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.
- I don’t mean that anybody’s dog **has** to go out first.
- There are some situations where it may not be **safe** for your dog to go first.
- 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.
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?
- Bootleg Reinforcement: Why was Clara breaking her stay at the back door?
- Pack Leader: Why I don’t have to be a pack leader.
- The Perils of Premature Premack : Includes a section on why I don’t use Premack at the door, i.e., letting the main reinforcement for waiting be the chance to dash out.
Copyright Eileen Anderson 2015