Door Training

Teaching Dogs Not to Run Out the Door

The best way to persuade your dog not to dash through doors is: do not let your dog make a successful dash through the door. Sounds obvious -- but countless dog people and their guests have accidentally let the dog out the door, giving the dog a taste of freedom that can be exhilarating, but fraught with danger. The dog does not realize this, but he could get hit by a car, get in a fight with another animal, get lost and hurt, knock over children, not to mention alienate your neighbors. Even after dogs who get hurt after an escape fail to remember the connection between door-darting and pain when spotting a new chance to dash out the door.

When a dog is allowed to dash out the door, this act reinforces the undesirable behaviors of ignoring the owner, crossing thresholds ahead of the owner, running out the door and running loose. Since the dog will enjoy the excitement of running loose and the opportunity to chase critters (and sometimes people) outside, the act of running free is instantly self-rewarding.

So do all you can to keep your dog from escaping, including teaching all household members and guests to not let the dog out -- and teaching the dog to sit and stay when near exit doors.

Steps to take:

* Establish a pact with all family members and housemates that everyone will keep the dog from escaping outdoors. This means training the people and alerting all visitors to your home.

* Teach the Doggie Doorknob Rule. Explain to everyone living or visiting your home, especially children: do not turn the doorknob until you know where the dog is, and you are sure the dog can't get loose and run out the door.

* Tell visitors when they are preparing to leave your home not to open the door until your dog is secured. Make sure the dog is confined in another room, on a leash by your side, or taught reliably to "stay" or "wait."

* Do daily practice sessions to train the dog that he can never go out the door without your express permission. And/or take basic obedience classes, which will help you learn to keep your dog’s attention in an environment of distractions.

* Start by teaching the key commands of “Sit” and "Stay." Remember, you must first teach the dog what the basic command words and hand signals mean before you work on training him not to run out doors. Dogs do not instinctively know what "Sit," "Stay," "Down" mean; their owners need to teach them. Also, your dog needs to have bonded with you before you begin obedience training sessions, or else he will not pay attention. First build your relationship with the dog, learn how to be a leader to your dog, teach him to pay attention and that it is rewarding to pay attention to you.

* During training sessions, do not have guests or other distractions until your dog demonstrates understanding and the need to obey the commands.

* Once the dog reliably obeys the basic commands, you can begin introducing distractions so that your dog will learn to listen to you even when there are other people and distractions around. Also, practice the commands in other locations, starting with other exit doors in your house.

* Make sure the puppy or dog gets to relieve himself before you start training sessions for sit and wait by the door. It is not fair to the dog or effective obedience training to practice when he really does have to "go outside."

* If you don't have mental control, you have to have physical control. So if your dog does not reliably obey you yet, he needs to be on lead, crated or baby gated away from exit doors.

* When guests arrive at your home, until your dog is totally, reliably trained, it's a good idea to keep your dog on a leash and by your side. That way, you can more effectively instruct her to "stay," "get back," "off" (which means no jumping). At the same time, this will keep your dog from running out the door.

* If you stop letting a dog escape out the door, and you teach your dog proper behavior, the dog is likely to stop trying to escape through doors. However, we should never let our guard down.

Next: several techniques for keeping your dog from darting through the door. Be sure to read through all of them, because each one contains valuable information.

Teach Stay with Verbal Command and Hand Signal From canine behavior specialist Kathy Graninger:

* Before you walk to the front door, put your dog in the "Sit" position far back from the door and tell him to "Stay!" Extend your arm in a traffic-cop "Stop" hand-signal. Walk towards the door.

* If she starts moving as you reach for the door knob, put your hand out in a "Stop" signal and firmly say "No...Stay!"

* If she gets up (don't wait until she follows you), take her back to the original spot and place her back in the "Sit" position. Firmly repeat the "Sit-Stay" command, while using the "Stop" hand signal.

* Practice until you can open the door slowly, while watching your dog, without your dog breaking the stay.

Teach the dog it is not acceptable, or rewarding, to try to run to the door. But remember: even if the dog gets the concept after practicing, the excitement of seeing new people will tempt her to break the stay command. Always watch your dogs.

Teach Wait at Doors and Gates Using Positive Reinforcement: From "Teach Wait" by September Morn, in the June 2003 Dog Fancy.

"Wait" is a less formal command than "Stay."

* Go to the door with your dog on-leash. Say "wait," then reach for the doorknob.

