I was in Lawrenceville last Monday working with a new Home Dog Training client and her thirteen-month-old Great Pyrenees named Catherine. Although Catherine was quite large and weighed over eighty pounds, she still had a “playful puppy brain”. She still ran and jumped and played as if she were only ten pounds. That, obviously, was a very big problem.
I didn’t want to do anything to break her great spirit and wonderful heart, I just needed to teach my client how to calm her down and teach her what she could and couldn’t do. We all had to remember that she was a really big girl. I spent several hours teaching my client and her family how Catherine processed information and how they needed to act to get her attention and direct her to the correct action. By the end of the afternoon, Catherine was calm and easily gave my client and her family the respect and attention they needed. She was now a wonderful dog and they loved the results and the new knowledge they acquired.
As we were finishing up, I asked my standard question “So, is there anything else you can think of that we need to address?”. They all thought for a moment and my client’s teenage son said that he had “one more thing”. Whenever his friends came over, he would go to the door to let them in, Catherine would run ahead of him, be jumping on the door, and then “tackle his friends” when they entered. Was there anything I could suggest to fix that?
That is a “biggie” and I was surprised that they had not mentioned the door issue sooner. I told my clients that dogs running to the door when we are greeting guests is one of the most embarrassing and annoying “bad things” that they do. Believe it or not, some house guests don’t like to be jumped on by large dogs.
I continued by saying that I was not going to go into all the canine behavioral issues, dominance theory, adrenalized distraction introduction, etc. that we could discuss as catalysts for Catherine’s running to the front door. I want to get to the heart of the matter and discuss what we can do to make sure that Catherine does not run to the door to jump on their guests or dashes out the door and down the street.
Our continued goal in this instance, as it is with all our interactions with Catherine, is to keep her safe and secure. We must establish an environment and process that assures she doesn’t get to the door. This, as we discussed during our lesson, is based on the clear establishment of rules.
We must ask ourselves, “What is the one thing that I want Catherine to do when I open the door?” You might say “I don’t want her to jump on people”. That’s good, but what about rushing out the door? “I don’t want her to do that too!”
The problem is that you just set up two, simultaneous rules. As we discussed in our lesson, you can only ask her to do one thing at a time. You must come up with a rule that will meet both prior conditions.
The best rule is “Just stay away from the door”. If she stays away from the door, she can’t jump or run out the door. You have given her a single thing to perform and your list of problems is resolved. This is a great rule, but what does it mean?
You need to set up a boundary that will clearly delineate when she is doing the right thing and she is doing the wrong thing. Her being on one side of the boundary when you are answering the door is good and her being on the other side of the boundary when you are answering the door is bad. I suggested that if Catherine was within six to eight feet of the door, that is the “bad place” and if she were anywhere else, that is the “good place”.
So far, so good. But, how are we going to have Catherine understand and obey this rule? We must create a training lesson that consistently enacts the steps of opening a door with guests. This exercise must also focus on Catherine’s actions and her ability to obey or break the rule of “crossing the line”.
My clients were excited that this could be accomplished and asked if I could stay and teach them the exercise. I told them “That is why I am here! Let’s get started…”.
- A family member should put Catherine on a leash and take her to a far side of the room or an adjacent room where she could hear the doorbell. The family member should be holding Catherine’s leash and play with her to maintain her focus and attention.
- I directed my client to stand adjacent to the front door. Although I acknowledged that she would not always be near the front door, I explained that this was “an exercise”. Being “an exercise”, I had the front door unlocked so that my client would not have the need to “fumble with the lock” to open the door.
- I further positioned my client to be facing into the room and looking towards Catherine. This would put her back to the door.
- Next, I left the house for several minutes so that Catherine would think that “the big, bad dog trainer is gone”.
- I waited several minutes and then approached the front door. I then rang the doorbell and knocked loudly on the front door. At this point, the family member that was holding Catherine’s leash should drop the leash and let her do “whatever she wants”.
- If Catherine makes the “wrong decision” of running to the front door, I previously instructed my client to correct her. As she approaches the boundary line and is about to encroach into the “bad place” (area near the front door), she must correct. I instructed my client to remain calm and facing Catherine. Next, correct her with a firm and low toned “NO”. If needed, she can “ramp it up” by using a water squirt bottle to highlight her dominant stance and authoritative verbal correction.
- I emphasized that her actions are not meant to scare Catherine. They are meant to gain her calm and respectful focus. As soon as my client gets her dog’s focus, Catherine should stop and watch my client.
- My client can now backup to the front door. She will continue to face Catherine to maintain her passively dominant posture. To reiterate, in no way is this meant to frighten Catherine. It simply reaffirms my client’s persistence in maintaining her rule of “don’t cross the line”.
- Next, she slowly opens the door while still facing Catherine. If Catherine begins to move towards the door and boundary, my client should close the door and correct her as before. She should be remaining calm during the entire process.
- Once my client has opened the door, I will step inside, and she will close the door behind me. She will be facing Catherine the entire time. Once the door is closed and Catherine has remained on the other side of the boundary (good place), the exercise is complete.
- Catherine now needs to know that she has done the right thing by staying away from the door. My client communicates this to Catherine by verbalizing something like “good puppy” in a high voice.
- And, by the way, if you keep her away from the door when it is open, she can’t dash through it and down the street. That problem is solved too!
I told my client and the rest of her family to repeat this exercise several times a day. After continued practice, Catherine will understand that running to the front door when someone knocks, or she hears the doorbell is inappropriate. She may approach the door, but a quick correction by the “door answering family member” will have her quickly retreat and watch from a distance.
Managing the front door is not difficult if you practice and maintain your “door rules”. We have rapidly solved the front door issue for thousands of clients and can easily help you with this issue or any dog training question.
Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help. We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over seventeen years. We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.