Ask The Dog Trainer: Great Dane needs help with doorbell

Dear Kendall,
My dog’s name is Kali and she’s a two-year old Great Dane. She’s absolutely perfect – until someone comes to ring our doorbell. When our guest enters our house she keeps jumping on them and barking. We’ve tried to calm her down and get her to sit but with her size it’s very difficult. Our postman now deposits our packages in our driveway and our friends don’t like coming over anymore. I swear it’s like an earthquake when that doorbell rings! Do you have any suggestions for us?

Dear Jane,
Barking at the door is a normal alerting behavior that can become problematic. Don’t worry, I am happy to help.
My first suggestion would be to gather your family together and decide as a group what you would ideally like Kali’s “doorway” behavior to be. Perhaps you would like a couple of barks and then for her to be quiet. Or maybe you live in a small apartment and would prefer no barking at all. Once your guests enter your home, would you prefer her to remain in the living room until invited to approach, or would you like her to immediately say hi? Everyone has their own preferences, so make sure your whole family is in agreement on what they would like Kali to do so everyone can enforce the same rules.
Next, I suggest you set out some tasty treats to thank Kali when she is quiet. I put a sealed mason jar of dehydrated liver outside by my front door and inside by my entry table. This way, visitors can grab a treat outside and I can grab a treat inside. When working with such high excitement, the tastier the treat the better.
I would then advise that you print out a sign to put on your front door. Something that says “I’m training! Grab a treat and when you enter, ask me to sit!” I find that this helps achieve a prepared and patient mindset.
The reason why Kali is getting so excited about the doorbell is because she has made an association with the sound and the excitement of an entering guest. You will want to desensitize the sound of the doorbell to help Kali become more calm.
First, send one of your family members outside to stand on your doorstep and ring the doorbell. When they ring the bell and Kali begins to bark and become excited, your job is to stand still and wait until she stops barking. I prefer to stand calmly and silently, treat in hand, and wait until she is quiet. Then I ask her to sit and give her the treat. The doorbell rings, I wait until Kali stops barking, then I ask for a sit and treat. I repeat these steps until the doorbell rings and Kali automatically sits and stares at me silently. Remember to ask her to sit and wait for her to stop barking before giving her the treat, that way you aren’t rewarding her for barking.
To bring guests inside your home and avoid having them jumped on, leave Kali’s leash right by your door. When the doorbell rings, have Kali stay quiet and sit, put her leash on and approach the door. She may become quite excited simply by being in the hallway, but keep calm. Jiggle the handle and if Kali pulls forward ask her to sit. Jiggle the handle again. Ask Kali to sit and reward. Open the door an inch then shut it. Ask Kali to sit again. Repeat in slow, subsequent steps building the action until you can open the door fully and reveal your helper. It’s very important that you don’t rush this behavior too quickly and that your helper remains still and calm.
When the doorbell rings and you can walk Kali to the door and open it with her remaining relaxed, then invite your guest inside. Turn and lead them into your house with Kali on leash. Your leash is a great tool to stop her from jumping or lunging at your visitor. Have your guest close the door behind them and ask Kali to sit. Keeping your leash loose, invite her to say hi. When she runs up your guest can instruct her to sit and when she complies, calmly pet her. Anytime she tries to jump, ask her to sit instead and reward.
Your final step to this training is to gradually add more energy to the scenario. Have your helper shake your hand, give you a hug, speak in a loud tone or walk towards you quickly. You want Kali to practice and succeed as many times as possible, so go slowly.
Make sure that when you cannot guarantee a successful outcome, to have a form of maintenance in place. I suggest putting Kali outside or in a separate room or in her crate when guests come over and you cannot control the situation. You can always bring her out to say hi on leash with treats in your pocket when guests have entered and you feel like training.
Hope this keeps your household off the Richter Scale!
Kendall and Chandler Brown are owners of Custom K-9 Service Dogs, a dog training business serving Minden/Gardnerville, Carson and Reno. For information go to or email


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