Features July 2009 Issue

Door Darting Training

Five things to do when your dog . . . dashes out the door!

Ooops (expletive deleted), there he goes again!” Sounds like the frustrated human companion of a canine door-darter – a dog who slips out the tiniest crack of an open door every chance he gets. Frustrating for the human, dangerous for the dog, who likely romps around the neighborhood just out of his owner’s reach. Here are five things to do if your dog dashes out the door:

1 Catch him. Easier said than done, you may say. An accomplished door darter is often an accomplished keep-away player as well. Don’t chase; you’ll just be playing his game. Play a different game instead – something else fun. Does he love squeaky toys? Grab one, take it outside and squeak it. When he looks, run away, still squeaking. If he chases after you, let him grab one end of the toy. Play a little tug, trade him for a treat, then squeak it and play tug some more. Let him follow you, playing tug-the-squeaky, into your fenced yard, and close the gate behind you. Play more squeaky with him.

Door Darting Training

Is this you and your dog? A dog who bolts and tries to escape every time the door opens may well be living on borrowed time. Train your dog to sit before you open a door, waiting for permission (a release cue) to go out or come in.

If he loves car rides, run to your car and say, “Wanna go for a ride?!” Open the car door and invite him in. When he jumps in, take him for a ride! Playing tug? Chasing tennis balls or flying discs? Fetching sticks? Walkies? Whatever he loves, provide it.

2 Reward, don’t punish. You’ve managed to get hold of your cavorting canine. No matter how upset you are, don’t yell at him! Don’t even reprimand him calmly. He’ll associate the punishment with returning to you, not with darting out the door. Don’t even take him back inside immediately – that’s punishment, too. I promise, if you punish him when you finally get your hands on him, it’ll be even harder to catch him the next time. Instead, happily and genuinely reinforce him with whatever he loves best – tug, fetch, a car ride, or high value treats.

Door Darting Training

The “management” (as opposed to training) solution is to install an “airlock” at each exit to any unfenced yard. You can use an exercise pen to create a second barrier inside your door, or securely enclose your porch or deck.

3 Create “airlocks” for your doors. Even if you can’t fence in your yard, you can put up a woven wire barrier around the door(s) he darts out of – a small area with a self-closing gate, so if he darts out the door he’s still contained. Use baby gates or exercise pens to set up a barrier inside, to block his access to the door. Insist everyone makes sure he’s behind the barrier before going out the door, or greeting a visitor.

4 Teach him to wait at doors. Implement a “Say please” program, where “sit” makes all good things happen, including doors. Teach him to “sit-and-wait” at doors until he’s given the release cue. The more consistent everyone is at sit-and-wait, the more reliable your dog will be at waiting, and the less likely he’ll dart out that door.

5 Increase his exercise. If you keep your canine pal busy and tired, he’ll be less inclined to look for opportunities to dash through doors. A tired dog is a well-behaved dog.

Pat Miller, CPDT, is WDJ’s Training Editor. Miller lives in Hagerstown, Maryland, site of her Peaceable Paws training center. Pat is also author of several books on positive training.

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