Dogs and Doorways

Doorways are one of the places we spend the most time training with dogs in our home because they can so easily cause daily frustration (and safety hazards) for people who have dogs which try to escape or pull through open doors. Most of us open our front doors thousands of times a year, so even if your dog only bolts out of the door 1% of the time, that could still mean an average of 10 or more escapes per year! Fortunately, good manners when it comes to walking through doorways are relatively easy to train, and just take some consistency and patience. (We also highly recommend using gates or other management tools as a backup plan to prevent escapes- but we'll talk about those in another post). In our home, we like to focus on two major training points with doorways:

1. The automatic 'wait' behavior when a door of any kind is being opened.

2. The "go through" behavior when a dog is moving through a doorway.

The Automatic "Wait"

When I say a behavior is automatic, I mean that I want my dogs to automatically offer the behavior in that situation, without my giving them a specific verbal/hand cue. For example, for this behavior, my opening any door in front of them, automatically instructs my dog to wait (without my saying the word "wait" every time we are at a doorway). The behavior should look like the dog sitting or standing still while a door is being opened in front of them (any door inside, outside, or even the door to their crate). The dog shouldn't make any forward movement towards or through the door until after they have been given some type of verbal release or other instruction.

How we train it:

We start this behavior at a very young age, by not letting our dogs move through doorways until after they have offered some amount of "waiting" behavior. For young puppies, this may mean they waited (sitting or standing, without putting their nose through the door) for even a second or two as we opened the door an inch. Then we reinforce this wait behavior by saying the release word and encouraging them to walk through. We gradually teach the dogs how to wait for longer periods of time (while the door is opened wider) by letting them move through any open door only after we have given them the release word. If we have asked our dogs to wait longer than they were capable of (or at a time when they were really excited to move through the door) and they started to put their nose through before we said the release word, then we gently close the door (while not letting them through) and make sure to ask them for less wait time when we try again. Eventually our dogs can have any door opened wide in front of them but they will happily wait until we give them the instruction to "go through".

The "Go through" Behavior

This behavior should look like the dog walking through the doorway (or any small space) and then turning around to look at me. For my own personal preference, I usually put this behavior on a verbal and/or hand signal cue, so that I can ask my dog to do it in lots of different situations. Check out the videos at the bottom of the page of SSD Gilwell practicing his "Go Through" behavior in a small space we encountered at the grocery store, and Sherlock the Hound demonstrating how we use it when going back inside the house!

Now it should be noted that this does mean I am asking my dog to walk through a doorway before me. For those of you who may be concerned about that, let me explain why I do this:

1) Because the idea that my dog is displaying "dominance" by walking through the doorway before me (or that letting him do so will cause him to lose his respect for my role as the leader or "alpha") is silly, and not supported by any modern science anywhere.

2) Because when my arms are full of groceries or when I'm trying to close the door behind me, it is often easier for me to send my dog through first, knowing that he will be patiently waiting for me on the other side. This is often necessary for people in wheelchairs to do with their service dog, so we also want to teach our service dogs in training this behavior at a young age.

3) Because it helps bridge the transition into a new environment. Transitions like this can be hard and they are easy points for a dog to become distracted, so this behavior gives them a job to focus on as they move into the new environment. Having your dog's attention the first few seconds you are transitioning to a different environment can really help get things off to a good start.

How we train it:

This a relatively easy behavior to train when you have a marker (such as a clicker or a verbal marker like the word "yes") that your dog is already familiar with. Start by working with an open door and your dog on leash. Encourage your dog to walk through the door (with a verbal release or you can just take a step towards the door). Click right as your dog's rump crosses the threshold and then give your dog a treat. Repeat. Typically after 5-10 repetitions your dog will be in the pattern of walking through the door, hearing a click, and then turning around to get a treat from you. Once they are in this pattern, wait and only click after your dog has turned back towards you (instead of when they walked through the door). If you waited and they kept walking without turning back, do another few repetitions of clicks/treats for their rump crossing the threshold or practice in a less distracting environment, then try again. If they successfully turn back to look at you then make sure to practice this behavior (dog walks through door then turns to look at you, then you click and give them a treat) in many different doorways. After the "go through" behavior is mastered begin combining it with the automatic wait behavior described above, by practicing with a door which must be opened first.

Do you have a hard time with your dog bolting through doorways or pulling you on the leash as soon as the door opens? Contact us and we can help you train your dog (big or small) how to have better doorway manners!

(See below: SSD Gilwell practicing 'Go Through' in small spaces)

(See above: Sherlock the Hound practicing 'Go Through' at our house)


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