the gate squeak and get so worked up there is a danger they may bite. These are the dogs that may intimidate the postman and shred letters as they emerge through the letterbox.
The majority of dogs will always bark to let you know someone is there, the key lies in limiting the duration of the barking and teach the dog what to do next. Most dogs only bark when their owner or caretaker is home. Some dogs are genuinely territorial and will bark, even if home alone, to warn potential intruders they are prepared to take action. Most pet dogs are not truly territorial and dogs that bark when home alone should be screened for separation issues.
At one end of the spectrum you have guard breeds (often territorial) and there is a good argument to say such types of dogs are high risk in a densely populated urban environment. These dogs are hardwired to monitor differences in the environment and to take action, should they feel it necessary. True guard breeds can be a tall order and a huge responsibility if you live in the city.
Many pet dogs are of the aloof, watch-dog variety. They are not true guard dogs but may not instantly warm to strangers and are more sensitive to environmental changes and quick to sound the alarm. Dogs like this need to be trained early around the front door, to understand what is normal (non-threatening) and what to do when a visitor arrives.
At the other end of the spectrum, breeds like the Labrador tend to be super social. They can get worked up at the prospect of visitor arrival because they love meeting everyone. However, having a large Labrador jumping and clawing at you, even if they are simply happy to see you, is not fun and may still result in injury. Excitable nipping and mouthing of the “I love you so much I could eat you”variety is also something I see.
The key to training door manners lies in understanding the type of dog you have; over-friendly, aloof watchdog or slightly fearful, guard dog or territorial? Of course, there are variations and I see Labradors that dislike new people as well as German Shepherds that are not ‘guardy’ at all.
If you own an aloof or fearful dog then I generally suggest you spend some time desensitising them to various front door activity sounds, so they begin to accept them as normal and non-threatening. I also advise screening windows, so the dog cannot see comings and goings in the street. These are the dogs I teach to move away from the door and to go to a spot and remain there while the owner handles visitors or deliveries. Obviously, this takes time and I would recommend the help of a professional trainer or behaviourist, to devise a plan that is tailored for you.
Where dogs are sociable but get too excitable on hearing front door activity, I also suggest desensitisation and counter-conditioning. However, very often these dogs can also be taught to recall to you, after they start barking. They learn to calmly accompany you to the door and hold a sit or down, while the door is opened, and visitor invited in. In all cases a strong ‘leave’ cue is desirable. I also recommend the help of a behaviourist if your dog seems fearful or aggressive.
Leonie St Clair | www.londondogstraining