Costumes, Doorbells, Excitement, OH MY!
The Horror of Bad Habits
Aside from the Fourth of July, Halloween has to be one of the least favorite holidays for pet owners. Why? It's when your wanna be guard dog who spends all day looking out the window watching for mailman, or squirrels who dare to enter their yard, suddenly has small monsters frequently ringing the doorbell. At K9 Heights we don't encourage letting your dog having unstructured free time where they can fixate on guarding the house, but we do know that it happens.
With Halloween approaching quickly its a great time to take control of the house back from Fido. How does your dog react to visitors or the doorbell ringing? Most cases dogs love to charge the door, or announce the door bell with a chorus of barks. We sometimes brush this behavior off, because while inconvenient it doesn't happen frequently. During this time of year the bad habits like to rear their ugly heads and show up with a vengeance. All the little things that we brushed off throughout the year, compound to make life a little more chaotic.
Want to Prevent your House Turning into a Mad House?
When the doorbell rings in a lot of homes with dogs, all heck breaks loose. Before your house turns into a mad house, practice the desired behavior. You want to break up the training or reintroduction to this skill into parts. That's why you'll want to start yesterday.
Train for a few days prior to guest coming over instead of being flustered in the moment. It's not going to just be Halloween that you have guests and visitors. Thanksgiving and Christmas parties are approaching fast and your guests will thank you for your hard work and diligence now.
The truth is, if you expect your dog to magically fix all their behavior issues by putting on the e-collar or leash, it wont happen instantaneously . However if you start small, and show your dog what we want them to do step by step, it helps them get the big picture. It will help change your dog's behavior to think " If the doorbell rings I go to place" instead of wanting to shout to the world "INTRUDER ALERT, I MUST GREET THEM AND TELL EVERYONE!!!"
Where to Start
1. Is your dog dressed for the occasion? Long line/ Leash and E collar?
Does your dog have a magical ability and seem to know when their collar or leash is on? Do they behave better with the collar, but the second it comes off they become belligerent?
Practice makes permanent. Yes, training collars are work, because they help us communicate with our dogs with immediate feedback. The correction needs to be instant. Your dog needs to listen to a command whether they receive a correction or not. If they don't chose to follow your instructions, they need an immediate correction via leash or e-collar. This is why it's important to utilize training tools regularly. We want to be rotating the collar on your dog's neck regularly throughout the day. If your dog has a leash on in the house remember to make sure it's attached to their martingale collar or flat collar, not the e-collar or pinch. When this is done, there's no risk of injury. They should ALWAYS be wearing the e collar when they are out of the crate. This makes a difference in our dogs behavior.
Dogs are smart. They know that something has changed in our behavior when we only put the e-collar or leash on for special occasions. A lot of times our nerves, and anxiety about our dog acting up, feeds into their excitement and stimulus of a new situation. You want to be sure that you are practicing with your dog and have your e-collar on your dog and a leash. Help remind your dog that they need to mind at all times, not just occasionally. You need ways to correct your dog and redirect their attention to you instead of the new novel stimuli.
2. Practice "Go To Place" from a Distance
To start this exercise, have your dog on a normal 6 foot leash or long line. Having your dog on leash helps to give them corrections, guide them into a down position, or corral them if they become a wild child. If you haven't already ready our blog "The Power of Place" I'd recommend checking it out to learn more about why we use the place command.
First, you want to start by sending your dog to place standing next to their place. Once your dog starts going from that distance, then gradually build up the distance you send them from. Send them to place from different places in your house, while sitting on your couch, standing at your front door, or while you're in the kitchen (this is valuable if you drop something and need to clean it up without a dog in the way). Keep an eye on your dog, and follow through on your commands. If your dog deviates, correct and direct them to place. You may have gone too fast building up distance. Back track a step and practice sending them to place from a little bit closer. The key principle to keep in mind is that we don't want to constantly have to walk your dog to place, this is where a long line comes in handy.
