Dogs and Doorway Etiquette

Politeness matters in all manner of daily life. Considering that we walk through doorways with our dogs many times each day, this is a location where we should focus our attention to help our dogs learn how to do so in a safe and mannerly fashion.

Teaching your dog to wait at doorways until given an “OK” sets a positive tone for the walk ahead, helps improve overall impulse control, and helps ensure your dog’s safety (i.e. to prevent charging out the doorway).

Dogs are very specific learners. That is, they are superb at learning things in specific environments and contexts. However, they need our assistance in the form of lots of repetitions and rewards in order to learn to be mannerly and responsive in different environments and contexts. In this way we help them to generalize a skill or behavior (in this case being patient and exhibiting self-control).

For example, a dog may learn to do a prompt and reliable sit in the living room when you have a treat in your hand to offer them, but may be less able to focus and respond accordingly to your requests when outside on the street around loads of distractions. Helping your dog to apply skills taught in less distracting environments in those that are more challenging comes down to daily practice and rewards so they can develop excellent overall manners and responsiveness in real life situations and daily activities.

In the case of doorway manners, each time your dog stops and waits at a doorway (a place that for most dogs is a very exciting place to be, as it is where they exit for fun walks and where exciting visitors enter) you are helping them to gain better self-control in that context. For each new environment and distraction you practice around, your dog is also building overall manners muscles. Because if your dog can control himself in what is presumably an excitable state at doorways then he is better equipped to control himself in general.

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In addition to impulse and self control, teaching your dog to wait at doorways until given permission to walk through is a wonderful way to cement your dog’s understanding of the give and take of the canine/human bond. You are essentially making it clear to your dog that you have the ability to give them access to something they want (i.e. going through the door) if they give you something you want (i.e. standing or sitting still and waiting for your cue to go forward). It can not be overstated how important it is to find as many small opportunities throughout the day to help your dog understand this concept. It really is the foundation of a safe, healthy and happy canine/human relationship.

Great doggie doorway manners start with:

  • Your dog on leash beside you. The leash is not meant to be used to punish your dog, rather as a safety tool (to prevent potential pulling or pushing out the door until they have learned how to behave appropriately) and to manage your dog to help set them up for success.
  • A variety of tiny treats in your hand or in a treat pouch on your hip. For dogs that are highly toy motivated, you can also have a tug toy on hand to use as a reward.
  • A marker that will be used to tell your dog precisely when they did the right thing that has earned them a reward. Many trainers use a clicker or a verbal marker like “yes” or “good.” A marker is a sound which signifies to your dog that what they did at the exact moment they heard the sound is what will get them a reward. By saying “yes” or using a clicker and pairing it 10-20 times with a treat (i.e. make the sound when the dog does something you like and then give the treat) your dog will start to understand the significance of this sound.
  • Walk towards the door and stop about five feet. Wait for your dog to keep for feet on the floor in a stand or a sit. To start, make it very easy for your dog to win at this game by marking and rewarding when they stand or sit (as opposed to pulling forward or jumping) for just a second or two.
  • Walk away from the door and re-approach to repeat the same way as above. Usually within about 5-10 repetitions you should see your dog really getting the idea of the game and immediately offering a polite behavior (standing or sitting). With each repetition your dog is likely to more promptly and enthusiastically offer you the behavior you have previously reinforced (i.e. a stand or sit and wait).
  • Try approaching, stopping, and waiting for the count of three or four seconds before marking and rewarding. This way you are asking your dog to exhibit a greater degree of patience and self-control.
  • Now try approaching the door and stopping just about two feet away. Keep in mind that the closer you get to the door the more challenging it will be for your dog. So, go back to a count of just a second or two prior to marking and rewarding.
  • In 3-5 minute practice sessions throughout the day, build up to a count of three, four, or five seconds.
  • Now try approach the door and stopping right in front of it and increase the gradual count up to five seconds prior to marking and rewarding your dog for standing or sitting.
  • When he is doing well at this stage, try reaching for the doorknob. If your dog goes to move towards the door or jumps up, simply take your hand off the door and wait for a calm stand or a sit again. Then, put your hand back on the door and mark and reward if your dog is patient for just a moment.
  • Practice turning the knob, then opening the door gradually. With practice and good timing (marking and rewarding for patience and closing the door gently and possibly walking away from him for impatience) you will be able to fully open the door and then start adding the cue for moving forward. Many trainers like to say something like “OK or “let’s go.”
  • aaway getwith treats in your hand or in a treat pouch on your hip, get ready to mark the moment your dog stops at the door.
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During 3-5 minute sessions each dog/owner team will progress at a different rate. Be sure to focus on rewarding even tiny steps of improvement and consider that for many dogs, remaining calm and still at doorways is a lot to ask. Especially is they have been permitted to rush at and through doorways in the past.

Just as many people do loads of brief repetitions to build physical muscles, so must you and your dog practice loads of repetitions so your dog can build strong learning muscles. Lots of brief periods of repetition throughout the day will not only result in doorway etiquette success, but also offer you an opportunity to spend quality time with your dog. Something you both deserve.