As a dog trainer, one of the biggest complaints I hear is about dogs bolting out the front door, clobbering guests as they come in, or barking every time the bell rings or someone knocks at the door. It’s annoying for the parent and guests and can be dangerous if your dog bolts out toward oncoming traffic or gets lost.
Like with most behaviors, door manners consist of two things: management and training. Management will be the first thing you do. While your dog is learning what they are supposed to do at the door, you need to manage him so he cannot practice the unwanted behaviors.
Managing the Door
There are several simple things you can do to prevent your dog from practicing the above mentioned behaviors. Most likely you already have the tools in your house, you just haven’t implemented them yet.
- Barriers. Use baby gates or an x-pen to block off the doorway area from your dog so they cannot rush it whenever someone opens the door. This works for dogs that respect barriers only. If your dog can jump over them or if the barriers cause aggression, do not use this management tool.
- Crate. When you know someone is going to be coming over or you are going to be coming in with your arms full of groceries, crate your dog in another room, away from the door. Bring your guests in, have them sit down and get settled, and then bring your dog out on a leash. This helps your dog not clobber them as he is greeting and since he is leashed, you can remove him if he gets to excited.
- Off Limits. If you have a lot of people that come and go (say a home-based office) or a bunch of teenagers, keep your dog out of the area of the house where the front door is. That way, there will be no mistakes while the training is going on. If the door bell and/or knocking sets him off, turn on a TV or radio to drown it out. Remember, this is just temporary to avoid slip ups that will set back your training.
Training the Door
When you are ready to train, there are several things you can do, depending on which problem(s) you are dealing with.
- Sit at Door. For dogs that bolt or jump, teach your dog an “auto sit-stay” at the door. To start training this, have your dog on leash and stand by the door. Wait for your dog to sit and then reach for the door to open it. If she gets up, stop reaching for the door, return to your original position, and wait for her to sit again. Do this until you can open the door all the way without her moving. The next step is to build up to being able to walk out the door while your dog stays in the sit. Again, no cue. We want your dog to learn that an open door means “sit and stay” without a cue because guests, teenagers, etc., may not think or know to give your dog a cue.
- Alternate Behavior. For dogs that are alert barkers at the door or that don’t bolt outside but clobber you as you walk in the door, you can teach them to a behavior like “go to your crate,” “go to your bed,” etc., that they do automatically when they hear the knock or doorbell. Do this by teaching your dog the behavior with a cue (so you can also cue it for times when there is no knock or bell). Then, teach the secondary cues by ringing the door bell, saying the cue, and then rewarding the behavior. After a bit of practice, your dog will start moving toward their crate or bed before you say the cue, after the bell or knock. That’s when you know they are starting to put the two together and you can test it by not saying the verbal cue.
- Get Back. If you don’t mind that your dog greets you at the door because they are not a barker, bolter, or jumper, but more of the “under foot” type, teach them a get back cue. This teaches the dog to do a one 180 and move away from you, out from under your feet. Do this by throwing cookies behind your dog so he chases them while saying “get back.”