Dog owners often complain about their dogs dashing out the front door, charging an open gate, or even just trying to be the first one through doorways in the house. The owner of two Golden Retrievers said that her two recently knocked her down as they charged through an open door. She wasn’t hurt but knows she could have been and now wants to change her dogs’ behavior. Thankfully, it’s not difficult to do.
An Open Door is an Invitation
To understand why dogs dash through open doors and gates, it’s important to know that dogs repeat actions that are rewarding to them. That is why training techniques that use rewards of praise, petting, food treats, and toys are so effective.
Rewards don’t always come from you, however. If your dog chases a squirrel, for example, and has a great time (even if he didn’t catch the squirrel) he’ll want to chase the next one he sees or hears. The chase and the adrenaline rush can be enough of a reward.
The chance to dash through a door and be rewarded in some way can make sure the action is repeated over and over again. The rewards can vary from running around the neighborhood, visiting with people walking by, barking at neighbor dogs, or attention (even negative attention) from you.
Some trainers emphasize that dashing ahead of you through a door is dominant behavior and needs to be stopped for that reason. That’s not necessarily so and shouldn’t be assumed. However, because dashing through doorways ahead of you can hurt you – the dog can knock you down, cause you to trip or wrench a knee – and because the behavior can also endanger your dog - it should be stopped.
Sit and Stay at Doors
The easiest way to stop this behavior is to teach your dog to sit and stay at doors and gates. When he can sit and stay when a door is opened, and then wait for your permission to go outside then you can help keep both of you safe.
To begin this training, put a leash on your dog and have some treats in your pocket. Choose a door to begin; the one your dog is most likely to charge through is a good place to start.
Ask your dog to sit about a step from the door inside the house. Praise him for sitting. Then tell him to stay and, holding the leash firmly, open the door. If your dog dashes, let him hit the end of the leash on his own, use a verbal interruption like “Uh uh,” and bring him back inside. Close the door and repeat. If he doesn’t move from his sit, reward him with praise and a treat.
After a couple training sessions, when he’s rock solid at this, open the door and take a step through by yourself. Or, as you hold the leash, say hi to a neighbor. Create a slight distraction. Reward your dog when he holds his position.
Then begin this training all over, from the first step, at another door or gate. Don’t assume that because he understands this new game at one door he will do the same at all doors and gates. You need to repeat the training at several doors and gates and practice quite a bit before your dog makes that generalization.
When you want your dog to walk through an open door or gate, now you need to give him permission. Ask him to sit, praise him, and then tell him, “Sweetie, okay!”
If you don’t give him permission and you simply walk him through when you want to go for a walk, you’ll have a confused dog. Plus, he won’t be nearly as reliable as he could be.