Teach Your Dog to Wait at the Door

Many of us have dogs who are so excited to go outside they dance all around and then burst through the door when it opens. Of course, this causes the dog’s owner great frustration in that the dog simply cannot listen to them. That is due, in part, because indeed, the act of going outside is just the most exciting thing in the moment. Still, a little impulse control can go a long way toward building your relationship with your dog as well as helping you keep your own sanity and patience in check. By using a reward that is more immediate and of higher value to the dog, we can teach him that the way to get what he wants is to give us what we want. It might help you to think of this in terms of a paycheck (the reward is not present until after the behavior has occurred), as opposed to bribery (the behavior comes because the reward is present).

The ultimate goal is to have your dog sit (or lie down, or maybe even just eventually stand calmly, the choice is yours, but choose what you ultimately you’re your dog to do) until you invite him to do something else. I am going to use the example of wanting a dog to sit and wait to be invited out the door.

This may seem like a very basic behavior, and indeed, the act of sitting may indeed be something you taught your dog to do on the first day you adopted him. If you haven’t taught your dog to sit, check out my post, here.

At first, especially if you have a very excited adolescent dog (aged 6 months to 3 years, or longer, depending on breed), the dog may be too excited to be able to sit as long as you need him to do so while you open a door and take the time to step aside, so we have to build the duration of the behavior, quite possibly from a period of only a half-second. In other words, maybe your dog sits fine until you start for the door, but then he realizes that you are about to let him outside and he just can’t help himself but get excited and start bouncing around in his happy dance.

Note: if the doorway you are working at has both a screen or storm door as well as a solid one, have the solid door open and the screen/storm door closed. In other words, only work on getting through one door, not two. You can work up to opening two doors later. If at any time during the steps, your dog stands up, close the door, and go back to the beginning. You don’t need to reprimand your dog, just simply tell him to sit again.

  1. Grab a handful of treats.
  2. Position yourself between the dog and the door, facing the dog.
  3. Ask your dog to sit about three feet away from the closed door.Moon at the Door
  4. Give your dog a treat.
  5. Reach for the door.
  6. Give your dog a treat.
  7. Wiggle the doorknob.
  8. Give your dog a treat.
  9. Turn the handle.
  10. Give your dog a treat.
  11. Open the door an inch.
  12. Give your dog a treat.
  13. Open the door another inch.
  14. Give your dog a treat.
  15. Open the door further.
  16. Give your dog a treat.
  17. When the door is open enough for the dog to fit through, release your dog to go outside.

Notice that, at first, you’re giving your dog a treat at every step of the process, except the last step. This ensures that staying seated is much more rewarding for your dog than dancing would be. The next time you work on the steps, you should be able to cut out at least half of the steps and treats as your dog will have learned quite a bit of self-control in this first session. So the second session might have steps that look like this:

  1. Grab a handful of treats.
  2. Position yourself between the dog and the door, facing the dog.
  3. Ask your dog to sit about three feet away from the closed door.
  4. Reach for the door.
  5. Give your dog a treat.
  6. Open the door an inch.
  7. Give your dog a treat.
  8. When the door is open enough for the dog to fit through, release your dog to go outside.

Again, remember that if your dog stands up during the process, the door closes and you simply go back to the beginning, where you ask the dog to sit.

Have questions or comments about this process? Let me know in your comments.

2 comments on “Teach Your Dog to Wait at the Door

  1. This gives me a new way to look at my dog’s behavior and how I am actually encouraging it, sort of like a young child. Thank you.

    • That’s right, Susan, teaching dogs our expectations is a lot like teaching children what we expect. Thanks for the comment!

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