Doggy Door Manners
Politeness matters in all manner of daily life. Considering that we walk through doorways with our dogs many times each day, this is a location where we should focus our attention to help our dogs learn how to do so in a safe and mannerly fashion, especially when in public.
Teaching your dog to wait at doorways until given an “Release” sets a positive tone for the walk ahead, helps improve overall impulse control, and helps ensure your dog’s safety (i.e. to prevent charging out the doorway).
Dogs are very specific learners. That is, they are superb at learning things in specific environments and contexts. However, they need our assistance in the form of lots of repetitions and rewards in order to learn to be mannerly and responsive in different environments and contexts.
Here is how you can start practicing good Door Manners with your dog from your own home.
Walk towards the door and stop about five feet. Wait for your dog to keep all four paws on the floor in a stand or a sit. To start, make it very easy for your dog to win at this game by marking and rewarding when they stand or sit (as opposed to pulling forward or jumping) for just a second or two.
Walk away from the door and re-approach to repeat the same way as above. Usually within about 5-10 repetitions you should see your dog really getting the idea of the game and immediately offering a polite behavior (standing or sitting). With each repetition your dog is likely to more promptly and enthusiastically offer you the behavior you have previously reinforced (i.e. a stand or sit and wait).
Try approaching, stopping, and waiting for the count of three or four seconds before marking and rewarding. This way you are asking your dog to exhibit a greater degree of patience and self-control.
Now try approaching the door and stopping just about two feet away. Keep in mind that the closer you get to the door the more challenging it will be for your dog. So, go back to a count of just a second or two prior to marking and rewarding.
In 3-5 minute practice sessions throughout the day, build up to a count of three, four, or five seconds.
Now try approach the door and stopping right in front of it and increase the gradual count up to five seconds prior to marking and rewarding your dog for standing or sitting.
When he is doing well at this stage, try reaching for the doorknob. If your dog goes to move towards the door or jumps up, simply take your hand off the door and wait for a calm stand or a sit again. Then, put your hand back on the door and mark and reward if your dog is patient for just a moment.
Practice turning the knob, then opening the door gradually. With practice and good timing (marking and rewarding for patience and closing the door gently and possibly walking away from him for impatience) you will be able to fully open the door and then start adding the cue for moving forward. Many people like to say something like “OK or “let’s go". Our resident trainer, Christina highly recommends steering away from this as these words/phrases are common to use when not speaking with your dog, and we don't want to signal a release by mistake. Try using something less common like "Free" to release your dog from their place.
During 3-5 minute sessions each dog/owner team will progress at a different rate. Be sure to focus on rewarding even tiny steps of improvement and consider that for many dogs, remaining calm and still at doorways is a lot to ask. Especially is they have been permitted to rush at and through doorways in the past.
A great time to practice these new skills is when you stop by for your next groom or bath! We always have lots of doggie traffic going through these doors and our receptionist is a Dog Trainer for Simba's Tail. She is always ready to help provide any tips, tricks or helpful hints!