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Why does your dog bark when the doorbell rings? (even if no one comes)

Dogs that find it annoying or unknown

The sound of the bell can be strange or annoying for some dogs, simply because they do not know it and they could be scared. A dog that is startled may bark. For this reason, it is important that we accustom the dog to the frequent noises in the house, not only the doorbell, but others such as the vacuum cleaner, neighbors doors, elevators, etc… Noises that should be ignored when learning that they do not pose any threat or directly lack of value.

a neutral sound

For other dogs, the sound of the doorbell may not mean anything at first. This seems ideal, as our dog would ignore it. However, since the doorbell is a warning that someone is coming, our attitude and the consequences could change this trend and cause these dogs to also end up barking every time the doorbell rings.

And why is this happening?

Your dog syncs with you

It has been shown that emotional contagion occurs between dogs and their guardians. This is because dogs, like us, are social animals, in which emotional synchrony is an evolutionary advantage. Imagine that a fire breaks out and several people flee in fear into the street; When you see them, you get infected with that emotion of panic and run towards the exit, without having to check the fire. Thanks to this, you will probably save your life.

The same goes for our dogs. It has the advantage of allowing us to coordinate the moments of activity and rest. But it can also influence your dog to be nervous simply because you are.

When the alarm sounds before the fire

Following the example of the fire, now imagine that before it happens an alarm sounds. After a couple of repetitions you will learn that when the alarm sounds it is time to run out of the building.

The “culprit” that you flee with the sound of the alarm, is a Russian named Paulov. To him we owe the theory of classical conditioning.

Paulov showed how a neutral stimulus can be conditioned to produce an involuntary physiological response, if it is presented together with the stimulus that actually produces such a response.

Pavlov’s dog

Pavlov conducted an experiment where he presented food to a dog while ringing a bell. The dog produced saliva in response to food, as the body begins to prepare for swallowing. After a series of repetitions, the dog salivated just by hearing the bell, although no food will be presented. An association of the bell with food had then been produced, acquiring the ability to produce the same involuntary response in the dog.

And this is what happens with the bell (neutral stimulus) that is associated with the arrival of a person, producing an arousal response.

My dog barks even when the doorbell rings on TV

The conditioned response is involuntary and automatic. This means that it runs through the fast track in the brain. The emotional pathway makes the autonomic nervous system work and a response is produced automatically. That’s why your dog barks without thinking or processing when he hears the doorbell on the television.

Can I get my dog to stop barking when the doorbell rings?

With patience and a bit of order, you can.

The first thing we must do is break the automatism, this is to cut the involuntary response produced by the bell. We will do this by making it sound out of context, for example, in the middle of the walk or the field. The first few times my dog will bark, but soon he will realize that something is wrong and the emotional pathway will give way to cognition.

It is at this time that we can build an alternative behavior to alert barking, such as going to his mat and sitting down to win a prize.


Pavlov, I. P., & Gantt, W. 1928. Lectures on conditioned reflexes: Twenty-five years of objective study of the higher nervous activity (behaviour) of animals.

Timberlake, W. 1994. Behavior systems, associationism, and Pavlovian conditioning. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review1(4), 405-420.


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