Who’s there? (The K is silent.)
One of my favorite successes in treating Isis’s reactivity was getting her to lie on a mat when someone came to the door. Before I implemented the following reward-based training technique, a knock at the door was greeted with an intimidating German shepherd bark that made me want to hold Isis back when a new person entered our home.
Holding a dog back creates barrier frustration and makes her bark louder and scarier. Better to train a dog that visitors mean good things will happen.
Here’s how we did it:
At the sound of the knock, Isis barked. That’s allowed; that’s what dogs do. I’d say, “Isis, on your bed.” We kept her bed on the floor outside the guest bathroom, in view of our small foyer, but with a substantial buffer. I walked with her to the bed and pointed. Executed perfectly, Isis would lie on her bed and wait.
I kept a jar of Milk-Bones by the front door. I’d invite the guest in and ask him to stand in the foyer. Walking back to Isis, I’d hand her a cookie and say “Good girl. Wait,” then walk back to the guest and hand him a cookie. When I cued, “Okay Isis, say hello,” she could run up to the guest and get the cookie.
Isis associates the new person with a cookie. New person sees Isis as the adorable, friendly, smart dog she is. Everybody’s happy.
Now, some dogs learn to go to their mat at the sound of the knock, and wait there patiently. Isis had to be instructed a few times.
Perfection is overrated. We achieved our goal of having Isis greet guests politely, although it usually looked like this:
I’d say “Isis, on your bed,” and she’d run over to the bed, letting out a few excited barks. “Sit.” She might sit, or lie down, but then bark a few more times, maybe stand up. I’d wait for her to settle before proceeding. On my way to the door, she might get up and take a few steps toward the door. I’d ask her to lie on her bed again. Sometimes I’d have to walk back there with her and point.
A few times she’d get up after I opened the door. More than once I shoved my visitor back outside until Isis settled on her bed again. (This is why you should practice with understanding volunteers. I suggest other strategies for answering the door for the UPS guy.)
This training culminated in a get-together where we had about a dozen friends over and Isis waited on her bed to greet each of them. The best part – it turned her scary alert bark into one of high-pitched excitement as she waited eagerly to meet new people.
For the A to Z Challenge, I’m using all positive language in my posts. Read the rest of Isis’s story and what we learned about positive reinforcement training in my book, Bark and Lunge!
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