Teach Your Dog to Wait at the Door When Visitors Arrive

Dog waiting at the door
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Is your dog "hell on wheels" when a guest arrives, bolting through the door as soon as it cracks open? Door-dashing dogs respond to an open front door as if it's the starting gate of the Kentucky Derby — and the unfortunate guest is the finish line.

Canines who bolt through doors will wedge body parts through the doorway and forcefully push through, clamber under their person's legs or dodge through any opening to break through to the freedom on the other side.

Visitors had better brace themselves, because the greeting of a dog gone wild after having just broken loose is usually less than ideal. A typical scene is a canine who leaps toward the guest in aerial acrobatics as if attempting his best impression of an Olympic ice skater. The leaps are commonly followed by Tigger-like springing bounces and paws scampering up a person's legs like the dog is treeing a raccoon. On the other hand, for nervous or anxious dogs who dive through the door to immediately inspect the seemingly suspicious character on the other side, their person has little control or ability to intervene if the greeting goes poorly, thus elevating the risk for everyone involved.

If the dog owner gets lucky, she can maneuver fast enough to pull her dog back through the door he escaped through. Or, if her timing isn't just right, the dog may feel his freedom and the desire to explore may overtake him, causing him to take off while his person gives chase.

A Common Problem

Such scenes are not uncommon in the least. In fact, when I'm out on a first call for dog training at a person's home, I'm already in the brace position when the door opens because of the countless times dogs have nearly taken me out at the knees or climbed up my legs after their person loses control and the dog gets loose. I've even been pummeled with such ferocity by an overly exuberant dog that my legs were taken out from under me and I took a few seconds' ride on the dog's back like I was on a pony ride gone bad.

Door dashing when a visitor arrives is a common phenomenon because, plain and simple, it gets dogs what they want: faster access to the person on the other side and off-leash freedom. Once a dog has been successful at bursting through the door and has gotten the reward of greeting the visitor, the behavior gains strength. Every occurrence when it works only serves to intensify the dog's desire to do it again.

If you have a problem "fur child" who needs better manners when it comes to patiently waiting inside the home to greet guests, there's help available. To keep a dog from dashing and teach him instead to politely wait to greet until the person comes inside, you'll need to employ a combination of management and training strategies.

An Ounce of Prevention

First of all, prevention is key. Every time your dog gets out the front door past you and reaches the visitor is another victory that rewards and strengthens the behavior you're attempting to stop. The best way to prevent door dashing is to manage it with a barrier such as a leash or baby gate. If using a leash, make a habit of clipping or storing the leash right next to the door to make it easily accessible. Before the door opens, the rule in the home must be for the leash to first be clipped to the dog before the door handle turns. In some situations, the easiest solution is a pet gate or pet fencing around the front door area to keep the dog back. For athletic or strong dogs, a baby gate will do little to keep them at bay, and a leash may be the better option. However, for smaller dogs or those with less dramatic escape behavior, a gate system is a no-hassle tool to keep the dog safe.

Learning to Wait

Once the dog is prevented from bursting through the door during greetings, it's important to train him to wait — or stay in position — at the door. Start in an area other than those where the dog dashes. For example, you might use a bedroom or bathroom door. Start with the door closed and the dog on leash next to you. The dog can be in a solid stand, or even better, ask for a sit or down. Say the word "wait" and reach and touch the handle of the door. If the dog doesn't break his stationary position, mark the behavior with a click or "good" and reward with a treat right in the place where the dog is staying. Then say "wait" and touch the handle and turn it slightly without opening the door.

Gradually work toward opening the door just a crack, marking desired behavior and rewarding the dog for staying in place, and then closing the door for the next try. Progress gradually, opening the door wider in increments of an inch. If the dog breaks position, use the leash to prevent him from walking through and shut the door. The leash should remain loose during the entire exercise unless needed to guide the dog back into place should he break position. If the dog is unsuccessful at staying in place at any point, make the training easier and move back to a previously successful stage.

Once the dog can stay in place with the door wide open, move to other doors in the home, eventually progressing to the front door. Soon the dog learns that waiting in place makes the door open further, while breaking the stay means the door closes. A mat at the door or line on the flooring can provide a visual boundary for the dog: If he moves past it, the door will close and access to the person on the other side ends until he moves back behind the boundary. Even better than treats as a reward for some dogs is the chance to greet the visitor. Ideally, wait until the person steps inside the door before releasing the dog to greet. Practice first with familiar people, like family members, before trying with unfamiliar people. You also may want to calm your hyper dog's excited greeting or help your anxious canine to relax to ensure a pleasant experience for visitors, dog and owner.

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