Runaway dog!

When Fido wins the race to the doorknob

Q: Every time someone opens the front door at our house, our dog bolts through the doorway and runs wild through the neighborhood. It's irritating the neighbors and scaring us to death - she's been hit by a car once already, fortunately she wasn't badly hurt. But I'm afraid she won't be so lucky next time. We've taken her to obedience class but it hasn't helped. Is there anything we do?

A: You're right to be so worried. Dogs that bolt are often rewarded with unnaturally short lifespans. I've found this problem to be fairly easy to solve and I think you will, too, as long as you understand that the keys to the solution are to be persistent and consistent.

Obedience class is meant to give you the tools you'll need to get your dog under control and make life with her more pleasant. Remember the simple command “Stay”? It has dozens of uses in your daily living with your dog and keeping her from bolting is one of them.

Dogs that bolt out the front door usually try to outmanuever their families at other doors as well. For safety's sake, start your training with an interior doorway where her life won't be in danger if she manages to slip past you.

Go to the door but before you open it, (your dog will probably be right there with you, crowding you away from the doorknob) take her by the collar, move her back a step from the doorway, look her in the eye and tell her to “STAY!” in a deep, commanding, no-nonsense voice. With your hand at your side, palm facing the dog, spread your fingers wide and sweep your hand toward her face, stopping just a fraction of an inch from her nose as you say “STAY!” You're not trying to hit or threaten the dog - you're creating an imaginary barrier for her, a virtual stop sign. Your hand should not come down at her from above, but directly at her face front on.

Now, open the door just a bit, but not wide enough for her to slip through. If she so much as tries to move toward it, quickly shut the door, grab her collar, push her back and correct her with a firm “NO!” Give her the “STAY!” command and the hand motion once again. Use your leg to block her back from the doorway if necessary. Repeat this exercise several times until she at least stops to think for a moment before charging toward daylight. Make sure to praise her when she actually does stay!

Practice several times a day using all the doors in your house. Make her stay and wait at each one. Until she's better trained, for now only open the door just wide enough for you to get through the doorway — if you open it too far, temptation will get the better of her and she won't be able to resist making a go for it. As she improves at obeying your command, you'll be able to open the door farther until eventually, she will calmly wait to be invited even when the door is standing wide open.

You'll need to train your family, too. If one person lets her bolt, all your hard work will be undone. This may require better supervision of your children as they can be especially bad about leaving doors open. It's important that you all pay attention any time you're opening a door to make sure the dog is given a command and made to obey it. (Remember — persistent and consistent!) She needs to see that when you say STAY, it means she's not going to be allowed to go through that door, period. Once she throughly understands that, she'll stop trying so hard to win the race to the doorknob.

Vicki DeGruy

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