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Charge of the Drool Brigade

Step-by-step tips for instilling door manners in a Molosser
Faster than a speeding bullet …. More powerful than a locomotive …
You flatten yourself against the wall and scream no! Which never works.
You run to the door, trying to grab collars and pull your dogs away.
Sound familiar?
If you’re tired of flinging yourself against the wall to avoid being trampled, and your guests are grossed out by flying drool, the good news is that it’s easy to teach your dogs to be polite when people come into your home. It just takes patience and compliant accomplices.
You need accomplices because it is impossible to teach manners in real life.  You need to control the environment so you can set your dogs up to be successful. Your first accomplices can be family members, but you will need around 10 accomplices in all, because dogs don’t generalize behaviors well, and it takes about 10 people before the dog generalizes the behavior.
Get ready with lots of treats. And I mean lots! These are big dogs, and not only can they eat a lot, but the science says that heavily reinforcing a behavior while the dog is learning helps the learning happen faster and better. You’ll get rid of the food later, because “train with food, use food forever” is a myth if you use a variable reinforcement schedule when the behavior is reliable. The scientific evidence is exactly the opposite: Going to a variable reinforcement schedule will strengthen the behavior! You might also want to get earplugs. (More on that later.)
If you have more than one dog, train one dog at a time; trying to train more than one will make you insane. When they are individually reliable, then you can try with two dogs at a time. If you have more than two, practice in pairs until they’re all reliable in every combination of pairs, then start adding one more dog at a time.
First, pick a place for each dog to go when the doorbell rings. The place can be anywhere, but if it’s not close to the door you’ll be doing a lot of running. Putting down a mat can be useful because the dog has a target object.
The accomplice rings the doorbell, and continues to ring the doorbell while your dog jumps around, barks, and does whatever your dog does when the doorbell rings, while you patiently wait. This is when you might want those earplugs!
The instant your dog calms down, you mark it with a clicker or verbal marker, and the accomplice stops ringing. Timing matters, so try to be as quick as you can when your dog settles. Make sure the dog sees that you have a handful of treats. Quickly move to the place you want your dog to go and toss lots of treats right there.   
Practice in five- to 10-minute sessions and watch as your dog calms down faster and faster! After a few times, wait for your dog to look at the place before you run there and toss the treats. You’ll want your dog to figure it out rather than always looking to you for a cue because you’re not always right there when the doorbell rings. So wait, even after your dog calms down, for your dog to look at or make any movement toward the place. Then ask for more and more movement toward the place before you toss food on the place, and soon your dog will be running to the place the minute the doorbell rings. 
This is a critical point because many people think their dog is trained and stop training. Oops!  It is important to practice and practice and practice, because even though your dog might do it right a few times, it doesn’t mean your dog has learned to do it. To make it really solid, you may have to train for a month.
Once the dog is running to the place, I think it’s a good idea for the dog to sit or lie down. You cue the dog to sit or down and then give the dog lots of treats. After two or three times, you stop giving your dog the cue for sit or down, and wait for your dog to figure it out, just like you did in step 3. 
Now it’s time for the accomplice to come in the door. Always remember to set your dog up for success; you can do that if you have the accomplice enter in small steps – you are not asking your dog for too much at once and your dog can be successful! The accomplice turns the doorknob. If the dog gets up, start over. Repeat, repeat, repeat, until the dog remains sitting or lying down while the accomplice turns the doorknob.
In small steps, progress from turning the doorknob to opening the door 1 inch, 2 inches, 4 inches, etc., until the dog remains sitting or lying down while the accomplice enters the house.
Repeat with every family member and friend you can wheedle into helping.
For successful training, always remember:
It is easier to teach a dog to do something like “place” than it is to teach a dog not to do something, like “do not charge the door.” If your dog is doing something you don’t want, decide what you want your dog to do instead, then plan how to show your dog what you want.
Teach in baby steps. Human babies don’t start running one day. First they start standing, then walking, and it takes a lot of practice-walking before they’re good at that. The size of the step will vary from dog to dog and from behavior to behavior, as will the time it takes to learn. I taught a dog to pee on cue the first time, but it took me a month to teach her to sit and wait at the door, something that usually takes me about two weeks to teach.
Make sure you give your dog clear information. Your dog doesn’t speak English. “Sit” is meaningless to your dog. I teach sit by holding a treat in my open hand and then moving my hand up and over the dog’s head.  The dog’s eyes follow the hand with the treat, the dog’s head goes up and the dog’s butt goes down.  The instant the butt hits the ground, I mark it so the dog knows what I want and that’s clear to the dog. I don’t say “sit” until the dog is doing it either, because I don’t want the dog to think that “sit” means hop around and then put your butt on the floor!
If you lure, fade the lure quickly. If you don’t stop using the lure quickly, you will be stuck with treats for the life of the dog. When I teach “sit,” I use a treat about three to five times, and then I use an empty hand.  I want my hand to be the cue, not the treat. The treat comes after the butt hits the ground, not because it’s in my hand.  This is why when you’re training your dog to “place,” you wait for your dog to look or begin to move to the place on her own before you toss the treats after the first few times. You want the dog to “earn” the treats by giving you at least part of the behavior and then more and more of the behavior before you reinforce.
Don’t give your dog too much information.  One of the biggest mistakes people make is not giving the dog enough information in a way the dog understands.  But we can also give too much, creating dependent dogs. After you’ve shown your dog what you want and it’s obvious your dog understands what you want, wait until your dog acts on her own. Waiting pays off!
When the behavior is reliable, go to a variable reinforcement schedule. Randomly, about once every 10 times, either reinforce with something besides food – like petting, praise, a game of tug – or don’t reinforce at all. Slowly increase the number of times you use non-food reinforcement, or don’t reinforce at all.
“Regression is a normal part of learning,” says marine-mammal trainer Ted Turner. If your dog regresses, it’s OK. Take a few steps back and start again.  The good news is that often after a dog regresses, he then leaps ahead.
Make it FUN! Make going to her place not only a thing that makes treats get into her mouth, make it a happy place. Don’t take it too seriously. Have fun when you are training; it makes it so much better for everyone. 

About the Author

Virginia Wind has had Mastiffs for 30 years. The gift of a very shy Mastiff led her to positive reinforcement training. She currently fosters for Mastiff Rescue.




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