Teaching a courteous door exit to your dog is helpful in so many situations. It’s one of the easiest ways to teach your dog to calmly wait as doors open instead of hazardously hurling himself through the doorway.
Does your dog:
- Drag you through doors at the local pet store?
- Dart through the door at the vet clinic and immediately vocalize or rudely stare at another pet in the waiting area?
- Bounce like popcorn in eager anticipation of a walk, which causes you to struggle to smoothly lock your door?
The good news is that all of those fretful things are fixable! The below method will help prevent or resolve many sticky situations. Your dog will learn to automatically pause and not go through a door that you open until you tell him the verbal cue “door.” After he goes through the door in front of you, he will turn his head around and look at you before you both proceed on a walk or to whatever activity you are about to do.
Dangers of Door Dashing
Dogs who rush out of doors are not only at risk themselves but could hurt someone else. If your dog bursts past you out of your house, he could end up running toward a high traffic road or getting lost. If someone is entering through the same doorway your dog is trying to rush through, he could knock them over and cause injury.
Part 1: Teach Door Control
1. Approach the closed door.
Have your dog on a short leash and walk toward a closed door. Your dog remains free during this entire session, meaning that you do not cue him to do a sit, stand, or down stay position. Instead, he is free to move about and will learn that his best choice is to choose to wait patiently as you open the door. Your dog’s leash is not tight – it has a “J” shape in it so there is not any leash pressure on your dog’s collar or harness.
2. Reach for the doorknob with a relaxed dog.
When you reach the door, extend your treat-free and leash-free hand to the doorknob. If your dog remains still and does not try to rush through the door (even though it’s not even open yet), say “yes” when your arm is at the most difficult location, such as the doorknob. Then have your arm leave the door and return to the side of your body. Give your dog a treat. If touching the doorknob is too exciting, make it easier for your dog. Perhaps he will be successful if your hand gets six inches from the doorknob and just “touches” air. Say “yes” when you touch the air near the door, have your arm return to the side of your body, and then give your dog a treat. Then you will progress to five inches, four inches, and so on until you can touch the doorknob. Be sure to say “yes” at the most challenging point of each progression as long as your dog remains tranquil and does not try to plow toward where the door will open. Every time you say “yes,” you’ll treat your dog after your hand returns to your side.
3. Practice opening the door, requiring your dog to remain calm.
Work up to jiggling the door handle. Then progress to opening the door. At first, only open the door an inch. When the door is open an inch and your dog remains composed of his own free volition, say “yes,” close the door, have your arm return to your body, and then treat your dog. Keep your treats in a treat pouch or your pocket. If you have treats in your door opening hand, then your dog will want to get closer to the good-smelling treat hand and be unable to resist the urge to follow his nose toward the threshold. Work up to opening the door two inches, six inches, ten inches, and so on.
Your dog will learn that the door only stays open when he is calmly standing next to you and not being pushy by trying to burst through the opened door. If he tries to go through the door, gently close the door without squishing your dog in the door - he will not get a treat and he will not be allowed to pass through the door. After such a bobble, make the next repetition easier so your dog is successful. Easier may be simply touching the doorknob or only turning the doorknob instead of cracking the door open.
4. Go through the door.
Progress to the point at which you can open the door approximately two feet and your dog does not attempt to go through the entryway. Say “yes” when the door is at its widest point, close the door, and treat your dog. Now you’re ready to actually go through the door! Open the door two feet and then say "door" when your dog is allowed to go through the door ahead of you. You will likely need to indicate with your body language that he may pass through.
Your dog learns that he never goes through a door - the door never stays open - unless he is politely waiting and hears your verbal "door" cue.
Part 2: Teach the Automatic Head Check
After going through a door and before you continue walking, wait for your dog to head check. A head check means that he turns his head around and looks at your upper body. To get the head check, wait for your dog to look back at you.
The first few repetitions, you could wait several minutes or seconds. Your dog will learn that no forward motion past a door occurs until he turns to look at you. When he does look at you, say your verbal marker word ("yes") to designate that he did something correctly. You may treat this behavior or use the continued walk forward as the reward.
This automatic head check ensures that your dog is focused on you instead of looking at all the interesting things – squirrels, other dogs, people, and so on - that are past the doorway you just crossed.
More Tips for Success
- Practice anytime, anywhere. This method can be practiced in any situation in which your dog is on-leash and you physically open the door – you opening the door is the cue to the dog to remain serene and await further instruction from you. Thus, you can practice just a few repetitions of this in the comfort of your own home using indoor doors only – not all repetitions need to be out your front door or in public. For example, before bedtime, grab your dog’s leash, a few pieces of kibble or treats, and your dog. Then walk to a closed inside door, such as a bathroom or a bedroom door. Practice this method to generalize on all sorts of doors.
- Stop Your Dog’s Escapes. Often this self-control near doors will transfer to stop door escapes. Your dog will acclimate to not being allowed to spring and realize that not launching through doors, both on and off leash, translates to treats. Eventually you may use lower value treats, such as part of his kibble meal, and later transition to mostly praise as you wean him off the food payments.
- Many methods for canine door etiquette exist. Consistency is the key for your dog, so never allow or reward door dashing or you may confuse your pup!
- Consider enrolling in pet insurance. Pet insurance can help to reimburse you for accidents that come as a result of door dashing, however training your dog to respect door boundaries is an important skill to keep your dog safe.