Do you have a dog who tries to rush out the door as soon as it’s opened? Although door darting is common, running outside unsupervised is very dangerous since dogs can get lost, hit by a car, or conflict with other pets or people. With patience and training, you can teach your dog alternative behaviors to keep them safe and prevent this behavior.
Using Management Tools in the Meantime
It’s important to train your dog not to dart outside when the door is open, but training takes time. To start, you can use management tools to keep your dog safe. The easiest way to do this is to keep your dog leashed while you answer the door to let someone in or accept deliveries. You can also use baby gates or portable exercise pens to create a barrier in front of your door. For some dog owners, ongoing management will be the easiest way to prevent door darting.
The best way is still to teach your dog to stop door darting, and this can include teaching your dog alternate behaviors. It’s important to work on this skill regularly when working to prevent door darting. Create training opportunities when you can focus on your dog and help them to be successful with your training plan. Remember, don’t be afraid to use baby gates, closed doors, and leashes to manage your dog’s behavior for safety.
Stop Door Darting When Going Outside
Dogs will often try to dart out the door when you’re heading outside for a walk. To avoid this, we want to teach our dog polite manners and to let us exit through doorways first.
Step 1: Put on your dog’s leash while you’re inside the house. Use praise and treats to reward your dog for engaging with you as you grab your keys and anything else you need for going outside.
Step 2: Ask your dog to sit or lie down, praise, reward them, and then reach towards the door. If your dog stays in position, praise and continue to reward them. At this stage, the goal is to ask your dog to hold a stationary position next to you. If your dog gets up, just reset your dog into the sit or down position.
Step 3: When your dog can consistently hold a sit or down position as you reach for the door, the next step is to unlock and open the door. Praise and treat your dog while you do this. Then, immediately close the door, praise and treat your dog.
Step 4: Now that your dog can hold their sit or down position as you open the door, it’s time for you to step through it. Give your dog a treat as you step through the door. Praise your dog and step back inside, then close the door and treat and reward your dog.
Step 5: At this stage, your dog can patiently wait while you open and step through the door. Now it’s time to get outside and walk together. Praise and reward your dog as you ask them to sit or lie down after you put on their leash, then reach for the door, open it, and step through. This time, instead of returning to your dog, give them their release cue, then praise and treat them for coming through the door and to you.
Avoid Door Darting When the Doorbell Rings
Door darting can also occur when a dog gets excited after hearing the doorbell ring. It’s best to give your dog another place to be in this setting when teaching them not to door dart, often one away from the door.
You can send your dog to go to ‘place,’ like their nearby bed, and ask them to stay while dealing with whoever’s at the door. If your dog already knows a stay cue, you’ll be able to use that behavior here. If your dog hasn’t yet learned it, you’ll want to start by focusing on teaching your dog to stay. Once your dog has a basic understanding of this skill, you can introduce the new skill of going to a bed or place in a common area of your home when the doorbell rings.
Step 1: Have treats ready. Have a helper ring your doorbell (or knock at the door if you don’t have a bell), or you can play a doorbell or knocking sound for your dog. When your dog responds to the sound, get their attention with a treat, and lure your pet to a bed in a nearby location. Once your dog is on the bed, cue or lure your dog into a down position. If your dog knows “stay,” give a stay cue.
Step 2: Praise and toss treats to your dog as you move away from the bed. If your dog gets off the bed, calmly lure them back to their bed and continue to give treats while they’re on the bed.
Step 3: As you build your dog’s understanding of staying on their bed, you’ll be able to go to the door and greet your visitors or pick up your delivery while your dog stays on their bed. As your dog stays, continue to praise your dog, and if the location allows, toss treats to your dog while they stay on their bed.
Step 4: After finishing at the door, return to your dog’s bed. Praise and treat your dog and then give your dog their release cue.
Step 5: With practice, your dog won’t need to be lured, and they’ll make the association that the doorbell ringing means they should go directly to their bed. Be sure to keep praising and rewarding your dog with treats for being on their bed as you go to the door.
Go to a Safe Space
You can also prevent door darting by teaching them an automatic alternate behavior to perform when the doorbell rings. We want to teach them to go to a different area of the house, like a crate or the bedroom, where they will be rewarded.
Step 1: Identify a location in your home that is away from the front door where you’d like your dog to go when the doorbell rings or someone knocks. For this, a crate, bedroom, or other contained area away from the front door, like a laundry room, will work best.
Step 2: Have a helper press the doorbell, or you can play a doorbell or knocking sound aloud. Get your dog’s attention with a treat, then excitedly run away from the door in order to get your pet moving to the desired area. Praise your dog for following you, then toss or scatter a small handful of treats in the designated area when you reach it. Secure your dog in the area behind a door or baby gate, and then go answer the door.
Step 3: Repeat Step 2 over several practice sessions, scattering treats or giving your dog a longer-lasting treat like a chew when they get to the safe space. The treat will occupy your dog while you secure them in the desired area.
Step 4: Continue repeating this game, keeping your dog occupied with treats (or chew or high-value activity) to prevent barking while you answer the door. If possible, keep the treats or chews in an easy-to-access place so you can immediately reward your dog once they rush away from the door.
Step 5: With repetition, your dog will associate the sound of the doorbell with the cue to run with you (and eventually on their own) to their waiting area. There, they will get treats while you attend to visitors or deliveries.
Alternatives to door darting are not only good skills for your dog to learn, but they can also prevent them from getting into a dangerous situation. The skills learned to teach your dog not to run out the door can also overlap with handy commands like ‘go to place,’ ‘stay,’ ‘sit,’ ‘lie down,’ and ‘release.’ If your dog is already familiar with these commands, it’ll be even easier to teach them not to door dart.