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How to Stop Your Dog From Bolting out the Door

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.

How to Prevent Your Dog From Running Out of the Door

How to Prevent Your Dog From Running Out of the Door

Run Dog Run!

Why did your dog bolt out the door? Most likely to get to whatever is outside! As much as this sounds like a joke, many dog owners dread the thought of their beloved dogs escaping out the door. The reaction to such outings may vary depending on where Rover lives.

If you live by a road full of traffic, most likely, you will fear for your dog's life every time he dashes out the door for an exhilarating trip outside. If you live in a rural area, you may be a bit more relaxed, but you will still find it a pain to call your dog and worry about him getting into trouble.

So how do you prevent your dog from bolting out the door every chance he gets? There are several solutions to this problem. Most likely, you will need a multi-faceted approach, addressing the issue from various angles. Here's a brief rundown.

  1. Determine what makes your dog bolt out the door
  2. Have a short-term plan to prevent door bolting
  3. Have a back-up plan to catch your dog
  4. Train your dog to not bolt out the door

Let's take a closer look at these solutions and how to implement them so to reduce your dog's door bolting.

5 Reasons That Make Your Dog Bolt Out The Door

From your dog's standpoint, the door unveils an amazing world that is worth its weight in gold for exploration purposes. In a certain way, a door that leads to the great outdoors may be the canine equivalent to a gate leading to Walt Disney World from a child's perspective. There are so many intriguing stimuli that are hard to resist!

Let's take a look at some circumstances that make the outdoors so salient from a dog's perspective. Your dog may love the great outdoors because the outdoors leads to:

1. A World of Intriguing Smells

This is particularly true if you own a breed of dog that uses its nose a lot. Scent hounds have a big reputation for being escape artists for the simple fact that their nose commands them to follow the scent and go on an amazing tracking journey.

By the time they have found the source of the interesting smell, they may not realize how far they have gotten from home. This is the type of dog you want to keep either in a securely fenced yard or on a leash or on a long line at all times.

Virtually, any dog, however, will feel tempted to go on a sniffing adventure, and rightfully so. Equipped with more than 220 million olfactory receptors, a dog's nose "knows" how to track smells and follow a path towards a cat, a left-over sandwich wrapper, or some pee-mail left from a neighbor dog.

Helpful tip: put your dog's nose to work. Organize fun treasure hunts games in the home and/or engage your dog in fun nose work competitions. When on walks, make sure to allow him to sniff every now and then. You can even put the act of sniffing on cue!

2. Relief From Pent-up Energy

If your dog is kept at home all day, with little opportunities to exercise and not much mental stimulation, he will do what it takes to exercise and entertain himself by bolting out the door. The great outdoors for these dogs is a great place to romp around, roll in the grass, chase a squirrel and just act like dogs.

Dogs are social beings that crave attention and were not meant to be kept alone at home within four walls all day. They do not watch TV, play games on Facebook, or do crossword puzzles. They just want to do simple and totally normal "doggy things' such as digging, chewing, smelling grass, running, chasing squirrels, and enjoying activities with their family.

Helpful tip: provide your dog with more exercise during the day. Hire a dog walker, play fetch, take your dog on walks, enroll him in dog sports.

3. Access to Other Dogs

If you own an intact male dog, he will likely bolt out the door to engage in "manly behaviors' such as urine marking, protecting the property from other canine competitors, or gaining access to that French poodle in heat less than half-mile away.

If you own an intact female, she may bolt out to urinate and advertise that she is nearing standing heat so all male dogs are aware of that.

If your dog is spayed or neutered, don't relax; your dog may still be very interested in socializing with other doggy fellows and escaping for a thrilling adventure.

Helpful tip: always supervise your female dog when in heat. Don't allow your male dog to roam.

4. Puppy Flight Period

Puppies go through a critical developmental period of time where they find the act of escaping very entertaining. This is when they test their wings and "fly". Obviously not in the real sense of the word!

The flight period in dogs takes place between the ages of 4 to 8 months. This is the stage where the puppy starts becoming more independent, testing, and confident.

In the wild, this period coincides to when the puppy leaves the den and starts exploring and learning how to hunt. In a domestic setting, dogs will find the outside world very intriguing and may be reluctant to come when called.

Helpful tip: Keep the young dog on a leash or a long line until this phase passes. Make yourself more interesting than anything else, act silly, give treats, play fun games.

5. A World of Rewards

Most of all, your dog will love the outdoors if he is rewarded with great happenings when he leaves home. A game of catch with another dog, rolling in a pile of cow manure from your neighbor's farm or some attention from a friendly neighbor are all bonuses and incentives that add up, increasing your dog's desire for getting more and more outdoors, every chance he gets.

Helpful tip: work on making life with you and the indoors super valuable. You will find here several great tips: 15 tips for helping your dog love the indoors more.

