How to Teach a Dog to Calm Down When the Phone Rings

Bandit's phone phobia doesn't have to be a tough call.
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Your dog's barking, circling and whining behavior when the phone rings most likely isn't triggered by his desire to speak with aunt Molly or his protest towards annoying telemarketers. Rather, other dynamics may be at play. Fortunately, through behavior modification you can make Bandit more accepting of phone calls.

Understanding the Dynamics

Watch your dog carefully when the phone rings. Understanding exactly what triggers the unwanted behavior can prove helpful. Perhaps Bandit is just annoyed by the ring tone or perhaps he associates the sound with something unpleasant that has happened in the past. Also, determine if he continues acting up when you're chatting. In some cases, dogs end up feeling a tad bit neglected when you're on the phone chatting and start looking for some attention in the best way they know.

Implementing Desensitization

If the ring tone triggers Bandit's behavior, a desensitization program may help him learn to cope better with the noise. In this program, your dog is gradually exposed to a less intense version of the stimulus until he no longer reacts to it. To do this, try calling yourself every few minutes using another phone. By putting the phone under a pillow or setting the ringer at a lower setting you're making the stimulus less intense. If Bandit starts reacting, most likely the sound is too high. Try setting it lower until he doesn't react. Continue these sessions several times and gradually increase the volume.

Adding Counterconditioning

If you want to give desensitization a boost, try adding counterconditioning. In this behavior modification method, you'll be working on changing your dog's emotional response towards the phone. Instead of dreading the ring, you'll eventually reach a point where your dog will look forward to hearing it. Once you have found a tone level your dog doesn't react to, toss a treat every time he hears it. Treat after treat, the ring tone will start becoming music to his ears.

Attention-Seeking Behaviors

Kids aren't the only ones who throw a tantrum when you're on the phone. If your dog starts acting up every time you hold a conversation on the phone, most likely he's feeling left aside and is looking for any kind of attention -- good or bad that is. Scolding Bandit or pushing him away won't work simply because it's still a form of attention from his perspective. Instead, try calling your land-line with your cell and pretending you're on the phone with somebody. Should he act up, ignore him totally. When he's behaving, immediately reward with a tasty treat. With time, he'll eventually learn that quiet behaviors pay off and acting up is no longer convenient.

The Fall-out of Punishment

Reprimanding your dog or employing harsh corrections won't help with the problem. On the contrary, these methods will only aggravate the problem, especially if your dog already hates the ringing sound. If you use harsh methods, Bandit will not only dread the phone because of its noise, but also because of the corrections on top of that. Soon the ring will become a predictor of an upcoming correction, and in no time you'll have a bigger, more challenging problem on your hands.

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