In dog training what are examples of closer and closer approximations?

A reader asked..
Training my dog to bark when other people knock at the door or ring the .

(Scroll down to read responses).

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    • Heart W
    • March 29, 2010

    You are talking about behavior shaping, rewarding things that are steps towards the target behavior. Hopefully it will be easy as it is something most dogs naturally do.

    For that I would start with some perceptible reaction to the stimulus, for example the dog looks towards the door in response. Go from that to the dog going to the door in response, assuming this is what you want. (In training service dogs for the hearing impaired, we teach them to go to the handler in response to doorbells/knocks.) It is up to you what you want. If you want this behavior to warn off burglars or sale people, send dog to door & if you want it to alert you, have the dog come to you.

    If the dog has no natural occasional barking response to the doorbell/ knock, you will have to teach him to “speak” separately. Your helper rings bell or knocks (can use recording if you don’t have helper), dog goes to door & you reward and command to bark & then reward that. If you want a lot of barking, gradually increase number of times he has to do it for reward. Please note, when you teach a dog to bark on command, some of them will produce this behavior when not asked to in hopes of a reward. As long as you correct or do not reward this unwanted barking, it will stop. Ditto if dog starts going off from TV doorbells.

    Of course, eventually you will not need to give all the commands and the dog will chain the entire thing into one response. Depending on the dog, this may take time and you will need to continue practicing and issuing rewards for a good while. I assume you want the dog to do this when you are not home too, so leave the house for a few minutes, return, ring the bell or knock and, assuming dog barks the way you want, enter and reward him. You can also have your helper ring, come in and reward the dog. You will also want to teach him a release word, so he stops barking as soon as you tell him to. If someone rings the bell and you are on the phone, you probably do not want him barking until you get to the door.

    It’s not a hard behavior to teach and shouldn’t take you long if you are patient & consistent.


    It is not a natural automatic response by any means! This person’s dog obviously doesn’t do it and my Doberman I just adopted does nothing when someone rings or knocks except look up and no, his hearing is just fine. It is a common response, but not all dogs bark when someone comes to the door.

    • Maxi
    • March 28, 2010

    “Training my dog to bark when other people knock at the door or ring the doorbell” This is not something you should have the ‘train’ it is a natural reactive response in a dog

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