Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Confessions of a Dog Trainer #3: My Dog Goes Through Doors Before Me

Today's topic is another hot topic that countless people think is "bad" or "unacceptable": Letting your dog go through a doorway before you.

Dear Lord, If I had a nickel for every time that I heard that if you allow this behavior, your dog is trying to dominate you, I would be that much closer to buying the Lamborghini I've always wanted.

So, here I am again with another confession to make...

Oscar goes through doorways before me.

Gasp! Oh wait a minute....the lights are still on!  The sun is still shining and I'm still on my two feet. What?!  How did that happen?!

Because my dog is doing what works for him.

You see, dogs are innocently selfish...oh, how I love that about them...and they are always doing what works for them. Dogs are not born with an understanding that they should let humans go through doorways first - that idea was created by us and taken way out of proportion when people started saying that your dog is trying to dominate you because they want to get outside. Wrong. All they are doing is trying to get from point A to point B as fast as possible because arriving at point B is highly reinforcing. It's plain and simple. That's it.

As an example, let's focus on an entry door to your home. Usually the doorway leads to "good stuff" for the dog. If you are in your house, going out the exterior door leads to The Almighty Outdoors. There are things to sniff, stuff to explore and items to be peed and pooped on.  There are games to play, walks to be had and a potential car ride to go on. Going outside is typically VERY reinforcing for dogs.

That said, I think everyone should teach their dog to wait at physical thresholds until they are cued to go through. It's one of my top 5 life skills for all dogs and it is one of the first behaviors I teach a dog that becomes a part of my family.

~ Mr. Handsome Pants showing off his door manners ~
Oscar is allowed out of our entry door multiple times per day and he almost always goes out first. Sometimes my husband or I go out before him to scan the yard for squirrels or make sure his toy box didn't tip over and spill all over the driveway. Most times, however, we open the door and while we are still standing inside give him his release cue to go outside.

Since waiting at the door has been heavily reinforced (at least 5x/day for 4 years), it has become one of Oscar's strongest behaviors. So much so that he sat waiting at the door while the wind blew it open a few days ago as I was standing about 20 feet away (and up a few steps) in the nearby kitchen. He just sat there, looked at me and I thanked him profusely as I walked down the steps, closed the door (and locked it), then called him upstairs and gave him a bone.

Oscar could really care less if one of his humans goes out the door before him. All he wants is to come outside and we have made it contingent upon him offering an auto wait at the door. He doesn't get to go outside every time we go outside, however when he does, we don't worry about whether or not he goes out first. What's important for us is that he exhibits some self control and can wait until he is cued to pass through. Plain and simple.

Stay tuned for more confessions from my daily life with my special boy...

Coming Up Next: 
Confessions of a Dog Trainer #4: My Dog Eats Before Me


  1. Great post! The minute we take something at face value in life and stop thinking about the underlying reason for doing something, we enter the realm of silliness. Passing through thresholds before your dog as a means of maintaining dominance is silliness. Teaching your dog self-control and reinforcing a wait-to-be-released behavior at thresholds is smart and safe, and dogs love clear communication to prepare them for bouts of self-reinforcing joy!

    1. Absolutely! Behavior is always a function of its consequences :) My goal with Oscar (and the dogs I have in my classes) is to set up the environment so that the consequences increase behaviors that I like and want to see repeated. I find that teaching door manners is one of the easiest scenarios to practice this since the outdoors is typically a very powerful reward for most dogs :) It's a win-win for everyone!