So welcome to part two of a series (which is to say, I’ll keep writing about the topic until I get bored) in proper dog walking! Over the course of the series we’re going to look at walking and take each bit in stride (ha ha). The previous entry can be found here.
Today we’re looking at… getting out the door!
“Really, Jenna?” I hear you say. “That’s going to take a whole article?”
Why yes, lovely readers. Your walk starts before you ever leave the house. Have you heard the saying, “Begin as you intend to go on”? That’s just how your dog feels! If you start the walk with your dog blasting out the door in front of you and dragging on the leash, they figure that’s how you’re going to continue. If you start out asking them to listen, then they’ll continue to listen. (If they forget, it’ll also be easier to get them back.)
Presumably your dog is leashed, either successfully as described last week, or any ol’ way, because you don’t care. (Please don’t read “you don’t care” meaning, “you’re a bad person.” In general, I believe that if you don’t care, it’s not an issue. Cash army-crawls to sniff things when I tell him to lay down and stay. This should be an issue, but… I don’t care. He’s not harming anyone or anything, and if he IS scaring some poor little dog, he’ll stop if I tell him to sit instead. I don’t care, and it’s not an issue — even if, technically, it’s incorrect. Leashing up calmly will give you a marginal step ahead because you and your dog will both be calmer and thinking, but it’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t happen.)
Now you’re standing in front of the door with your hand on the door knob. Stop there. Look down. Does your dog have her nose pressed against the crease between door and wall, willing it to open? That right there means she’s going to leap past you when you open the door.
There are two ways to get your dog to back off so you can go through first. (Yes, you want to go through first.)
1. Bump her shoulder gently with your knee, a little harder if you must (but never hard enough to do more than make her sway or, at most, take a single step to catch her balance), until your dog backs up.
This is imitating what dogs do to each other. It’s called a body block, and dogs will do it to shoulder each other out of the way.
Once she’s backed up, step in front of her to open the door. The idea here is NOT to drag her or keep her back by pulling on the leash, but to find a way to convince her to stay back. If she starts to charge around you, pick up your foot and bump her in the chest. Most dogs will back up when they see your foot lift; they don’t want to run into it! Please note again: the point is NOT to kick your dog. The point is to offer a blockade without actually doing a doggie-dance. If you do bump your dog with your foot, use the flat of your foot. If your dog gets farther past you than that, you can also bump with your knee again.
If your dog is really determined and just zips around you, then turn and — holding tight to your leash — walk away from the door, farther into the house. When your dog stops fighting you and turns to walk along, then you can turn back toward the door and start over. Doing this a couple of times will almost always get your dog to listen.
If at any point you feel like you’re doing the block-the-dog-doggie-dance, stop, take a deep breath, and just walk away from the door.
2. The other way to do this is to call your dog when their nose is in the crease. Have a treat ready, call them and ask them to look up at you. You can also ask them to sit. Treat when they do either. As soon as they hop up, do it again until they start to understand that they need to sit and remain seated while you reach for the knob… touch the knob… turn the knob… open the door… step through…
Your dog will see each of those things as a new task. Every time they leap up and forward, stop dead and call them back, ask them to sit or look at you, and reward.
This method typically takes more patience, which is why I start with the first method! You can also combine methods; bump your dog back, and when they back up, give them a treat. Open the door and walk away when they lunge forward, give them a treat when they walk with you away from the door, then hold another treat to keep their attention walking back toward the door.
Okay! We’ve got the door open and our dogs are still with us in the threshold. Right? Excellent! Take a step over the threshold. See your dog take off without you. Turn around and walk back into the house.
A note on this turnaround technique: don’t call your dog. Don’t wait for them to come with you. Just turn around and walk. I promise they’ll come with you; they have to, they’re attached. If you’re using a flat collar, slip collar, or a choke chain, this will not hurt them. If you’re using a prong collar it might startle them, but it still won’t hurt them. If you’re using a face harness FOR THE LOVE OF GOD TAKE IT OFF. It is the only tool you can use that has a high likelihood of giving your dog whiplash and/or damaging the neck and spine. (The safest thing you can use is a prong collar. Ironic, I know, because they look like torture devices, but those prongs keep all pressure up off the windpipe, keeping it safe, and no, they don’t puncture anything. Studies have been done on this. More on that in another post, someday.)
You might have to walk in and out of the house several times. When your dog is finally slowing down his run for freedom (you can do this until they stop entirely, but it takes forever), you’re going to do one of two things (or even combine them):
1. Walk out the door and give her a quick check as soon as she starts to go leaping past you. You check by simply giving a sideways tug on the leash – hard enough to make her take a sideways step – as soon as she starts past you. This doesn’t work if she’s already ahead of you, so if she’s going fast you’ll want to check even before she passes you, so she has time to slow down and stay with you. If she stays with you, then turn around, close the door, and continue on your walk. If it doesn’t work, turn around, go back into the house, and try again.
2. Ask her to sit in the threshold. Pull out a treat and get her attention. Take a step forward, keeping the treat near her nose so she stays with you. If you are successful, ask her to sit, close the door, give her her treat, and head on your walk. If she doesn’t care and leaps forward despite the treat, turn around and walk back into the house. Start again.
All of this takes time and patience, and sounds much easier than it is. Give yourself 20 minutes, and you’ll probably find you have lots of time left.
Have you managed to close the door? Excellent! You’ve succeeded in step two! Go on ahead on your walk. You have a week to practice before we move on to step three: basic no-pull walking.