* If your dog moves forward, remove your hand from the doorknob, pause, then try again. If your dog waits, praise and give treats.

* When you can touch the knob without your dog pushing forward, try opening the door a few inches.

* If your dog waits, praise and give treats. If your dog moves forward, close the door gently, pause, then try again.

* Repeat several times, opening the door wider each time. When your dog waits, praise and treat. If your dog moves forward, close the door, without treats and start over.

* When your dog waits several seconds with the door wide open, tell him, "OK, go ahead," and allow him to go through.

Teaching Wait using Collar Correction: If the approach above does not work for a dog not motivated by praise and treats, Karin Anderson offers this alternative approach to training the "Wait" command:

Put a training collar and leash on the dog. Say "Wait" as you open the door. If the dog tries to go out, give him a leash correction say "WAIT!"

This conditions the dog to wait at the door and helps the dog learn to associate the opening of a door with something other than "go outside!" Eventually, with sufficient practice over time, no command will be necessary. This approach can also work if the door is accidentally opened.

Training Escape Artists to Not Want to Go Out the Door Without Permission Copyright 2000 by Meesoon Shirley Chong

Step One

You will have to repeat this step at several doors before your dog understands that the rule is not to go through any door to the outside without permission. Do this step at every exit in your home and anywhere else where your dog spends a significant amount of time off lead. (It is best to start with an exit door that leads to a fenced yard in case you have a slip-up.)

Put your dog on a six foot leash attached to a buckle or limited slip collar that you are sure your dog cannot escape from. If you know your dog is likely to chew a leash, buy one of those plastic coated steel cable tie-out leads to use in this exercise. You will also need a stopwatch or a watch with a second hand for this exercise. And you might want to have a chair next to the door you plan to use.

If you are doing this exercise in hot weather, make sure that the door you are using is in the shade so you don’t risk overheating your dog. If it's cold out, make sure it's not too cold for your dog.

When you are ready, silently open the door and let your dog dart through. Close the door on the leash, being careful not to catch your dog's tail. Keep an eye on your watch and leave your dog outside for 30 seconds. It's amazing how long 30 seconds can be, so use your timepiece to keep track of the time.

When the 30 seconds are up, open the door, let your dog come in and make a big fuss over him. Make sure your dog knows he has been traumatized -- ask him where he was, ask him if he was okay while he was gone, make your voice high pitched and anxious sounding. You want him to feel like he's had an unpleasant experience and you are sympathizing.

After you are done with the big reunion, silently open the door again. If your dog darts out again, let him. Close the door behind him (watching for that tail!) and leave him outside for one minute. When you open the door again, repeat the big fuss.

Keep silently opening the door and letting your dog out, doubling the amount of time you leave him outside each time. Be patient! Don't try to warn your dog to stay, don't try to prevent your dog from darting outside -- let him discover for himself what happens when he does so.

The time will come when you open that door and your dog stays in the house. Close the door again and CELEBRATE! Tell him you're happy with him, give him terrific cookies, play with him, hug him and generally have a doggie party.

After the big party, give your dog a few minutes to calm down and then repeat the exercise with the same door. Most dogs refuse to go through the door without permission but a few (often dogs who have a door darting habit) zip out again. Start the clock again at 30 seconds.

When you get to the point where your dog stands and looks out the open door without trying to dart through it, give your dog permission to go through. I use the word "okay" but any word (release signal) is fine as long as you use the same word and intonation consistently.

You may have to coax your dog through that door or actually go through it with him the first time. This is fine, this is what you want -- it is much safer for your dog to be reluctant to go through a door than it is to have him constantly watching for an opportunity to slip through.

Goal: when you open the door, your dog stands inside and waits for permission to go through the door.


Step Two

You will have to repeat this step at several doors before your dog understands that the rule is not to go through any door to the outside without permission. Do this step at every exit in your home and anywhere else where your dog spends a significant amount of time off lead.

Get or make a house line, which is an 8-10 foot length of cord knotted at one end. The other end is attached to your dog's collar by a snap or by tying it to his collar. Doesn't have to be fancy -- a plastic coated clothesline makes a fine houseline.

If you know that your dog is much faster than you, make a longer houseline -- most dogs can cope with a houseline as long as 25 feet.

Let your dog drag the houseline around the house for a few days whenever you are there. Take the houseline off whenever you are not there to supervise him. Just treat it in a very matter of fact manner; don't make a big fuss about it. Act as if it's just another one of your silly whims (like the way you throw away all that luscious garbage!).

