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Positive Techniques for Teaching Your Dog to Sit Calmly at the Door

By Chris Bach and The Third Way - The Next Generation in Reinforcement Training

In April, Chris provided tips for crate training your dog. This month, Chris discusses how to use her “Eye Contact Game” to teach a dog to wait at the door before rushing out. This is a very important training tip for all dog owners. By rehearsing calm behavior at the door, this will prevent unfortunate accidents that could occur should a pet rush out the door and into a dangerous situation.

There are three preliminary items to consider:

  1. Pup must want to get out the door. This desire can be created by having something Pup really wants such as another dog, a family member, a special friend, or his dinner dish on the other side of the door.
  2. The door utilized must be one that the entire family will be able to require Eye Contact AT ALL TIMES in order for the door to open and Pup be allowed through the threshold.
  3. This exercise is NOT introduced after Pup has been confined and needs to get out the door to relieve himself. Special time is set aside specifically to teach Eye Contact using THE DOOR METHOD

Approximations

  1. Pup is brought to door. Door is closed but ajar and not shut.
  2. Trainer stands in front of door and waits silently for Pup to momentarily suspend all movement. Trainer immediately indicates (I) and then reinforces (R) by opening door and letting him out.
  3. After a few moments of affectionate interaction, Pup is brought back inside the door.
  4. Once again the door is closed but left ajar. Again wait silently for Pup to be perfectly still. As soon as this happens, I/R by opening the door and letting Pup out.

Once Pup Knows “Being Still” Opens the Door

  1. The above procedure is followed until one of two things happen:
    • Either Pup tires of the game and no longer wants to find the “secret” to getting out the door. Instead he lies down, sits and/or ignores Trainer. Try moving slowly away from the door to renew the Pup’s interest. If this tactic works, wait one more time for Pup to be completely motionless, I/R by letting him out the door. Go on to something else. Trainer should wait to require Eye Contact until the next training session, but from now on Pup is required to be motionless in order to get out that door.
    • Or as soon as Pup is put back behind the door, he waits motionlessly and expectantly for Trainer to open the door. This strategy means that the Pup comprehends how to get the door opened. I/R this conclusion.
  2. Next step is to put the puppy back behind the door. This time wait for him to make Eye Contact. I/R immediately by letting him out when he is successful.

Once Pup Knows to Make Eye Contact to Open the Door

  1. Trainer must now determine if Pup is still enthusiastic enough about the game to do one or two sequences. Otherwise the best policy is to quit and go on to something else.
  2. Once the Eye Contact criteria has been reached, be sure there is at least one more training session practiced before Pup must get out that door to relieve himself. Doing this will assure Pup understands that Eye Contact will ALWAYS be required for that door to be opened. Do not get caught having to reduce criteria because Pup desperately needs to go out that door to relieve himself.
  3. Once Pup knows to make Eye Contact to get that door opened, ALWAYS require Eye Contact before opening the door, and ALWAYS “indicate” the moment the puppy commits to Eye Contact. Now reinforcement should be changed to a piece of food, a simple “YES!” followed by praise, or a pleasant physical stimulation such as a scratch on the chest. No longer use the immediate release.
  4. Require the puppy to maintain Eye Contact for varying amounts of time (working towards one minute, but never going below the count of 10) and use the word “OK” or “FREE” as the cue that the door is opening and the puppy can go out. (This will prepare the puppy for the PROOFING. These steps will include remaining in the sit position making Eye Contact even though the door is open until the trainer releases the dog to go out.)
  5. Once the puppy knows to make Eye Contact to get out the door, start using other methods, such as CRATE METHOD, DINNER DISH METHOD, which will be discussed in next month’s Training Tips column, and the FOOD CHOICE METHOD to rehearse Eye Contact as often as possible.

(c) THE THIRD WAY ~ Chris Bach ~ 2002. All rights reserved.


Even though this column was written as another method of teaching the Pup eye contact, using the DOOR METHOD is also a safety measure. By teaching your dog to sit patiently at the door, especially when the door is open, it is a preventative measure from your pet darting out of the house and into a potentially dangerous situation. Keep your pet safe. Practice the DOOR METHOD every time you take your dog outside.