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Open the door!

Updated: Jan 3, 2023

I’m at a lesson to help with a common dog problem.

For demonstration purposes, one of the family members goes to the door and selects a leash from the hooks on the wall. A piercing dog howl raises the hair on the back of my neck.  I could see the canine gears working frantically as Frank, a 6 year old Yellow Lab, careened to the door. He flung himself on the bearer of the leash. He spun, he leaped, he tore down the hall and back again. His eyes wide with crazed delight, he panted and moaned with anticipation of the walk that was surely about to occur.

After his leash is attached, Frank made tracks to the door as if his life depended on it. Nothing would dislodge him from the task at hand, because don’t you know that staring at the crack of the door and doorframe causes the door to magically open.

Frank must be physically held back to actually get the door open. As soon as there is an inch of space available, he inserts his snout into the widening gap so he can get through it fast and first. Hanging onto the leash is the hapless human.  And there’s the answer to that perpetual question “who is walking who?”

That’s exactly what blasting through the door says to Frank – “I’m going on a walk and I’m dragging you with me.”

Let’s reverse that scenario so that Frank (or your dog) sits and waits politely for you to attach the leash and open the door, and then walk out calmly when told to do so. Here are a few things you can do to create a more graceful exit for you and your dog.

1. If you have lots of time and treats, break the lesson into small accomplishments. Teach your dog to go to his Spot or Place and to stay there while you open and close the door. Then practice the same thing but touch the leash while your dog stays on his Spot. Eventually you will be able to pick up the leash and open the door while your dog waits on his Spot. Use the word “Free” to release him.

2. A much speedier way to get your dog to back up is with a not-so-subtle reminder that it takes opposable thumbs to turn a doorknob, something sadly missing from canine anatomy. Open the door and very quickly close it. Every time your dog moves towards the door, it closes. When he waits calmly, it opens. Most dogs catch on to this right away. But please do not try this method if your dog is not housebroken!

3. The best way to get your dog to stop the nutty response to his leash seems as silly as the above technique but really does work. It just takes patience. Pick up the leash. If your dog moves, drop the leash and walk away. Repeat until he gets the idea that not moving is what you are looking for. You can also ask him to sit to put the leash on him. Dropping the leash and walking away works for this, too.

4. As always, if you and your dog cannot communicate effectively, get some help from a Certified Professional Dog Trainer.

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