Happy Holidays – now watch that door!

Between October and January, there are many days where festivities and family are focused upon. For many humans, celebrations will be in full swing over the coming months.  In the past I have covered the risks various holidays pose to our dogs (and cats).  This time, I want to focus on something that pet owners need to consider year-round: that opening door.


Door safety begins with management. Baby gates, crates, leashes, areas to secure pets are important.  Your pet cannot escape through the door if he cannot get to it. Set strict ground rules:  no one can come in unannounced; they must wait until you secure the pet before they leave.  It is better to hurt a few human feelings with rules than it is to recover a lot pet or cover bills when someone is injured by your pet racing out an open door.  Also, every time a dog is able to scoot out a door, it undoes previous training to various degrees. You need to set up for safety before you start training.

My first lessons are the behaviors I need before I can teach no door dashing. These often include good leash manners (leashes are important for safety and management) stay or wait in place, exiting through a door on cue, and impulse control. Training is done in stages and it takes time.  I often work first on teaching the leashed dog to walk to the door, sit, and walk away with me.  Then I work in the stay/wait as I open the door a little at a time.  I need to set the dog up for success.   Baby steps in training.  Do not rush it! My goal is to get him to wait at the door while guests come in OR until I tell him it is time to walk through the door.  Now I have to be realistic.  This is a dog, not a programmable robot.  Higher stress situations may require management instead of struggling to get the desired behaviors to happen. The rule of thumb with any training is: there is always something that will override training.  If you have any concerns, manage the situation instead of chancing it.  For example: Halloween night or Thanksgiving if you are hosting dinner are two times I personally, even as a trainer, would opt for management.

Even if your dog seems well trained to stay inside an open door until told to exit, do not assume he will always remember. Recently a dog of mine decided to happily greet the pizza delivery guy. You can read that blog here in Conversations With My Dogs For years this dog has waited at the threshold while we pay. Foster is a dog, he has a thought process, he thought, he acted.  Foster is 9 ½ years old and waiting at any door – including his crate, car doors, etc, is a behavior I am always reinforcing.  Even at that, this one day, with something that is a regular occurrence; Foster chose to walk out the door. Never put 100% if your trust in your dog – unless it is to trust 100% that he will behave like a dog!

Start training now for the upcoming festivities. If you are concerned you do not have the time now, opt for careful management then start training when the holiday season is past.

Karen Peak owns West Wind Dog Training and The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project in Prince William County.

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