The Doorbell Routine...

Tales of doorbell-induced apoplexy, and how we deal with it in the Listen Dog household!



“Hi there, I have a package for you, if you could just sign – wow... what an incredible dog you have!”

“Oh her? Yeah she does that.  I turned the sound of the doorbell into a behavioural cue so she doesn’t act  so reactively every time someone’s at the door. I’m a dog trainer.”

“I’m impressed! Did you... have to modify the vacuum cleaner at all for her to be able to use it like that?!”

“Oh no.  She uses it just as she is.  She even knows when to switch to hard floor mode. Now, every time the doorbell rings, she just starts cleaning.”

“That’s incredible! I mean- wow! I’ve never seen that before.  How is she doing that?! She doesn’t even... have thumbs..?!”

“I know.  Like I said... I’m a dog trainer.”

This, I fantasise about.  I know, WILD fantasy, right? But it’s one of my favourites for two reasons.

Reason 1: I have OCD, so vacuum cleaners just naturally occupy a lot of space in my sub-conscious mind.

Reason 1.b: I have OCD and a Labrador, concurrently.  Fur falls from her frame like lemmings from a cliff every time she so much as considers traversing the house, and I would so love for her to take some responsibility for that.

Reason 2: What actually happens in my house a couple of days after I’m feeling ballsy enough to order something I don’t need from Amazon...


"HOLY MOTHER OF JESUS CHRIST AND ALL WHO SAIL IN HER – RODNEY, THERE IS SOMEONE AT THE DOOR" Nova will cry out, in a guttural canine language, as she scrambles desperately to her feet with all the urgency of a police car on acid.

"Sound the alarm, Nova.  They will never be bold enough to breach our acoustic defence system.’ declares Rodney, the 9-year-old Chihuahua, as he scuttles to his supervisory position at the very top of the staircase, and lets out a series of authoritative woofs, then regards me with utter contempt as I approach the door like an absolute fool to let this potentially deadly heathen into our den.

Nova, the 2-year-old Labrador who was snoring only seconds ago, now slides across the polished hallway taking out a plant pot, a chunk of her own face as she fails to navigate the jagged corner of a regency table (chewed up of course, by her adolescent self only 18 months previously) and a small child or two, if they happen to be loitering in her path.  Undeterred, she catapults all 27kg of her very existence into the front door, head first, as if the person on the other side must be made entirely of bacon, and proceeds to howl.  And howl.  And headbutt the door handle.  And bleed, depending on the severity of today’s doorbell-induced facial injury.

And this is what we lovingly refer to in our household, as the doorbell dance. It’s not truly complete unless at least one child is crying, and one ornament needs to pay a visit to the superglue sanctuary.  (All owners of large neurotic dogs know exactly what Superglue Sanctuary is.)

And so here we are, in our first week home alone together (now both children have finally been taken on-board by the providers of mainstream education, huzzah!) finally attempting to nail the doorbell routine.

For anyone else who is familiar with the doorbell dance and would like to try a little doorbell training, I recommend recording the sound of your doorbell onto your phone, so that you can use it repeatedly at your whim throughout the day. TIP: Shut your dog outside whilst you do this, or else you will inevitably also record the sound of your dog bellowing ‘OHMYGOD THERE’S A GIANT PIECE OF BACON AT THE DOOR’ which will really blow your dog’s mind when you play it back.

So far, our doorbell training is progressing nicely.  I am able to direct Nova to a spot, instruct her to wait there, whilst I open the door and take an imaginary package from an imaginary Yodel driver, and then reward her in position before releasing her.  We got this down to a tee before I even toyed with introducing the sound of the doorbell.

Once this was reliable, I instructed her to wait in position, THEN rang the doorbell, then immediately rewarded her for not moving.  This took all of her willpower, so it was important that the reward came quickly (remember The Three Ds of Dog Training – it’s crucial that you proof a new behaviour slowly and steadily or your dog is almost guaranteed to fail.)

Next, I gradually increased the amount of time she had to hold her position, following the sound of the doorbell. Fantastic. Subsequently, I increased my distance from her whilst she held position.  So I’ve dealt with two of the three Ds – duration and distance – next up is the third – distraction.  I rang the doorbell, then went and opened the door, quickly closed it, then returned to reward the quivering but obedient dog.  Gradually, I upped the level of distraction, and opened the door, proceeded to have a chat with invisible Mister Yodel about the poor state of my parcel, then returned to reward the dog.

This went on and on, with me querying delivery addresses, arguing with Jehovah’s Witnesses and haggling with window cleaners, until Nova earned her freedom after a job well done. I probably wouldn’t have kept at it for so long in the first sitting, if I hadn’t noticed my elderly neighbour directly opposite our house, eying me with increasing concern every time I dealt with yet another imaginary visitor. He couldn’t see the dog, sitting patiently at the other end of the hall, but he could see me, repeatedly opening my door, gassing with no-one, and then slamming it shut. After a couple of ding-dong run-throughs, I noticed he’d gotten up from his armchair, and was now standing at the window to get a good look at the insane woman across the street.  I closed the door, chuckled, and ran the exercise again, to find that his wife had joined him at the window to take in the spectacle. I felt accomplished, and we called it a day.

But at least if the people in white coats show up tomorrow, I know I stand a good chance of answering the door without anyone being accosted by the canine... small victories.


Popular Posts