Before I walk you through this, let’s establish some basics.
First, while some of what I’m saying can generalize, this training was done within the context of Karen Overall’s relaxation protocol. You can do an internet search and find full versions online, if you’re curious, or you can get the gist of it from reading the mat work sections of Leslie McDevitt’s Control Unleashed.
The dog being on his mat gives you two advantages. It speeds up the process, because the dog knows the mat is a safe place, and it gives your dog something specific to do (continue staying on the mat.) “Don’t” behaviors (“don’t bark at the doorbell”) are much harder to train. The downside of doing this in the context of mat training is that your dog may very well learn not to bark at the doorbell when he is already on the mat, but it gives you something to work with.
Secondly, I’m not a professional. I’m just telling you what worked for Silas.
That said, here’s what we did in many sessions over many days:
1) Find a doorbell-like sound that gets a mild reaction from your dog, like an ear twitch. I used a “doorbell” ringtone on my phone that sounded exactly like our bell, but you can also download them from various places. If you’re doing the full relaxation protocol, use that sound, just loud enough that you can tell the dog hears it, everywhere that the relaxation protocol has you ring the doorbell. Give your dog a reward (food is best for this kind of training, because it encourages calmness) every time he behaves like you want when the sound happens.
2) Gradually run the volume up, but stay where you are, standing next to your dog.
3) Run the volume back down. Walk to your door, then ring the fake doorbell sound. Gradually run the volume up, until you can walk all the way to the door and use the imitation sound at full volume.
4) Open the door, but use the fake sound. Again, start over with the volume. If you’re doing the Relaxation Protocol, your dog has already been conditioned to accept you opening the door. If you haven’t done it, then you may need to work on opening the door separately, before you can pair it with the sound.
5) Once you can open the door and use your imitation doorbell sound at full volume without causing a reaction from your dog, you are ready to try the real doorbell. If your dog barks or runs up to the door, reset him and try again before you give up. Silas was bothered by the first “real” ring, but he figured out very quickly that it was still just me making a random noise.
Don’t stack too many repetitions of these back to back. Just because your dog can listen to one doorbell chime without barking doesn’t mean he can listen to five in a row. Mix in some easier behaviors and make sure you keep sessions short.