Preventing the family dog from charging the door is one of the biggest challenges an owner can face. It is one of the most dangerous problems facing the dog owner, as well. If the dog is rushing the door to greet you or warn away someone outside, someone could get hurt. If the dog is rushing the door in order to run outside, the dog could ultimately lose her life. How can you deal with this problem?
First, as with any behavioral problem, you need to find out why she is rushing the door. If your dog is rushing the door when you leave, does she want to leave with you, or rush out past you to freedom? If you're coming inside, is she rushing to greet you? If you have more than one dog, do they all rush the door together? If you're answering the door, does she want to warn away an intruder? On the other hand, does she want to rush by? Once you have a better understanding of what she's trying to do, you can develop an understanding of why she is doing it and how to prevent it.
It has been said many times, and it bears repeating, that dogs are pack animals. They live by pack rules, even if we don't see it that way sometimes. If your dog has no other dogs to live with, then you provide the pack. Even if it's just the two of you against the world, your dog views one of you as pack leader and the other as the follower. With any luck, your dog views you as the pack leader and looks to you to make the decisions. If that is the case, then retraining your dog to behave will be much simpler. If your dog views herself as the alpha female, then you may have a more difficult chore.
Why are Charging Doors so Dangerous?
Not to be overly dramatic, but there is a risk of injury or death when your dog charges the door. Either party can suffer minor injuries, such as bumps or bruises. Even a small dog can cause painful injuries because of the rate of speed at which they move. Small dogs can also get underfoot, causing whomever they are charging at, or charging by, to fall. In addition, it is natural to want to close a door quickly when your dog is escaping, to prevent her from getting out. If the door strikes your dog, she can suffer a broken limb or ribs, internal injuries, or a concussion. These injuries can be particularly serious if a heavy door closes on a very small dog.
Your dog can also die from rushing out the door, especially if your door opens directly on the street. In that case, forward momentum will bring her directly into harm's way. Although a suburban dog might be at less risk, because of a yard between the house and the road, or a lower incidence of traffic, one escape could cost an urban dog her life.
Preventing Rushing While Leaving
When you leave your home, does your dog want to leave with you? Or are you offering her that One Big Chance at Freedom? While you should be complimented if your dog wants to leave with you, she needs to understand that she can't always do so. Nor should she always want to do so. Chances are, however, that you've got her trained to believe that wherever you're going is better than being stuck at home. There are several ways that you can fix this situation.
Most of us make too much of a fuss when leaving our dogs. We put on our happy voices and give them a treat, or wrestle with them, or give them a speech about "Mommy's going to work now, but she'll be home by five" before walking out the door. We've trained our dogs to think that our leaving home is the greatest thing since brown gravy because we seem so happy about it. To retrain your dog from thinking this way, you must convince your dog that leaving is No Big Deal. You would much rather curl up on the floor with her all day and gnaw on some chew toys with her, but you have to drag yourself away to sit behind a desk all day. If your dog is certain that you are leaving to go hunt wild bags of kibble in the wilds of the dog park, however, you can expect her to go nuts the second you put on your pantyhose or knot your tie. The best way to leave is simply to leave. Pat your dog on her head if you must, but if she's dozing or happily chewing her toy, don't call her away from it.
What do you do if you've taken the fun out of your departures and she still rushes the door? Let's start with a big "don't." Don't tell her to sit and stay as you leave. "Stay" should mean, "remain where I tell you to remain until I tell you it's okay to leave." Your dog has no choice but to break from the command. You should not weaken it by telling her to stay before you leave. If you feel the need to give your dog a command when you leave, make it a "go" command that she can succeed at, "go a place," "go couch," or "go bed" all work well. They give her something to do away from the door and don't undermine any other commands. If teaching a "go" command doesn't appeal to you, try using the "wait" command. As a temporary "stay" command, your dog can break from where you place her without too much concern about weakening another command.
If you're leaving quietly and providing your dog with another command doesn't work, examine her environment. Is it a pleasant environment for her to stay in by herself? Does she have a comfortable place to sleep? Does she have enough water to drink? Toys to play with? As pack animals, dogs are social creatures. If they don't have someone around, then they need something to do to keep them entertained until someone gets home. Chew toys, although they provide an excellent way to clean your dog's teeth while allowing her to pass the time, are not enough entertainment. Interactive toys that move or bounce are much better entertainment for long periods. A hard rubber toy that can be filled with treats, and then frozen, give your dog something to do for a while and provides a toy for afterward. If you are away for a long time, hiding several of these toys around your home for the dog to find over the course of the day can get her away from the door and search for the yummies in a hurry!
Just as we make too much of a fuss when we leave, we make too much of a fuss coming home. After we've been away for the entirety of our workday, we like nothing better than coming home to the exuberant greetings of the family dog. No sooner do we open the door are we calling out, "hey, precious! Mommy's home!" It does our egos good to have our pet come running to us as if her life depended on it.
