Ask an Expert - Door Darting

Why do dogs dark to the door
Ask an Expert - Door Darting
Expert advice on dogs darting to the door


Q: Every time I go to leave the house or open the door for visitors, Tennyson, my Border Collie, attempts to dart through the door. How can I stop this annoying behaviour? —Doorman in Detroit

A:Door darting is more than annoying; it’s potentially life threatening. Some dogs run into the street and are hit by vehicles. Others become lost or encounter aggressive dogs. To keep your dashing darling safe, it is imperative that he is nowhere near the door when it opens, regardless of whether you are letting visitors in or leaving. Until training is complete, use a tether for management; wrap a leash around a banister or the leg of a heavy piece of furniture, then slip the clip through the loop. Whenever the doorbell rings, take a moment to attach the clip to Tennyson’s collar before you answer.

Now for a training solution. Place Tennyson’s bed away from the door but where he can see visitors arrive, and practice down-stays there. Once the behaviour is reliable, teach Go to bed, meaning, “Go to your bed, lie down, and stay until you are released.” Begin by sending Tennyson to the bed from a short distance. Work gradually toward cueing him to go to bed as you stand together at the front door, since that’s where he’s most likely to be when he hears the doorbell.

Next, add an “environmental cue,” meaning the cue comes from something in the environment rather than from you. Since you are concerned about door darting both when guests enter and when you leave, the cue we’ll use is your hand touching the doorknob. To teach it, touch the knob, then say, “Go to bed.” With repetition, Tennyson will anticipate that your hand on the doorknob is followed by the verbal cue, so he’ll eventually start going toward the bed as soon as your hand touches the knob. It does take a bit of practice to accomplish this with the added distraction of visitors, but you’ll soon be impressing your guests, and more importantly, ensuring that Tennyson stays safe.

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Comments (5)

We have five rescued pups ranging from Preston the Greyhound to Ming, our new chihuahua mix. Ming is our latest arrival from our sister who could no longer keep her. All of our dogs have learned to stick to us like glue when we go outside. We have no darters. This changed with Ming. She was used to being locked up all day long and any chance at all she had to breathe fresh air was taken with vengeance. As soon as the door cracked a bit, she was off running as fast as she could and wouldn't stop until she was near exhaustion. This was both frustrating and frightening. Our sister told us that she did this, but that "she would come back eventually." Well, we couldn't take that risk, so we took the time when we were home to take her out in the front yard on a leash while our other dogs just freely mulled around as usual. Then we would release the leash after a few minutes and let her nose around. After several days, she learned that she didn't have to "run" for freedom and that she would get to go outside whenever we came home. Now she no longer bolts out the door, but instead after greeting us, we let her walk around in the front yard for a few minutes and then back into the house. All of our dogs know that they will be allowed to feel the joy of freedom at least a few minutes a day and they no longer feel the need to bolt off to get it. This training is worth the time. Otherwise you will always be afraid that they will slip out unexpectedly. Give your dog the chance to trust you in allowing some freedom and give you the chance to trust him or her not to run off. I prefer this to training our dogs that the door is something else that must be controlled. Instead, let them know that they need not have to flee for a little freedom. Once they get used to getting to go outside to nose about, they will lose interest in running off.
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