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.