When I think about dogs and doorways, it reminds me of a song called “The Distance” that I used to listen to as a teenager. The first verse goes like this.
Reluctantly crouched at the starting line
Engines pumping and thumping in time
The green light flashes and the flags go up
Churning and burning they yearn for a cup
They deftly maneuver and muscle for rank
Fuel burning fast on an empty tank
Reckless and wild they pour through the turns
Their prowess is potent and secretly stern
I laugh as I imagine the doorway as a starting line for our dogs. The door opening signals a green light and sends the dog launching forward through the door with everything it has! This is the reality for many dogs. Come to think of it, taking the leash off a dog can have the same result. Humor aside, “doorway dashing” is not a healthy behavior for our dogs. It can be dangerous for the dog, handler, and/or just about anything in their way and can result in critical injuries to our dogs.
Teaching your dog to wait at doorways until we give them the cue to come through the door should be a foundational piece of our dogs’ training as well as an expected part of their daily life. There are many benefits to this, but I would like to provide thoughts on the primary on the three below.
We all have the safety of our dogs as a primary concern. As your dog learns to wait at doorways, it drastically reduces the chance doorway dashing that might result in injury (to you and themselves) and/or getting lost after running out the door. Safety is also key when it comes to visiting places outside of the home. Walking into a place of business such as a vet, groomer, or local pet friendly store can also have similar drawbacks if the dog does not have proper doorway manners, such as vet visits, for example. All dogs will visit the vet at least annually. If your dog might be reactive around other dogs or people or if there is a dog in the vet’s lobby who might be reactive, if our dog can sit and wait at the door, it allows us to assess the area before allowing our dogs to enter the facility with us.
Teaching doorway courtesy helps dogs’ behavior in several ways. It can improve impulse control. Our dog must learn to be patient and focus on you to be successful with this behavior. Our dogs begin learning that maintaining a calmer state of mind will help them work through and “solve” a problem our dogs find out that the solution is to keep calm and maintain the stay in order to earn reinforcement much faster. In this situation, the earned reinforcement is simply the opportunity to pass through the door. This impulse control skill is beneficial at doorways as well as well as other areas of our dog’s life (and ours as well).
Peace of Mind
Think about when you just get home from the grocery store and would like to get all the groceries unloaded with one trip. Strategically you find a way to carry every bag in the vehicle, then use your foot to shut the car door, and head for the house. Using the only two fingers left (specifically to turn the knob) you open the door while reminding yourself that the work you have been doing at the doorways is really paying off. As you open the door, you find yourself staring at your dog who remembers the training! With a confident smile on your face, you say hello to your pup, walk in, and shut the door. There was never a concern your dog would bolt, just the simple and peaceful moment that you were able to happily greet them. Having a dog who waits politely at doorways without doorway dashing simply makes your day and your dog’s day much better. We all have plenty of things to worry about every day, and if we can help our dogs be successful and consistent with doorway training and not bolting out the door, we can spend more time just enjoying our relationship with our dog (and maybe have time to play another game of fetch!). The benefits to training this behavior are truly priceless.