WHAT’S YOUR HURRY? Teaching polite manners at the door
Updated: May 18
Recently, a darling little dog has been staying for a short while in my home, and I’ve been teaching her a few essential skills. Chloe had never learned any manners at the door and would dash out the instant it opened just enough for her to squeeze through. Although my door leads to a fully fenced area, this will not always be the case. For instance, if I opened a gate in my yard, or the door of my car, Chloe would try the same mad dash in those contexts, too. In Chloe’s adoptive home, and in other homes she visits, doors may not lead to safely fenced areas. As you can imagine, this is risky behavior.
The cool thing is, it’s incredibly easy to teach a dog to wait at an open door instead of dashing through. Here are some simple steps to accomplish this training.
Have treats tucked in a pocket or treat pouch. Begin capturing eye contact in a quiet area of the house, away from the door. If a dog isn’t distracted by other things going on in the room, there’s a good chance she’ll look up at you, at least briefly. The moment she does, click or say “good!” and then drop her a treat. Repeat a few times. Then practice in other areas of the house.
Now, stand calmly near the closed door when your dog doesn’t actually need a potty break. Wait for eye contact, and reward when you get it. (I prefer to drop the treat onto the floor, slightly back from the door. With repetition, the dog naturally begins to prefer standing back from the door because that’s always been the “paying zone.”) Repeat a few times. Practice randomly throughout the day.
When eye contact is happening quickly and easily in step #2, stand near door and put your hand on the door knob. Wait for eye contact, then reward. Repeat randomly until this step is strong.
Now, jiggle door knob and wait for eye contact, then reward. Repeat until behavior is strong.
Now, open door just a hair. Reward when dog gives you eye contact, then close door again. Repeat until behavior is strong.
Gradually open door a bit more, when dog is ready for more challenge. Before long, you can swing it wide open and your dog will wait calmly inside, looking at you. When this behavior is strong, you can begin inserting a WAIT cue, just before you begin to open the door.
The final step is teaching a release cue, meaning the dog is now permitted to pass through the open door. I say, “OKAY”, and then encourage dog to go out. You could also drop a treat outside after saying the release cue if your dog is reluctant to pass through the door.
During these sessions, all the rewards are occurring inside the house, thus helping to dramatically reduce the dog’s natural desire to hyper-focus on what’s on the other side of the door and look for the first opportunity to dash through.
For safety, if the door you're practicing at doesn't lead to a safe/fenced area, have a leash on the dog for emergency back-up. Just be sure there's slack in the leash when you're training. Otherwise, if you keep it tight during the training steps above, the dog never learns how to control its own body and resist the urge to door-dash.
When the skill is well-learned at one exit point, be sure to practice at others. I practice this skill with Chloe when I'm opening her crate door, too.
Here’s a video clip showing Chloe working through the steps above. (Despite the poor lighting, I think you'll see how her head tips up regularly to look at me.) This is her fourth mini-training session at the door.
You can add an extra layer of fancy to this skill by folding in a SIT as well, i.e. the dog must sit and give you eye contact at the door. If you have more than one dog, you’ll also need to practice this skill as a group, after each former door-dasher has learned the skill solo first.
A few minutes of training a day, for just a few days, will yield remarkable improvement. Give it a try!
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Virginia Dare is a certified dog trainer & behavior counselor with decades of experience. Her business offers live video consultations anywhere in the US for training and behavior help, puppy matchmaking services, and pre- and post-arrival counseling for new puppies. She also provides in-home, private lessons and behavior consultations in northern Fairfield and Westchester counties, western New Haven county, Putnam and southern Dutchess counties.
Please visit www.NorthStarCanines.com/services to learn more, or contact me at 804.784.0120
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