At what point does an enthusiastic greeting become rushing the door? That really depends on your circumstances. If you have a toy dog who loves to bounce off of you in greeting, that's very different from that same dog who waits for you to open the door to dash into the street. Neither of these behaviors is a good one, even though the first focus the dog's attention on you and the second focuses on the outside world. Both these things can be dealt with in the same way.
Just as your leaving is No Big Deal, so should your arrival be. You should walk quietly into the house, do whatever you need to settle yourself in, and only then pay attention to your dog. Yes, it is difficult to do with a Miniature Pinscher using your leg as a springboard and it is difficult to do with a retriever following you with a ball in her mouth and pleading eyes. The point of this exercise, however, is that you are the one in control, not your dog. The second you start to give her the attention that she demands when she demands it-instead of when you want to give it-is when communication breaks down. Broken communications have many consequences, including dogs that charge from doors because they feel like going outside.
Warning an Intruder
To your dog, anyone who does not belong to her pack is a potential intruder. If someone knocks on your door or rings your doorbell, these things are signs of a potential invasion of the "den." Although this kind of thinking is natural for your dog, it can cause a problem if you get even infrequent deliveries, or would like to have visitors. There are two ways you can handle this kind of situation: through obedience commands, or by making strangers into their friends. Your choice of how to handle it will depend on your living situation.
If you would feel more secure with your dog having a healthy mistrust of strangers that are outside your door, she needs to be under your complete control. Teach her to sit-stay or to down-stay until she is released by a command. You can have your dog stay in another area of the room, or immediately next to the door, but she should not move without your telling her to do so. Keep in mind, however, that this kind of method is not appropriate for long periods. Your dog will become uncomfortable maintaining the single position for more than 15 minutes (sit) to 30 minutes (down). A similar alternative to the sit- or down-stay is the "place-stay." Using the place-stay, your dog is confined to movement within a certain area, such as a raised dog bed, the couch, or a particular rug. The place-stay is less restrictive, and therefore, more comfortable for your dog for longer periods. Unlike the sit- or down-stay, the dog can change positions or even have a toy to play with or chew on while obeying the command. Use your search engine to locate sites on "teaching dogs place-stay" if you'd like to use this command.
If you feel comfortable with your dog treating everyone as her friend, then that is what you need to teach her. Place a bowl of treats on a shelf near the door, if one is available, or bring several treats with you when you answer the door. Before you answer the door, have your dog sit and stay. Make certain that she stays there while you open the door. If you need to restrain her while you do so, make certain she can't slip out of your hands. Bring her outside with you. Doing so accomplishes two things: 1) your dog is under your control, and 2) it places her into more neutral territory than her "den." Have her sit and stay next to you. With her under control at your side, have the delivery person or guest feed her the treats, praising her at the same time. If she will not sit for the treats, make certain she only gets her treats if all four paws are on the ground at the same time. Some dogs will not sit for strangers; they are too dominant to do so.
Securing your dog
If you've tried retraining your dog using every method at your disposal, it is time to consider securing your dog. Sometimes, securing your dog can be a good temporary measure through which your dog can break bad habits. Sometimes, however, securing your dog can remain the method of choice throughout her life.
Baby gates: probably since their creation, baby gates have been dog owners, good friends. A baby gate between rooms can give your dog the freedom to move around in a relatively large area while preventing her from getting to the door without your permission. Baby gates can present some problems. If your dog is a chewer, you need to be certain to get a plastic gate and not a wood one. You need to be certain that there are no areas that your dog can get through, or get stuck in if she believes she can get through. A baby gate might not secure a jumper or a climber. With the proper precautions, however, a baby gate can help many dogs remain safe and happy.
Confine to a room: if a baby gate won't secure your dog, then consider closing your dog into a particular room. This solution works best if you have a laundry room or another room where your dog can have ready access to food and water, where "accidents" won't matter as much if they happen. Be certain to keep chewable items and chemicals out of the dog's reach, if this method is your method of choice.
Crate train: there is not enough that can be said on the importance of crate training. Teaching your dog to be quiet in her own little space not only provides peace of mind for you, it provides peace of mind for her, too. There are many resources available to help you select the proper kind of crate to use for your dog, as well as the best methods to use to train her.
If you have more than one dog, then pack behavior is a real concern. Most dogs can be trained not to rush the door if they are alone. When two or more dogs are in the picture, the picture changes dramatically. Usually, one dog takes charge, while the other dog(s) follow their lead. You can attempt to correct the behavior of the first dog, although confinement may be the only way to deal with the pack behaving badly. A professional trainer or animal behaviorist can advise you in this situation.
If your dog does get out, remember not to chase her. Doing so makes it a game. Although you need to keep her in sight, run away from her calling out "where's [her name]?" in a high-pitched voice. Once again, it becomes a game, but one in your favor, allowing you to catch her when she comes close. Do not dive at her or punish her when she comes to you; just bring her inside.
It is important to allow for imperfect behavior at first. Your dog has a lot of relearning to do and it won't happen all at once. Teaching your dog not to charge doors, however, cannot only make your environment more pleasant; it can also help keep your dog happy and safe as well.