Ever heard the phrase the cobbler’s children have no shoes? Well, I will make a confession; my dogs do not always have the picture-perfect manners one might hope that a trainer’s dog would possess. They know all the basic commands, a couple of cute tricks and generally respond to what I ask them to do. Unfortunately, all this goes completely out the window when the doorbell rings. My four-year-old, 60 pound lab mix, Ruby, is a well-rehearsed barker and jumper whenever the doorbell chimes. When we first got Tucker, our 10-month-old lab pup, he would just watch this craziness and wonder quietly what the big deal was with doorbells. Well, as bad habits often do, the problem has now spread. Tucker has decided to throw his 55 pounds and amazingly loud, deep bark into the mix as well. With both of them involved, the door chaos has simply become too much.
I always keep leashes, with gentle leader attached, hanging on a hook by the door. I am blessed with thoughtful neighbors who have learned through a few too many exuberant greetings to either call on their cell phones to let me know they’re coming over or simply let themselves in rather than ringing the dreaded bell. If I know people are coming, Ruby is usually confined to our bedroom where she naps away the visit while listening to the radio, and Tucker happily chews on a Kong in his crate.
I have found myself speaking to the dogs in a less-than-happy voice as I try with various degrees of success to body block them while I slip out the door and slam it closed behind me so I can order girl scout cookies, sign a petition or try to courteously refuse whatever is being sold. Finally, after feeling absolutely exasperated with the dogs, I had to ask myself what I would tell a client dealing with this problem? Thinking of it this way made the solution much easier for me to see.
So today, I made my way to the back of our basement storage closet to haul out the baby gate that hasn’t been used since my youngest was a toddler over five years ago. I installed it and now my dogs no longer have access to the front door. Every trainer knows that one of the first things you need to do is manage the problem situation and set the dogs up for success. The second thing we are doing is working harder on the “Go to your place” cue. Both dogs know it, but we had never taken it to the level of being able to do it reliably when the doorbell rings. They are getting better each day, and I hope someday to be able to welcome guests into my home with quiet, calm dogs who placidly sit on their beds until released to say a very mellow hello. We can all dream, right?