Every day I see Facebook posts on lost pets - and it breaks my heart. Thank goodness many dog owners now have their pets micro-chipped and most pets wear a collar with their owner's cellphone number on it. These two things can make sure that someone can contact the owner when a pet is lost, found and hopefully gets back home safely.
Few people know that you can teach your dog two very important lessons that most likely will prevent the dog from getting lost in the first place. The first lesson is: “Open doors don't mean run through it”, the second: “the safest place is with your owner”. In this blog article, I want to cover the first lesson in more depth with you.
For many dogs, open doorways and gates are an invitation to run and explore the world outside. The most essential training for your dog is to teach your pet not to bolt through an open door. Your dog should always wait to be invited through any door, other than the doggie door.
Teaching this principle is actually not hard, but it does require consistency on the owner's part. Whether you are going through your front door, the gate at the dog park or in and out of the car, you must require your dog to wait for your invitation to go through. You need to be able to open any door and not have the dog run through it.
Below are a few exercises you can do in a controlled and safe environment. Teach your dog and hopefully prevent the dog from getting lost one day! Make sure you set aside some time to teach your dog about 10 minutes a day.
Doors and Gates
Start by practicing in your home. Practice with all doorways that lead to the outside world. This may be your front door, garage door or any side gate into the yard. Practice first with your dog on-leash. Later you can do this off-leash as well, but make sure you control the environment and keep it safe!
With your dog on the leash, approach the door. If your dog is already in front of you with her nose on the door, turn and walk away from the doorway. Continue walking to and from the door until the dog is looking toward you for direction.
Now with the dog waiting by your side – looking at you, wondering what is going on – open the door slightly. If the dog pushes past you and tries to squeeze through the door, gently close it. Do not say anything, there is no command for this, this is a behavior you are teaching, not a command. Continue to open/close the door until the dog is waiting for you. This may take a little time.
Once your dog no longer tries to squeeze through the door, open the door all the way, but do not let the dog go through. With the door wide open, walk back into the home, away from the doorway. Then walk toward the door. Do not allow the dog to be in front of you, and do not allow the dog to walk through the door. Walk back and forth until the dog calmly walks next to you or behind you on a loose leash.(If your dog does not walk on a loose leash on a regular basis, you may need to start teaching proper leash behavior first. See our FREE training resources tab on our website for articles and videos on leash training.)
After you are able to walk with the dog toward the door without the dog trying to rush in front of you, you should stop six-feet away from the doorway. You can now ask your dog to sit, or you can ask to wait, whichever you prefer. Make sure you spend some time on this and do not go further until your dog will sit or wait quietly a few steps away from the doorway with the door open.
Now you can invite him/her to go through the door with you. I like to tell my dogs “Let's go.” You can come up with any command you like, but I recommend you do not use OK. I have seen many families where they used this command and the dog would bolt anytime someone said OK.
Your dog should walk through the door calmly, not bolt. If the dog rushes through the doorway, say “no” and walk right back inside. Go back to a previous step until the dog is calmly walking through the door next to you.
Practice going in and out of the door in the same manner, and practice all the different doors and gates. Make sure that everyone in the family is consistent in expecting the dog to wait until invited to pass through any outside doorway!
Most dogs get lost either by running from home, or out of the owner's car. Practice getting in and out of the car with your dog. The same principle as with your doorway exercises apply. The dog is to be calm and must wait to be invited through the door. This can be the side door or the back hatch.
With the dog in the vehicle, slightly open the car door. If the dog tries to squeeze through, gently close the door without saying anything. Be patient and continue until the dog waits inside the car. The dog will be back a little, looking at you for guidance.
Watch our YouTube video to see this exercise performed by one of our dog training clients with her two labs.
Once the dog is calmly waiting, open the door all the way. Tell your dog to wait. I usually use my hand to signal the wait as well as use the spoken command. This is helpful, as we may get out of the car on a noisy highway rest-stop. If your dog tries to come out, gently close the door. Keep doing this until you can open the car door and your dog waits for you to invite him/her out. Now pick up the leash and step away from the door, inviting the dog to come out.
Teaching this behavior will take time and patience, but every dog can learn to respect the open door. Start practicing outside the home as well, making sure the dog does the same behavior at the dog park gate or a friend's house.
Another important lesson I mentioned at the beginning of the article is teaching your dog that the safest place is with you. To teach this, your dog must never, I mean never, get a negative when coming towards you! Even if she just chewed up your expensive designer purse. Every time you call your dog to you, all she ever gets is praise! Remember that you can only correct when your dog is actually doing the unwanted behavior, never after the fact. See a related post on the subject Creating teachable Moments.
Stay tuned for our upcoming post on creating a trusting relationship with your dog to read more on the subject.
I welcome your feedback, please post a comment on your experience with these exercises.
Until next time: Keep Your Paws on the Road.
T-shirts for Dog Lovers at the
Chew On This Store