Last Thursday I was at a Home Dog Training session in Johns Creek with a new client and his two-year-old Boxer named Colt. My client had told me that his biggest issues with Colt focused on stealing food from the table, pulling on the leash, and not coming into the house from the back yard when commanded. Those became my “A priority targets” for the lesson. Within a few hours, Colt understood that he needed to stay away from the table when my client and his family were eating, come into the house when called, and walk politely on the leash.
My client was thrilled with the results and, after some prodding, couldn’t think of anything else we needed to work on that day. As I started to write up the paperwork, one of his neighbors came to the front door and rang the doorbell. Colt went nuts. He started to bark and ran like a “jet out of heck” to the front door. He was jumping and swinging in circles right at the door. Needless to say, it was next to impossible to properly open the door and greet the neighbor.
At that point, I put down my pad and exclaimed that there was probably just one more thing we needed to address before I left for the day…
I told my client that dogs running to the front door in response to the sound of a ringing doorbell or knock on the door is one of the most common issues most dog owners encounter. The problem is that it is annoying, embarrassing, and possibly dangerous.
As responsible dog owners, good friends, and great neighbors, we don’t want our guests jumped on every time they enter our home. Some people are naturally scared of dogs and having a dog jump on them as they enter a home can be a very traumatic thing. The dog may knock them over, scratch them, or soil their clothes. These actions can lead to spoiled friendships or even legal action.
I continued to tell my client that I was not going to delve into all the issues that may be causing Colt’s “door misbehavior”. We had already covered most of those topics earlier in our lesson. Instead, I was simply going to discuss the simple steps he needed to take to discourage and finally eliminate this annoying habit that Colt had somehow established.
During the “someone is at the door event”, it is critical that we create a safe, repeatable, and “learnable” scenario for Colt as well as ourselves and our guest at the front door. As I had previously discussed with my client, we needed to create a simple and consistent rule that Colt must maintain when someone comes to the front door. No matter if one or ten people are at the front door, no matter if they ring the door bell or knock on the door, the rule that we establish must always be applied.
I then asked my client, “What is the one thing you want Colt to do when you open the door for a guest?” He thought for a moment and then said “I really don’t want him to jump on my guests or anyone at the door”. I then replied, “That is a good answer, but what about Colt’s crazy dash to the door?” “Oh, that’s right!”, he said. “I don’t want that happening as well.”
And, here is where the problem lies. When our dog “goes nuts and misbehaves” when the doorbell rings, there are a lot of things “we don’t want him to do”. The problem is where humans can multitask, dogs do “one thing at a time”. We cannot give our dog a “laundry list” of “doggie-do’s” when someone comes to the front door. We can only tell him that he can’t do one thing.
So, what would “that one thing” be? I asked my client this question and he pondered for a moment. Then, he said “Maybe, if he would just stay away from the door, that would do the trick!”.
So, let’s think about this for a moment. If Colt remains away from the door, he won’t have the opportunity to jump on people or escape out the front door. By giving him this one thing to do (or not do), my client’s list of “bad things at the door” has been completely checked off.
Staying away from the front door fulfills the “one thing at a time” requirement, but it is still a little vague. I told my client that we needed to refine the rule so that Colt would deem it as a repetitive and consistent action for a specific situation. To accomplish this, I told my client that we need to set a boundary from the door that Colt could not cross when my client is answering the front door. If Colt crosses the boundary, my client will correct and direct him back to the other side of the boundary.
With the situation defined (someone comes to the front door) and the rule established (stay on the far side of the boundary), we were ready to teach Colt what he needed to do. We would accomplish this by creating a training exercise we could easily duplicate. Although “an exercise”, it needed to emulate “the real world” as much as possible so that Colt could extrapolate the lesson he learned in the exercise to instantaneous, “real world” experiences. It all came down to Colt’s understanding of “don’t cross the line when…”.
My client was excited to learn the process and stop Colt from being a nudge at the front door. Here is what we did:
- We had a family member attach a leash to Colt and take him to the far end of the room away from the front door. I wanted him to see the front door but just not be right next to it. I asked that family member to maintain Colt’s attention by calmly playing with him.
- Next, I placed my client at the front door. Yes, I know that he won’t always be at the front door when people ring the doorbell, but this is “an exercise”. I had previously unlocked the front door so that my client could easily open it when we were engaged in the exercise.
- I positioned my client so that he was facing into the room and facing Colt. His back was to the front door. Again, this is not the way most people open the door, but this is “an exercise”.
- Now, I calmly walked out the back door and quietly went to the front of the house. I stayed out of sight long enough so that Colt believed “Great, Bruce had left!”
- Several minutes passed. Next, I quietly walked to the front door and rang the doorbell. The family member with Colt now released the leash. This will now allow Colt to decide if he is going to run to the door or stay on the correct side of the boundary.
- If he makes the “inappropriate decision” of running to the front door and crossing the boundary, I had previously instructed my client to correct him with a firm and low toned “NO”. He could enhance his verbal correction by shaking a bottle with pennies or giving a squirt of water with a spray bottle. I told him that he must perform these corrections as soon as Colt crosses “the boundary”.
- I assured my client that his verbal correction, shaking of the “penny bottle” or slight squirt of water were not meant to scare Colt. They were simply tools used to gain Colt’s calm and respectful focus. The moment he obtains Colt’s calm focus, “the teaching begins”.
- If my client’s simple corrective actions cause Colt to back up to the far side of the boundary (away from the door), that is great. If Colt is still close to the door and on the incorrect side of the boundary, he should pick up the leash and guide Colt away from the door. My client must maintain a calm demeanor through this entire process.
- My client can now back up to the front door. He is constantly facing Colt in order to maintain his passively dominant posture.
- With Colt away from the door and stable on the far side of the boundary, my client slowly opens the door. If Colt decides he is going to approach the door during this process, my client will calmly close the door and correct him as described above.
- Once Colt is on the proper side of the boundary and my client has calmly opened the front door, I step inside. My client now closes the door.
- Guess what? I just came to the door, was calmly greeted by my client, and didn’t get “the bum’s rush” by Colt. The rule was met!
- We now praise Colt with a high pitched “Good Doggie”. This lets him know he did the right thing and will encourage him to do the same thing the next time someone comes to the front door.
I told my client that he must practice this exercise several times a day for the next three to four weeks. Through repetition and consistency, Colt will figure out that he shouldn’t go to the door when someone knocks, or he hears the doorbell.
Please call or text us at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help. You can also email us at [email protected]. We are blessed to have been your local dog training experts for over eighteen years. We have trained over 6,000 wonderful dogs and great families and are ready to help you.