You Don’t Have to Go Through the Door Before Your Dog!


You Don't Have To Go Through The Door Before Your Dog

When Annie Phenix of Phenix Dogs recently mentioned to me that the “door myth” is still alive and well, I got to wondering what that actually would look like. The advice to always precede your dog through the door is propagated by those who think the key to having a well-behaved dog is to be a good “pack leader.”  They also say to always eat before your dog. I had a guy recommend that after seeing one of my YouTube videos. How inconvenient is that? What a hassle!

Instead, you can actually train your dog behaviors that keep her safe and that fit into your human life.

I looked for a video of the “going through the door first” thing though because it actually sounds darn inconvenient. I did find a couple of videos of people slamming doors in dogs’ faces to teach them not to go out until released, but I didn’t find a video showing the final behavior of the human marching through the door first, victoriously dominant.

Why It’s Silly

Dogs do what works. Their behavior is driven by consequences. When they perform behaviors that bother us (any behavior actually), those behaviors are being reinforced somehow. Somewhere there is a consequence. Removing that consequence and helping the dog build acceptable alternative behaviors through positive reinforcement can change undesirable behaviors.  The door business is silly because it has no direct relationship to the bulk of dog behaviors that bother us. Going through the door first will have no effect on, say, the dog digging holes in your garden or chewing the furniture. Though repeatedly slamming a door in a dog’s face could certainly make her wary of you.

My Dogs’ Door Behaviors

Using training methods from Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels (Door Zen), and a concept I first read in Leslie McDevitt’s Control Unleashed (the dog reorienting to the handler after crossing any threshold), I’ve trained my dogs to wait nicely at any door, go out when released, and immediately turn back to me for further instructions (and generally a treat). If for any reason I need to go out first, my dogs simply sit and stay where I’ve asked them to. But for me, the mechanics of holding a leash and opening and closing a door generally work out better when we are both going out if I send the dog through first.

Addendum 9/4/15 A few comments about the post have prompted me to clarify a little.

  1. I don’t mean that anybody’s dog **has** to go out first.
  2. There are some situations where it may not be **safe** for your dog to go first.
  3. The point is to teach the dog behaviors that help you both be safe and suit your situation. You get to choose these for yourself rather than taking them out of a rulebook.

Link to the dog door manners video for email subscribers.

In the video, you will see that all the dogs take a look around after going through the door and reorienting to me. That’s fine with me; only fair, don’t you think? Interestingly, Summer in particular has always been very vigilant and a bit of a worrywart. If she didn’t have something to do after going out the door, she would just stand there and scan until we got moving. It’s very good for her to have something else to do besides that.

Teaching Door Manners

This is not a tutorial post; I’m going to leave that to the experts, since these behaviors are so important. Here is a very thorough video by Emily Larlham on teaching safe door behavior. She doesn’t teach a reorientation after going through the door per se, but takes many steps to ensure that the dog is not crazy with anticipation when going through the door. Check out especially her thoughtful treat placement that directs the dog’s attention in a helpful way in each scenario.

Door Manners: Dog Training–Emily Larlham

Do you teach your dogs door manners? How do you do it and what are they?

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19 thoughts on “You Don’t Have to Go Through the Door Before Your Dog!

  1. I don’t for the life of me understand why usually rational people think they have to show their dogs who’s boss by walking through the door first. Bailey always walks out the door before me but only after I release her. We’re still workin on impulse control as I’m not sure how long she’d stay there, but training is always a work in progress.

    1. Training sure is a work in progress! And about the rationality thing–I feel the same way, but also…I remember sorta believing them. Can’t quite get that mindset back and I guess it’s just as well. The mythology around dogs can addle people, I guess. Thanks for posting!

  2. Fantastic post – information and videos are tremendously informative and sensible. Thanks!

  3. We sit at the door first. I try to make Moby wait until I say “okay” but I’m not a big stickler on that. What I am a big stickler on is that as soon as we are out the door, Moby sits and waits for me to shut/lock the door and then he gets treated. He knows that as soon as he gets the treat, our walks start so he seems to want to do that.

  4. Really like the idea of having the dog reorient to the handler after going through the door. Molly, like Summer, is always cautious of going out (although going in is fine with her) and I’m happy to have a possible way to get Molly moving rather than scanning for trouble, usually when she’s only half way out of the door!

    1. Carolyn, it took a while with Summer but it was really worth it. We started on the back door first, which is also exciting because there are sometimes varmints out there!

  5. This is wonderful.. You always put things in such a simple way.. An art, if you like.. However, I have Spaniels and doors are more reinforcing than anything.. Personally, I laugh at their little doorway ways.. I guess that is why I love them so much.. The other side of the door is always more interesting to them than I am.. I have no desire to be in control, I can give an alternate behaviour any time I like. I guess I always have that to fall back on. xx

  6. I love the ending of your video–it made me laugh pretty hard. 😀 So much time wasted when you could have spent eating in front of your hungry dogs, right?

    Also, I love your perils of premature premack post–it helped me recognize in early stages that Nala was also way, way too overstimulated about going out the backdoor to try to teach her to wait without some clear criteria and a *lot* of food (which definitely reduces her arousal). Nala does an automatic check-in at the front door (I used to give her a few sets of rapid fire treats on the front porch regardless of her behavior–I love classical conditioning), but I think we need to revisit using food at the back door instead of just the life reward. She sits when I touch the doorknob and she waits until released and she mostly makes eye contact until released, but she’s lost her auto-check-in on the porch over the past few weeks, probably due to having an opportunity to scare the daylights out of some squirrels a few times. Maybe I’ll *finally* learn my lesson and do a better job maintaining important behaviors.

    Gosh, that kikopup video is great. I always have more to learn about delivering reinforcement intelligently! Thanks for linking it!

    1. Hah. I really waffled about that ending; I don’t usually do sarcasm. But it was just too tempting!

      Yeah, as I learn more, I just wonder about ever using Premack at all for those kinds of things. I know some do it successfully. But my teacher often cautions, and I agree, that using “running out of the house after animals” for example, is permitting them to practice being over threshold and unreachable. I do want my dogs to do doggy things (short of killing small animals) but when they are in that state, bad stuff can happen. Including redirected aggression, which is something I have to be VERY careful about at my house.

      I’m currently letting my dogs out one at a time in the evenings because we are being visited by a possum. I want the possum to survive (and move on!) and I don’t want any redirected dog aggression either.

      After having gotten double food treats at the back door for more than a year now–treat when she gets on her mat before going on and treat when she reorients on the other side of the door–Summer is my star at staying in touch. I should make a comparison video. She looks a lot happier, too. She still trots down the steps afterwards to look for animals but she is MUCH calmer.

      Thanks for the comment!

  7. *slaps palm to forehead* How long would it have taken me to realize that “sit, stay, OK, fly out the door as fast as you can chasing squirrels in the back yard”, is never going to give me calm, waiting behavior at the door but instead has been making my 3 dogs more and more excited at the door?! I have some remedial work to do . . .

    1. Hah! Well, you’d think I would keep it in mind after having one dog do that, but I recently had to relearn it for the next dog that got very “focused” on the yard. Hmmm, I wonder why.

      Young possum in the yard

  8. To pass The Kennel Club Good Citizen Bronze award you have to demonstrate that you go through the door before your dog or with your dog! I do think on the whole, the KC are out of touch!

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