Has this ever happened to you? You open the door to retrieve your latest Amazon package and before you know it, your dog slips between your legs and takes off on a neighborhood joy ride. Ruh-roh!
Trainers call this “door darting,” and it’s not only frustrating, it can also be unsafe for your dog, especially if his recall isn’t reliable. It’s an impulse control issue that can be hugely self-rewarding for your dog, so it’s important to employ effective management while you work on teaching door manners.
“Management” means things you do to set up the dog’s environment in a way that will manage his behavior; it doesn’t involve teaching him anything, just preventing the thing that you don’t want to happen from happening!
- “Feeding the Chickens.” As you approach the door, toss a small handful of kibble 8-10 feet from the door, and encourage your dog to find it. Finding kibble on the floor is incompatible with rushing the front door, and it gives humans a chance to enter or exit. Play this game often to teach your dog to anticipate good things away from the door.
- Baby gate in the doorway. A pressure-mounted or hardware-installed baby gate in the doorway is an effective barrier to prevent door darting. In many doorways, a gate will fit even with a screen door, and will still allow the main door to close. A 24” gate is short enough for most adults to step over, making it realistic to always keep this management strategy in place in homes with accomplished door darters.
- Exercise pen “catch basin” (aka “airlock”). Similar to using a baby gate in the doorway, an x-pen makes a great emergency corral just outside of the door. If the dog manages to slip past you, he’s safely contained on the porch. Or, set it up inside your door, so you can close it behind you before opening the door.
- Tether station. Attach a spare leash to a heavy piece of furniture near the main entryway to your home and make it a habit to quickly tether him before opening the door. A sticky note on the door is a great reminder for everyone in the family.
Useful trained behaviors
While managing the behavior daily, it’s also wise to train specific behaviors to help your dog succeed in the absence of management. A reliable “stay,” “go to your mat” and recall behavior work together well to help your dog learn to control himself around the excitement of the open door.