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Teaching Doorway Manners

The Door Dasher and Gate Crasher


Does your dog watch for the slightest opportunity to squeeze through the tiniest gap and squirt out the door or gate, hitting the ground running?  It's time to start Boundary Training and get a little door control!


Why do dogs want to dash out the door?
His need for mental and physical stimulation is strong. He needs to stretch his legs and go investigating new smells. Take him for more walks, play more games, engage his brain with more training.


It's FUN!

Bursting through with your people hot on your heels, taking them on a fabulous adventure, far and fast. Dodging, dashing, being faster and more agile, outmaneuvering the hollering humans at every turn.  


He's so hard to catch!  

Even when he's seen enough and is ready to come home, he still comes just close enough and then dashes off again. Why? Because he's learned that being caught is sure to be punished. Getting grabbed and dragged and scolded is certainly something to be avoided for as long as possible.  No matter how exasperated you are when you finally do get him to come to you, praise him, or next time it will take even longer.


The infraction happened when he rushed the door. Now that he is out and he's trusted you enough to allow you to take hold of his collar to take him back home, PRAISE HIM! If you punish him now, it will make catching him next time even more difficult. Put on a happy face and say your mean things in a happy tone of voice, all the way home. You can't punish him for door dashing blocks away and many minutes after he crossed the threshold. The only association he will make is the behavior he performed right before the punishment: allowing himself to be caught.

It's time for PRO-ACTIVE training!

Teach door manners.


The following should become cues to your dog:


  • The sound of the doorbell

  • Reaching for the door knob or gate latch

  • Turning the knob

  • The door or gate opening


Each of the above should be a cue to your dog to: 


  • Get back

  • Sit

  • Wait for permission


Create a paired association and a strong chained behavior sequence:

Spend plenty of time at each step until the dog is proficient at that level before moving on. Implement 100% management from here on out - there should be no chances to practice door dashing!


Teach "get back" - teach the dog to move away from the door.  Mark with a "yes" or "click" as the dog moves away, deliver reward by tossing *BEHIND the dog* -


Cue "sit" - mark and reward the sit - release (give permission to move).  Repeat.   Jackpot if dog moves back or sits before you ask. The long term goal is for the dog to eventually "get back" and sit automatically as you approach the door, without being told.


You may choose to provide a target to "go to your place" and sit on - like a bed or rug.

Add "wait" in varying lengths between the sit and the release.


*NOTE: Tossing the reward behind the dog strengthens the dog's desire to stay away from the door. The dog will gravitate to the point of food delivery. You might also use a ball or favorite toy.


Management / "life insurance" plans:

  • Keep a leash by the door and attach it before you answer the door for safety's sake.  

  • Put a note on the inside of the door that says, "do you know where the dog is?" to remind yourself and others to locate the dog before you open the door.

  • Attach a long trailing leash on until you are certain that the dog's training is reliable.  Step on it in case of emergency.

  • When guests are expected, tether the long line to something heavy so the line will stop the dog at the threshold, just in case.

  • Crate the dog when guests are expected or the kids are due home from school.

  • Keep the screen door locked so no one can open it from the outside before you know that the dog is under control. This also buys you time should another family member absent mindedly open the door without first being aware of the dog's whereabouts. (This is especially important for the silent ones who lie in wait for the chance to bolt and for families with children.)

  • Create an "air lock" with an exercise pen to keep the dog away from the door.  You can close it behind you before you open the door. 

  • Teach your dog to "go to your room" at the sound of the doorbell. Choose a room that is handy with a door that can be closed. Repeat the above pattern of training until the dog hears the doorbell and automatically runs to his room to await his reward. Toss the reward into the room and close the door. Now you can admit your guests or pay for that pizza without worry.


Pair the new behavior with the door as the cue: 

  1. Approach door - "get back" - cue "sit" - mark and reward the sit - wait - release.

  2. Approach door, touch knob - "get back" - cue "sit" - mark and reward the sit - wait - release.

  3. Approach door, turn knob - "get back" - cue "sit" - mark and reward the sit - wait - release.

  4. Approach door, open door a crack (be ready to close it quickly should dog start to bolt- put dog on long-line for insurance at this step)
    Cue "get back" - toss reward behind dog if necessary at first - cue "sit" - mark and reward the sit - close door - "wait" - release.

  5. Spend time at this level opening the door wider and wider until he can remain seated while you open it all the way.

  6. Add a greeting "Hi! Nice to see you!" This is a difficult step - don't move ahead until you can greet imaginary guests with gusto without him breaking before you release him.  Conquer the challenge of imaginary guests before you add real ones.

  7. Next, touch the screen door latch, turn the screen door latch, progressing gradually as above, until he will stay while you open the screen door. [Put your dog on a long line during this stage. Don't take any chances of an accidental escape.]

  8. Ring doorbell - "get back" - toss reward behind dog if necessary - cue "sit" - mark and reward the sit - close door - wait - release.

  9. Increase length of "wait" following the sit. Reward intermittently for longer waits holding the sit position. Over time you want to teach the dog to be able to wait in the presence of distractions, until the dog can hold position when you take mail or pizza, or people enter, etc. This level will take a long time and lots and lots of practice. If you can't provide the practice opportunities, you can't expect this level of training finesse!

  10. Add distractions and difficulty gradually. Start with well known family member standing on other side of screen door within view. Family member rings bell, you repeat "get back" sequence til fluent. Then add door opening, person coming in or delivering imaginary pizza.

  11. Long term distractions: exciting friends, unknown visitors, pizza guy, mailman, UPS deliveries (remember that the rumble of the truck and big knock are also stressers and a huge leap in difficulty). You will need to train for doors held open wide enough for accepting big boxes, people who fling the door open before you are ready, etc.



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