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.
Another option to manage, I often do home visits for a dog rescue I volunteer with, and the first thing I address is where do humans come in and out, and can another door be used for the dog’s in and out. Sometimes, that is not possible, but where it is, I have found it is a good way to manage door darting. To date it has worked with almost all the dogs that have come into our home — they come close to the door entry, but do not associate it as a way to go outside. For a few stubborn cases, I do have a baby gate :-).
Yeah, I’ve got this problem at my parent’s house. They’re both 93 and I’ve been taking care of them M-F so bring my dogs to be with their dog, Three dogs, all unlearning their training and my Dad reinforcing bad behavior.
Now it’s darting out the door and running down the street.
I’ve got a baby gate set up at the front door so people can come in and out but I can’t do anything about the kitchen door, which is the door he uses as his Zoomer is just outside in the garage. He goes out there to smoke 3-4 times a day.
He let’s them out and says they know where they live and will come back when they feel like it. He calls them because he thinks he has some magical power over them, but they want to go down the block and explore the canyon, because my irresponsible nephew has been taking their dog down there on walks. So now she’s taking my dogs down there. I drive down looking for them and of course can’t find them.
Every time he does it I have to drop what I’m doing, grab my keys and purse and take the car down the street to try to find them. No one has been hit so far but it is only a matter of time before one of the dogs is hurt, or they are caught and Animal Control is called again.
Animal Control has already talked to my Dad once about his dog running around loose.
I can’t stop him from letting them out. He is essentially teaching them to go out the door and run down the street.
He’s also teaching my dog to snap at treats by holding them out and then jerking his hand back. I’ve tried to tell him not to do that and teach him the proper way to reward them but he won’t listen to that either. He’ll drop them on the floor and I am afraid he is teaching my larger dog to be more aggressive in “guarding” the treats so she gets them all. I can see my smaller dog staying back and hesitant, to protect herself. (She is a shelter rescue.)
I can’t modify their bad behavior in the two days they are at my house. When we go back he just reteaches them the bad habits. I’m working on recall and the snapping but with him constantly undermining my training I’m at my wit’s end.