When your dog is used to the houseline, repeat Step One with your dog dragging the houseline. Do not pick the houseline up with your hands, just step on it. You might want to do this with shoes on, rather than barefoot or wearing socks!

Goal: when you open the door, your dog stands inside and waits for permission to go through the door off lead (dragging the houseline).

Step Three

For this step, you need a helper -- someone to pretend to be a guest.

You will have to repeat this step at several doors and with a few different helpers before your dog understands that the rule is not to go through any door to the outside without permission. Do this step at every exit in your home and anywhere else where your dog spends a significant amount of time off lead.

Give your dog a review of Step Two with your helper standing next to you.

After your dog shows he remembers Step Two, have your helper open the door and walk through it. Be ready! About half of all dogs follow the helper right out the door. If your dog follows the helper, just step on the line as you shut the door.

Explain to your helper ahead of time that if your dog follows her out the door to keep on walking away from your dog and try to get out of a sight as soon as possible, either by walking around a corner or by getting into a car. When your dog's time outside is over, signal your helper to come back so you can try again.

Goal: your dog waits for permission to go through an exit, even if someone walks through the door ahead of him.

Training Your Dog Not to Bolt Through Open Doors

Copyright 2002 by Tracy Doyle. Originally written for use with deaf dogs, this technique can work with hearing dogs as well.

There is nothing scarier than to see your deaf dogs running ahead of you toward a door that was accidentally left or blown open. With just a little bit of work every day you can condition your dog to understand that an open door is *not* an invitation to go through it.

It's this simple
Every time you (or even just your dog) are going through a door -- any door -- make him sit. Then open the door, but keep him in the sit position. If he stands up, close the door and make him sit again. Then do it again. Do this until he sits calmly at the open door -- then give him an "OKAY" signal to go through with you.

Do this with every door he goes through -- car doors, the door to his crate, etc. Do it every day and every time he has to go through a door.

If your dog charges out of his crate whenever you open it, make him sit before you open the door. If you start opening the door and he starts to bolt, slam the door shut in his face! You won't hurt him, but you will confuse him.

Do this until he doesn't bolt out of his crate until YOU say it's okay. Do the same thing with the car door, both in and out. Do this when you go to your training classes -- at the house door, the car door (in, then out), at the training facility (in and out), back to the car and at the house door. Do this at your backyard gate, too, even if you don't regularly go through it -- your meter reader and delivery people are infamous accomplices in dog escapes!

I can't stress how important it is that your dog automatically sits for the door and waits for you to tell him it's okay to pass through -- all the time, every time. Once he gets the idea, make it tougher on him.

Put him on a long lead (10 foot or more), make him sit for the door, open it, and you walk through, leaving him behind. If he follows you, put him back and start over. If you use correction methods, give him a correction before you put him back. He'll get the message rather quickly.

If you do sit-stays and down-stays in obedience, practice them at home in doorways. Put the dog on a long lead drag line (and be ready to grab it or step on it if he bolts!). Put him in a stay a few feet away from the door and open it. Walk in and out. Walk away from the door behind the dog (close to the line so you can step on it), so the dog is between you and the door. Praise him profusely if he maintains the stay.

Keep up on this routine all the time -- once they have the idea that they can't go out for potty or a walk or training or ball playing unless they sit calmly and wait to be invited through the door, it takes no time at all. Of course, at first you have to make allowances for the time it takes to settle them.

Don't fret if people think you are being a control freak. Be proud of it! Someday your dog *will* encounter an open door that he shouldn't go through and you will be thankful. If you start getting lazy, just picture in your mind turning into your hallway or coming down the stairs with your dog ahead of you -- and the front door is wide open. It happened to me and my dogs stopped dead and sat. Sure beats being stopped dead by a car in the road.

So, why not just let him bolt out of his crate? If you're traveling on the road, it's really great to have your dog sit there quietly in his crate while you put his leash on. What if a stranger decided to release your dog? Or a little child wanted to pet the doggie? What if you had guests over and he's a jumper or a biter? Guests are notorious for accidentally releasing dogs.

Why in and out of the car? Because your dog could easily escape...even be stolen if he jumps into any open car door. Did you ever have your dog jump out of your open car door before you had your hand on his leash? It's much better to know he will wait for you to be ready to take him out of the car.

There are a thousand reasons to train your dogs this way, and you don't have to go out of your way to do it. It can save his life.


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