By Drew Webster, CPDT-KA
Teaching your dog not to run out the door means teaching them a temporary boundary exercise. This is a simple and useful tool you can use on a daily basis. Not only can teaching your dog the command “wait” at the door be helpful but it could save her life. Whether you are taking your dog out for a walk, going into the pet store or getting out of the car, a boundary exercise is a wonderful thing to teach.
The easiest way to avoid your dog pushing her way through doors is to utilize your body language and energy to create a boundary and tell the dog to “wait” (temporary boundary command). “Wait” used in training is used to create an invisible boundary which you can set to keep the dog from crossing until you allow it with a verbal or touch release. I use the word “OK” as my release word. It may be helpful to teach this command indoors like a boundary between the kitchen and living room (or an indoor bedroom) before trying it on a real door that goes outside.
Try this: As you approach a door with the dog on leash put yourself between the dog and the door with your back to the door. Draw an invisible line with your hand while facing the dog with a hand held out and verbally say “wait”. Remember the dog is responding more to your body language and the physical barrier than your verbal command which they may have never heard before in this context. If your dog comes forward as you are going backwards through the door simply step forward again and say “no, wait”. Praise the dog for a “good wait” when she is waiting under her own power not because the leash is tight, then say “OK” to indicate she is done with that command. Simultaneously turn your shoulder and open your body as you unblock the doorway to allow your dog to come through. This is a functional reward because your dog wants to go through the space. You don’t need to use food rewards. Do this at several different doors in succession and your dog will get better quickly.
Eventually you create a culture at doorways with manners and her checking in for permission because it will get her what she wants (to go play, food or exit the doorway) faster than forcing her way through or dashing outside. “wait” is a much easier and faster way to get the dog to calm down and be patient at doors instead of just asking her to “sit”. While she is waiting she can sit, lie down or stand. Your dog simply cannot cross the invisible barrier until you say it is “OK”.
Use this exercise around the house, getting in and out of the car and then try it out on your walks. You can begin to generalize so the dog can wait at your home, going into a pet shop or even pausing at street corners. With enough practice and consistency the “wait” command can mean for your dog to stop in her tracks. This relies on you practicing or “proofing” the command in a variety of places with different levels of distractions that you control.
*Tip – if you use stay as a stationary command (meaning stay in a sit or down position) don’t use “stay” as a temporary boundary, in this exercise we are teaching our dog to break the boundary when released. Many dogs who learn stay are taught not to break their placement until the owner returns to them. Having two different commands for two different behaviors will make you more consistent to your dog.
This wonderful training exercise can be used every single day to help your dog build impulse control and manners and make your job of being a responsible pet parent easier. No more chasing your dog down the street because they ran out the front door; doesn’t that sound nice?