Who Should Go Through a Door First?

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Who Should Go Through a Door First?

Who Should Go Through a Door First?

Who is supposed to walk through an entry way first, you or your dog? Does it matter? Honestly, I never care if my dog walks in front of me, next to me, or behind me through a doorway as long as she walks with me. What I mean by that is that I expect her to be polite. I don’t tolerate shoving, pulling on lead, charging forward through a door, etc. She needs to understand that I am there with her and allow me the due courtesy of personal space.

Oftentimes, clients use their dog’s doorway behavior to show that they as the owner are totally in charge: “see, he always waits for me to go first,” or that their dog is trying to “lead the pack” and somehow belittle the owner by going first. I don’t view this this behavior as a reflection of any sort of dominance and I don’t think your dog does either.

There are many reasons why your dog might pull or charge through doorways; the most likely reason being that they are interested in what is on the other side. In most cases, pulling through a door to the outside is highly rewarded in itself. The dog pulls to gain access to new sights and smells as quickly as possible and as soon as they get through the door, they are rewarded with exactly what they were looking for. As we’ve said before, rewarded behaviors are repeated. Your dog is not taking the time to think about how to prove to you who’s boss and deducing that the doorway is the best way to do that.

There are also many reasons why you would not want your dog to pull or push through doorways, safety being the top priority if you have a large dog who can bowl you over or if you don’t always know what exactly is waiting on the other side of the door. So how do we get our dogs to understand that they need to be polite around doors and entryways? Well there are two useful tactics I use:

First, I teach a “wait” command. “Wait” is different from “stay” and really means to pause a moment or wait for further direction. When I say “stay,” I expect my dogs to hold their exact position no matter what else is going on until I release them. When I say “wait,” I want my dog to pause and maybe sit or maybe look back at me, but not continue moving forward. Unlike luring and rewarding a stay, I use the Premack Principle when teaching a wait: high probability behavior reinforces low probability behavior. Ie: wait patiently (low probability) and you move forward towards that reward (high probability).

When I toss a food or toy reward a few feet away with my dog on leash, there is a high probability that my dog will pull towards that item. So, I freeze and wait for slack on the leash (or better yet full turn back to me) before allowing them to move towards the reward. Turning away from a reward is a low probability behavior but it earns them the ability to get the treat or toy. After a few repetitions, the dog generally doesn’t even initially try to lunge. At this point, I add the command “wait” and begin phasing out the leash.

Another important facet of doorway work with my dogs is to teach them to walk out ahead of me calmly, then turn and sit. This is especially important if I have my hands full or if I need to turn and lock a door behind me, etc. The way I teach this is by having my dog on leash and rewards easily accessible and ready, then I simply open the door. The very second my dogs hind paws clear the threshold I immediately praise and offer a reward right in front of my waist. I repeat this a couple of times until my dog knows what to expect and quickly offers the turn-around-for-the-reward behavior. At this point, I can up my criteria and wait to praise until my dog is turning and facing me. Then I begin adding the “sit” cue so that the finished behavior is: walk out, turn around, and sit facing me. I can easily add duration and distractions going forward. If your dog is too excited by your front door, you can begin this game with any interior door before moving on to the front or back door.

It is not as important to teach your dog to walk behind you through entry ways as it is to teach them to be polite and aware. There are times you may walk through doorways together (like into a pet store) or you may need to follow your dog (like back into your home after an outing), so fluidity may be necessary but polite behavior should always be possible. If your dog pulls excessively or pushes through you in any situation, these are broader behaviors that need to be modified. Doors can be highly arousing, especially in multi-dog households, so having some general control of your dog around doors and other exciting situations is always beneficial.

Happy Training!

Tamar Paltin
Head Trainer- Perfect Pooch
BA, CPDT-KA, AKC CGC Evaluator