Canine Case Files: Mick – Dysfunction at the Door

Mick is a sweet, smart, and active Corgi.  His arousal level can go from 0 to 400 mph in a split second.  This escalation is a result of his seeing a delivery truck in front of the house and the driver approaching, the clanging /vibration of the mailbox lid, and the sound of the doorbell.

His reactions to these stimuli were intense and resulted in bites to a family member.  He was attempting to bring Mick away from the door.  That was a highly charged “hot spot” for Mick.  All his undesirable behaviors were practiced there.  The first step was to train in a recall (come when called).  This takes lots of practice to establish a reinforcement history so it can work when the dog is distracted.  His person had already trained in a solid “stay” cue.

Posted at the Door

Mick’s favorite spots in the house were by his person’s desk and the sidelight window by the front door.  His person’s office was by the front door, so it was a short sprint for Mick.  Most dogs are masters of anticipation, and Mick was no exception.  He knew when the mail was coming, and he checked in frequently to his sidelight “post”.  He was not missing any opportunity to alert the arrival of a delivery. 

The first part of the plan was to create more gratifying check in places for Mick.  It made sense to set these up as far away from the door as possible.  Mick’s person was already aware of his interest in foraging and problem solving.  Mick had a collection of enrichment activity toys.  We set these up in three different check in spots and made sure to plant bites of food and treats there. 

Once Mick discovered there could be chicken in one, hot dog bites in another, and cheese cubes in a third, the front door post lost much of its draw.  He no longer spent time there, watching and waiting.

Mailbox Trigger

The mail carrier could approach the house without a reaction from Mick. It was the clanging and vibration of the mailbox lid closing that triggered his instant escalation.  This noise was especially unsettling in the office.  It was too close.  We combined a sound de-sensitizing plan with recall training to resolve this behavior issue. 

With Mick about 15’ from the office, we manipulated the mailbox lid.  The sound was mildly audible.  Mick could tolerate the mailbox lid closing from that distance and at that volume, so we called him to come and reinforced his calm demeanor with a bite of high value (human) food.  We GRADUALLY decreased the distance and increased the volume of the mailbox lid closing.  With each experience where Mick calmly tolerated the sound, we reinforced this behavior with a bite of food.  Over several weeks of daily practice, Mick was capable of remaining calm – even in the nearby office – when the mailbox lid opened and closed.

Doorbell Routine

Many dogs are pushed over a threshold level of arousal when the doorbell rings.  Where it was once an announcement that someone will enter the home, that is no longer true.  Sometimes people come in, and sometimes it only announces a box on the porch.  Either way, Mick raced to the door, barking intensely.

We used the “by-now-well-practiced” recall to redirect him away from the door.  Only when his attention was back to his person in a sustained way, did they approach the door.  His owner directed Mick to a mat to sit and stay there. 

With alternative behaviors that have a strong reinforcement history, the arousal fury gradually became less intense.  These replacement behaviors must be maintained to prevent Mick from reverting back to his previous, undesirable patterns.

Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel   CPDT-KA, 2020 all rights reserved

Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC