BY Mary Green
CPDT-KA: Certified Professional Dog Trainer Knowledge Assessed; CDBC: Certified Dog Behavior Counselor; CNWI: Certified Nose Work Instructor; K9 Manners & More, Broken Arrow, Okla.
TRAINING TIP: Keep a leash on your door. When someone comes to the door, you can quickly leash your dog.
It’s terrifying to think your pup could bolt out of the door and be struck by a car in front of your own house! Or equally tragic, he could run away from home because you opened the door.
Bolting is an impulsive behavior that most dogs will have on occasion or as a matter of routine. However, there are several ways to approach the behavior.
- Have a leash handy and put the leash on the dog before you open the door.
- Confine the dog before you open the door. Confine her to a kennel or in another room with a closed door.
- Put up baby gates or some type of barrier gate at all doorways. This isn’t always possible to do at an exterior door and could be dangerous for people needing to exit quickly in case of emergency.
- If you have friends or family who just pop in, ask them to call or text when they arrive so you can prepare.
- Have a dog snack jar or a Ziplock bag of treats handy on the outside of the door. When people come to your door, they can bring in treats for your pup. He will figure out that is more to his advantage than bolting through the door.
- If you rely on your storm door, be 100 percent certain that your storm door latches completely. I can cite so many examples where the dog was sitting, looking out the front storm door, saw something interesting, and bolted out the door easily because the latch didn’t hold.
- Train an Alternative Behavior
This is where I really want people to get creative! Dogs are impulsive; we know this. But they can choose a good option (I call this “use your powers for good”) if they know what you want them to do.
- Teach “go to your mat.” At K9 Manners & More, this is one of our foundation behaviors, useful for so many situations. In the doorway situation, the mat can be a doormat.
- Teach the dog that the doorbell sound is a cue to go to a predetermined spot. For example, if you have stairs near the door, teach the dog to wait on the stairs while the door is opened.
- If there is a difference in flooring between the entryway and a hallway or adjacent room, let that demarcation be the cue for the dog to “get back.” You can train “get back and stay back” as a solid no-bolt skill.
- Teach the dog that the doorbell means absolutely nothing. This one is so fun. You need a helper for this. At a time when you and the dog are doing nothing special, arrange for your helper to ring your doorbell. Don’t get up even if the dog is barking and going to the door. Have your helper ring the bell again a few minutes later. This time, go to the door and grab your leash that’s hanging on the doorknob or nearby, leash up the dog, and open the door. But your helper has disappeared! There’s no one there! Shut the door, take the leash off the dog, and go back to doing nothing. This is something to be practiced frequently—initially, three times per week for six weeks and weekly thereafter to maintain the behavior. The doorbell is a predictor of great opportunities for dogs to get excited and possibly bolt. If the doorbell loses its meaning, the bolting behavior can lessen considerably.