How do I stop my dog barking at people coming up to my house? Expert advice from top trainer Ben Randall

Disconcerting for visitors, distressing for owners and terrifying for delivery people, having a dog that constantly barks at strangers is a common problem — but one that can be dealt with surprisingly quickly. Ben Randall explains more.

Picture the scene. Your dog is sitting happily in your front drive, minding its own business, and all is well with the world. And then somebody approaches the gate.

What is your dog thinking?

Ideally, it’s perfectly chilled out and happy, calm and confident that it’s in a safe place and that you, its owner, is there should it feel uncomfortable.

All too often, though, the dog’s thought process is very different – and runs along these lines: ‘What’s this? Someone’s coming? Oh no, I’d better defend the property! I’ll do everything I can think of to scare them off! Bark! Panic! Jump up! Growl! You’re not coming in!’

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If that sounds familiar, you’re not alone: this is one of the most common problems I hear about, not least from this week’s correspondent:

‘I have a lovely labrador who’s a wonderful family pet, trustworthy in and out of the house — but he goes crazy every time anyone walks the past, barking constantly, and jumping up aggressively with his two front legs up on the gate. Even the postman, who our dog sees almost every day, hasn’t been able to deliver to us for years. What can we do to stop it?’ — E.L., Sussex 

As well as being common it’s also potentially an incredibly serious problem. It’s very distressing for visitors, and if your dog goes so far as to bite people that can be awful for the victims and could also lead to your dog being put down. The good news is that it’s a problem I’ve been solving for years in dogs of all ages using my Beggarbush methods, just as I’ve explained in previous articles on teaching a dog how to sit, how to stop a dog jumping up on people or stop a dog pulling on the lead. (You can drop me a line here if you have your own question.)

The main cause of today’s problem — which has some things in common with dogs barking at the doorbell — is anxiety, but in this case it’s a little more than that. A dog who barks at passers-by feels that the front garden or driveway is an area that they’re supposed to dominate and protect — and God help anyone who comes in to it. That might be what you want if you’re training a working guard dog, but it’s absolutely not the behaviour you want in your pet. Here’s how to break the pattern.

Four steps to stopping a dog barking at passers-by

1. Re-create the situation over and over again to start fixing it

What we want is for your dog to stop thinking it needs to defend and protect the property. Instead, we want him or her to think, ‘Someone is coming — I’ll go back to the house and sit in my bed’. When my dogs see someone walk past, they can acknowledge them, then run back inside, or to me, then get in bed and they’ll get a reward.

The problem is that, depending on where you live, people might only come to your house once or twice a day, and maybe not even that much if you’re rural. You simply can’t train a dog that way, any more than you could train them to sit by practising once a day. So you’ll have to rope in your friends, family, neighbours, and get them to play the role of a visitor, delivery person or passer-by one-by-one, over and over again. Make sure they text you to let you know when they’re about to arrive and you can simulate and repeat the scenario until the dog learns the new behaviour.

2. Start the training with you present and the dog on the lead

The good thing about knowing you’ve got visitors coming is that you can be there and ready to intervene. When the visitor comes to your house or up to your gate and your dog begins to react by barking, use the ‘leave’ command, then point at the house and say ‘in’, and walk the dog to heel back into the house.

3. Lay out the treat — but don’t reward them until the visit has finished

Once they’re inside and in their bed, place a treat on the floor next to them but use the leave command to tell them they can’t have it yet. You go and see to the visitor while your dog stays in their bed, then you come back and they can have the reward — and plenty of praise when they get it right.

4. Repeat without the lead

Once your dog gets the hang of doing steps two and three with you there and the lead at the ready, they should be able quite quickly to do the same without the use of the lead. ‘Leave’ and ‘in’ are those key commands — so just rinse and repeat until your dog gets it. Get ready for the next visitor, using ‘leave’ if there’s a reaction when they come along, then point them indoors with ‘in’, and you will then follow in due course, totally relaxed and ready to give the reward.

Just keep repeating this process and before you know it, the dog won’t even wait for the ‘in’ command; he or she will run in and head for their bed whenever people come along. They’ll wait peacefully until you come walking back in, calm and chilled, and ready to let them have their treat.

5. Bring the visitors right into the house to meet the dog

Some of those people who come to your house will be simply making deliveries, but for those who aren’t then it’s good for the dog to see that visitor come right into your house, to reinforce the message that they had nothing to worry about.

Once the dog has started to get it, and is happy running into the house and into its bed waiting for its reward, bring the people in to the house with you. Walk past the dog, ignoring it, and then either one of the visitors can reward the dog, or you can reward it with the visitor right there. Let the dog interact with those people and the whole process will be sorted now: they’ll be thinking, ‘I’m happy they’ve come to the house and I’m not barking, and now I’ve come into the house too and it’s all still okay.’ Your dog will see that it’s okay for people to walk past the house, to come into the house, and to interact with the family and the dog itself — you’ve reassured him or her that everything is okay, and your dog can trust you implicitly.

6. It’s never too late — any dog of any age can learn this

I’m 47 and can still learn new things if I put in a bit of effort. Dogs are just the same: there’s no reason that a dog aged seven, eight or even more can’t do the same. Your canine companion will learn that there is nothing whatsoever to fear about people passing your house, since they’ll know that you are calm and in control of the situation, and that they can trust you. That feeling will only strengthen the beautiful bond of trust and love between you.

Older dogs might take a little longer, and in the past I’ve had to use the odd surprise tactic to kickstart the process, but they will get it. And before you know it, they’ll think, ‘Ah, someone’s coming – how nice – I’m going to sit in my bed and go wait for them.’  Your friends, your neighbours and especially the nice people from Royal Mail and Amazon will thank your for it.

For more detailed advice about Ben Randall’s positive, reward-based and proven BG training methods, one-to-one training sessions, residential training or five-star dog-boarding at his BGHQ in Herefordshire, telephone 01531 670960 or visit For a free seven-day trial of the Gundog app, which costs £24.99 a month or £249.99 a year, visit

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