Is it really worth the effort? Think about these real life scenarios you'll encounter. What happens when there's a pizza delivery, kids trick-or-treating, or guests coming in? You don't want your dog charging the door, barking, or jumping on whoever is there. You also will become flustered if you always have to walk your dog over to place each time someone knocks, because Fido has charged the door, AGAIN. This is where the habits come from. We get flustered in the moment and we let things slide. It can create chaos and cost you peace of mind. The reason we practice "Go to Place" with your dog is so they know that they have to go to place when told, from any distance. They don't need a personal escort each time, or else they'll think they only have to go lay down when you walk them over to place. This is an area a lot of people relapse in. It's hard. That's why practicing helps, when you need to utilize the skill your dog knows, you can rely on it.
3. The Set Up
Once you've practiced with little to no stimuli and distractions around, its time to practice the set up.
A set up gives your dog a chance to practice how to behave in a real world situation without your attention being divided between corralling the dog to prevent them from jumping or barking, paying the pizza delivery guy, and making your dog actually behave. You'll need your dog on leash, a training collar, and a helpful volunteer to stand outside and knock or ring the doorbell.
Start with your dog on place and have your dog's leash within reach, remember we don't want to just correct the dog, we want to guide them to where we want them to go. You'll stand next to their place again, standing next to them while they're in a down stay. Once the doorbell rings,remind your dog once to "place". They may try to go to the door, mark the behavior with a "No", correct them with the leash/collar, and repeat "Place". We want them to go to place and stay there. Release, then praise when they have remained calm, no barking and no charging the door.
Next have your dog off place, yet still on leash. Standing near their place have your helper ring the doorbell again. This time when the doorbell ring command your dog to "Place" and direct them to place. Remember we say a command once. If they still are pulling for the door or barking, give them correction on the collar, a marker "No", and repeat the command once"Place". Your dog should go to place and stay there. Release, and praise when they have remained calm, not barking or charging the door. This may be after the guest has left, or once the guest has entered and things have settled down in the house.
Repeat the same process again with your dog on a long line. Standing further and further away, sending your dog to place once the doorbell rings again. Have them maintain place while the excitement is there, or until things calm down. Release, and praise when they have remained calm, quiet and stayed on place until release.
Don't be Surprised
Practice real life scenarios before they happen. If you get in the position where you cannot correct your dog as you should, when you encounter the real scenario with your dog, your dog should be crated to prevent the bad habits from being reinforced. Crating your dog isn't a punishment, it's a way of controlling the situation. Every time we let bad habits slide intentionally, you are reinforcing the likelihood of that behavior becoming the new normal.
Keep an eye on your dog, if they start exhibiting signs of stress put them on place or remove them from the situation and crate them. Remember Halloween can be a lot of stimulus for your dog, they're not used to this many visitors or the costumes. Adding structure will help them manage the situation.
4. Taking Set ups to the Next Level
You will eventually want to the distance to send them to place while you're standing at the front door, but while practicing these set ups you will want to vary the distance you send them to place and the level of stimulus the dog will experience. Practice with multiple excitement levels, vary the stimulus by starting with someone calmly greeting you as you open the door, to having the person ring the doorbell and get really animated when they enter! Imagine excited little kids yelling "Trick or Treat", the enthusiastic greeting you'd your best friend that you haven't seen in a while,"HELLO! How are you?", or you can practice your dog maintaining place while your guest "Oooo's and Aww's" over your dog saying, "Oh my! What a cute puppy?!".
Does the Thought of Training Scare You?
Are you sitting here thinking, "this would work if only I had the time or the help?". Well, let's look at some of the solutions. First off, nothing beats practice! It doesn't have to be long, just start with something. Can you find 10-15 minutes each day to work with your dog? If you can't find a helper to ring the doorbell use your phone, pull up YouTube and search doorbell sounds. Play those sounds to help you simulate the scenario without a helper.
Be sure to use the E-Collar and leashes regularly to help you communicate with your dog. Don't fall into the habit of using your training collar irregularly. Training isn't like getting your oil changed, you can't just do it once and be all set for 6 more months. Remember that practice helps to maintain manners and reinforce the behaviors you want your dog to exhibit. It may be overwhelming, but it's never too late to start. Get ahead of bad behaviors, now.
Practicing these training exercises now is an investment in your future holidays. When you start to work on your dog's manners, it will help you to be able to enjoy many more holidays without your house turning into a zoo each time the doorbell rings. Start now to prepare you and your dog for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas parties. Trust us, your guests will appreciate it, and it will help give you peace of mind during these busy times of year.