Be Quiet! How to Cue Up Silence

The doorbell rang. Rudy the Miniature Schnauzer erupted into a frenzy of barking. He ran to the door and back to his parents, back and forth, with increasing urgency. At times, his bark reached such a high pitch, you were certain it physically penetrated your brain. Even after his folks had retrieved a package and returned to the family room, Rudy continued to bark. For 20 minutes, Rudy would dash back to the door and peek out the side window, growling and shrieking his outrage. After months of this, his pet parents were suffering headaches.

Most people don’t mind if their dogs alert them when someone is at the door, or on the property. This is one of the reasons why some people get dogs in the first place, to help them feel safer. Letting you know someone has arrived is one thing. Telling you about it for a half hour is another. How do you allow your dog to alert you, but teach him to be quiet soon afterward? Train your dog to be quiet on cue.

How to Teach a Quiet Cue

Get some treats your dog loves. If the doorbell is a trigger for your dog, start with just a knock. Knock against a wall or a door. When your dog barks, say, “Hush” or “Quiet” and then give him three treats, one at a time, in a row. At first, you will deliver these treats quickly. The goal is to deliver the treats to get your dog eating, and not barking. As your dog learns to anticipate more than one treat and waits for them quietly, start spacing them out in longer increments.

If your dog goes back to barking after he’s eaten his treats, ignore him completely. Do not look at him, do not engage him, do not yell at him. Leave the room.

Repeat this until he responds to your quiet cue. When he is good at this step, start to practice with the doorbell. He will likely erupt again but stick to the plan and he will learn that a couple of barks are okay, but continuing to bark gets him nothing.

It may also help to block his view of the front of the house. Close blinds, shut windows, and block his view so he doesn’t see any triggers outside until he learns to be quiet.

This process will not work if you wait to practice until you get visitors. Your dog needs to practice this behavior many times to learn what you want. You’ll need to set up the situation to simulate visitors. For example, every time a family member comes home, have them knock on your door or ring the doorbell and act like a visitor. If you’re ringing that doorbell 20 times a day to practice, it’s going to lose a lot of its strength as a barking trigger.

Why Dogs Bark

Dogs bark for many reasons. If your dog is afraid, he may bark. If he wants your attention or wants you to give him something, he may bark. Teaching your dog to be quiet isn’t going to be as helpful in these cases. You need to address them differently.

For example, if your dog is afraid of something, his bark is his way of telling you he’s upset. You don’t want to yell at him for this. It’s a great thing he’s letting you know! You need to work on his fear. Get a Fear Free professional to help you. Here are links to videos with useful tips.

Is your dog demand barking? First, make sure he’s getting appropriate daily exercise and a steady rotation of enrichment toys. Ensure you are giving him affection and positive attention daily, before he barks at you. When he does demand bark, ignore him (assuming he is not asking for an opportunity for a potty break). No eye contact, no yelling, no attention at all. If he’s barking for you to throw the ball and you throw it, then you’re paying him for that behavior. His barking will only get worse. Ignoring demand barking is hard at first. Stick to it and it will go away because your dog will learn it doesn’t work. When he’s quiet, then load him up with attention. Reward calm behavior often and you will see more of it!

Rudy did learn how to be quiet when told. His pet parents no longer get Rudy-induced headaches. Your dog can learn, too!

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Teoti Anderson, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP, is the vice president of A Dog’s Best Friend, located in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. A professional dog trainer for more than 23 years, she is the author of The Dog Behavior Problem Solver, Dog Fancy Ultimate Guide to Dog Training, Animal Planet Dogs 101 Dog Training, Puppy Care and Training, The Super Simple Guide to Housetraining, Quick & Easy Crate Training, and Your Outta Control Puppy. A popular conference speaker, she has given presentations to pet owners, humane organizations, and fellow trainers across the United States and internationally.