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Four Alternatives to Doggie Doors


Undoubtedly, for as long as humans have had doors, family dogs have stood outside and barked to be let back in them. Canines have always declared their desire to reenter in that fashion, and humans have always honored the summons.

But the bark-to-get-in approach that worked so well during the dark ages has created an acoustic blight over the densely populated landscape of the twenty-first century, and the problem is just getting worse.

The time has come for us, both as individuals and as a society, to move away from the bark-to-get-in procedure that our species has used with canines for lo these many centuries.

If Not That, Then What?

The question naturally arises. If, as a society, we are to abandon the bark-to-get-in approach, then how are we going to work the logistics of getting our dogs back into the house?

Doggie doors are the obvious answer to the problem because they provide the dog with the opportunity to come back in at any time, which makes it unnecessary for him to bark to gain entry.

If doggie doors are not your style, then you have four other choices.

The Four Alternative Approaches

1) Make the Dog Wait

First, you can simply make the dog wait until somebody goes in or out, or you can just let him in when you think of it and get around to doing it.

2) The Timer Method

Your second alternative is to set a kitchen-type timer to remind you to go to the door periodically and see if your dog is ready to come in.

3) Establish a Visual Cue

You might also want to consider establishing a visual cue which your dog can use to signal to you when he wants in. Of course, a visual cue can only be employed if you have the canine in sight. But it works very well if you are in a well windowed room with a good view of the dog as he roams the yard.

First, decide which of your dog's actions you want to establish as visual cue. It needs to be something that he does fairly often. For example, maybe when your dog is outside and you are inside, every few minutes he walks up and looks in a certain window. So, let's say you decide to establish your dogs looking-in-the-window response as a visual cue.

Thereafter, every time the dog looks in that particular window, you need to get up and let him in the house. I mean every time, without exception, even if he doesn't want to come back in just yet. If he looks in the window, make him come in anyway. If you keep that up, then, before long, your dog will learn that, if he wants in the house, he should look in that particular window. He will also quickly surmise that, if he doesn't want to go inside, then he'd better not display that particular visual cue, because it will land him indoors every time.

Of course, you don't have to choose peering in the window as your visual cue. Anything that your dog can be relied on to do from time to time can be established as a cue to let you know that he wants to come back in the house.

4) The Doggie Doorbell

Things have changed. There are now more people, more dogs, and more noise-producing mechanical gadgets than ever before. If our quality is life is to be preserved within the context of those changes in technology and population density, then, as a society, we are going to have to adjust to the times by coming up with new ways to communicate with our dogs. That's why, in this shrinking world of ever increasing noise, we need to start thinking innovatively about ways that will allow us to chip away at the problem. The doggie doorbell being the case in point.

The idea of a doorbell for your dog sounds absurd, as new ideas often do. But it would take no great effort to install a ground level footswitch that triggers your doorbell when your dog steps on it, and it would be easy enough to teach your dog to use it. Then you would know immediately when your dog wanted in, and your neighbor could relax or take a nap for once without being disturbed.

Why Your Dog Barks When He Wants to Come Back In

Your dog barks to get in because, at some point, probably very soon after he first came to live with you, he barked, and you responded by opening the door and letting him in the house. That was your big mistake. You let it get started.

Every time your dog barks you should go out and see what he is barking at. If he is barking at something he should be barking at, then you should reward him. If he is barking inappropriately then you should punish him. But never respond to a dog that is barking inappropriately by letting him in the house. Remember, the easiest wasy to deal with a barking problem is not to ever let it get started.

How to Deal with a Dog that is Already in the Habit of Barking to Get Back In

If your dog is barking to gain entry, then you need to switch over to one of the five approaches listed above. The tricky part of the transition is not figuring out how to make your dog stop barking to get in. Rather, the challenge is in getting him to accept the new way of doing things without causing him undue distress.

There are two variables that will determine how readily and how happily your dog will adjust to the new way of doing things.

The first is related to how you go about extinguishing (eliminating) his bark-to-get-back-in behavior. The second has to do with what kind of options you give him for getting back inside, and how you introduce him to those alternatives.

There are two types of procedures you can use to make your dog stop barking to get back in the house.

You can punish his barking , which means that, after each bark, you give the dog something he doesn't want (like a smack on the nose). Or you can punish him for barking by going out and taking away something he does want, like a chew bone or a favorite toy.

Your other choice is to use an extinction procedure, which just refers to a technique in which you suddenly eliminate the payoff for barking. Historically, the payoff for barking has been that, if he did it, he is was quickly let back in the house. To work the extinction procedure, then, you just adopt a permanent new policy of no longer responding to the dog's bark by letting him in. Instead, you just ignore him. When the dog sees that barking no longer gains him admittance to the house, he will stop barking. (Unless he's barking for some other reason.)

Quieting your canine through an extinction procedure would be a little less upsetting for the dog than would a punishment procedure. But obviously, it would be much more upsetting for your neighbors, because the barking could continue for days before it declined significantly, and it might go on for weeks before it stops altogether. And, of course, if your dog's barking is unrelated to his desire to enter the house, then your decision to ignore his barking will have no effect whatsoever on the frequency of his vocalizations. Therefore, you are almost sure to need to use punishment.

Important point: Once you have begun either to punish or to ignore your dog's bark-to-get-in behavior, it is essential that you never again reward barking behavior by letting the dog back in the house. If you sometimes ignore or punish his barking, but other times reward it by letting him in, you will end up with an anxious, poorly trained, neurotic dog who is totally confused as to how he is supposed to behave.

For more on the use of punishment and extinction procedures, click on A detailed examination of the process of bark training your dog.

Your dog is sure to feel somewhat distressed when he suddenly finds himself being punished for an action that, in the past, has always been rewarded. But there are some things that you can do to minimize the upset.

To a large extent, how distressed your dog will feel over suddenly being punished for barking to get in depends on the quality of the alternative that you make available to him. If you install a doggie door so he can come in whenever he wishes, then you will find that it will require very little punishment to get him to stop barking at you in an attempt to make you open the big, human door that he previously used.

On the other hand, if your dog's only alternative to barking for entry is to sit in the yard by himself with nothing to do for long periods of time, then it is going to take a well-focused effort to make him be quiet.

Therefore, if you are going to use the timer method to remind you to let your dog back in the house, then, when you put him outside, just set the timer for a few minutes and each time it goes off, offer him the opportunity to come back in. After he has learned to tolerate a brief wait, you can begin making him gradually wait longer and longer, if you like. But your dog will better accept the new situation if, early on, he is not forced to wait for too long at a stretch.

To the extent possible, each time you let your dog out, you should always set the timer for about the same number of minutes. It is fine it you want to gradually increase his wait time over a period of weeks or months. However, you will find your dog more willing to wait if he knows with certainty, how long he's going to be on hold. Therefore, you should make the length of each wait period about the same as the one before. If you later want to increase it, then, do so gradually, over time.

Of course, it's a hassle to install a doggie door or switch over to one of the other methods of entry. On the other hand, it's a tremendous imposition on your neighbors when you use the bark-for-reentry method. And after all, if it's your dog, it should be your hassle.

The Dog Science Network also sponsors a course in dog training, featuring a free workshop in canine
, as well as an advanced course in obedience training, street safety, and watchdog work.

This page is part of Section One:
the Your Dog section of