Short-Term Plan to Prevent Door Bolting

These are steps you put in place as you train your dog to not bolt out the door. Training takes some time and effort, so you really need to temporarily have precautions in place in the meanwhile as you train your dog better behaviors.

Although this is a temporary fix to a behavioral problem, I often recommend to absolutely not wean management options unless you are 100 percent sure your dog is safe, which is sort a shot in the dark when it comes to dealing with animals which can be unpredictable at times.

This explains why dog parks, doggy day-care and kennels often have two doors. Should a dog escape the first door, there is another door to escape too which is unlikely to happen if you are paying attention.

Here are some ideas to prevent door bolting:

  • Physically block access to the door. This may work best with large dogs as small dogs can easily weave around your legs. However, body blocks don't always work, so your best bet is using a more stable and reliable type of barrier.
  • Erect a baby gate or pet gate to prevent access to the front door.
  • Prevent access to rooms near outdoor doors.
  • Keep your dog on leash every time you must open the outdoor door
A strong recall is important for emergency situations

A strong recall is important for emergency situations

Back-Up Plan to Catch Your Dog

Sometimes, the best plans don't work as much as we may wish. Gates may not be properly latched, doors are forgotten open, dog leashes are clipped on wrong.

If your dog bolts out the door, it is very important to have a plan in place for getting him back inside, especially if your yard is not fenced! Many dog owners struggle with this as their dogs are reluctant to come back inside. Here are some tips:

  • Avoid running after your dog or trying to grasp his collar. This often triggers a keep-away game with your dog making him harder and harder to catch.
  • Try running yourself instead. Many dogs cannot resist chasing their owners, especially if you make silly sounds and make chasing you appear like a super fun game.
  • You can show a treat bag or shake a bag of kibble, but keep in mind that often showing food to these dogs appears like a trap. The dog may be reluctant to come inside. If he does enter, make sure to provide your dog with some super yummy goodies once inside and if possible, take him back out, but this time on a leash!
  • If your dog is nearby the house, you can try to ring the doorbell in the hope your dog hears it and rushes back inside to greet guests.
  • If your dog knows to come when called but is reluctant, you call him while doing something that will pique his interest, such as kneeling on the ground and clapping your hands, kicking dirt with your feet to encourage him to join you in some digging fun, or rolling on the ground.
Ask your dog to sit before opening the door.

Ask your dog to sit before opening the door.

How to Train Your Dog From Bolting Out the Door

There are fortunately many strategies to stop a dog from bolting out the door. Responsible dog ownership institutes that you take all measures to prevent your dog from escaping and keep him safe. Yes, easier said than done! These tips and strategies should help keep Rover from bolting out.

Desensitize to Door Opening

If your dog's ears perk up and body gets all alert at the sound of the door, it means he has started associating the door with the adrenaline rush of getting outside.

Because dogs live by associations, a good exercise would entail reducing the arousal status of your dog by desensitizing him to the act of opening the door. This means making the door opening action less salient and significant to your dog. To accomplish this do the following:

  1. Pretend you are getting ready to head out. Put your shoes on, grab your purse, and head towards the door. Rover will likely get all excited. Then make an abrupt about-turn and just sit on the couch. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
  2. Get up again, go towards the door, and put your hand on the handle. Then go back and watch some TV. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
  3. Finally, get up, touch the handle, and open the door just a tiny bit and then sit down. Repeat, repeat, repeat this until your dog starts caring less and less about opening the door a tiny bit factor.

The goal of this exercise is to take the edge off a bit of the action of opening the door. Rover should go from "Yippee, the door! I can't wait to get out! " to "OK, you have done that so many times today, nothing is happening and it is getting boooring". In other words, you should see a change in your dog's emotional response to the door: from pricking up the ears, wagging tail, jumping, running in circles, and acting all crazy to a calmer state of mind reflecting just a mere interest.

You know you are doing the exercise well when Rover is sleeping and you can open the door slightly and he seems to no longer care and barely lifts his head. Boorriiiing!

Open Sesame

This is a great exercise I always recommend to my clients. I personally call it in classes the doggy version of "open sesame©". Basically, your dog learns that the door opens only when he is quiet and does an automatic sit. To train this, you will need to follow the steps listed below.

Note: It may help to start training this using a door that does not lead outdoors such as a bathroom or bedroom door. Once, your dog understands the exercise, you can then move on to the door that leads to the backyard and then finally to the one that leads to the real outdoors.

  1. Put your dog on a leash
  2. Head towards the door
  3. Ask your dog for a sit
  4. Praise your dog for sitting
  5. Open the door and head out
  6. Come back inside
  7. Touch the doorknob
  8. Ask your dog for a sit
  9. Praise your dog for sitting
  10. Open the door and head out
  11. Repeat, repeat, repeat
  12. Do this exercise all the time before heading out.

This exercise is based on the Premack Principle also known as 'Grandma's Law'. Basically, it is the canine equivalent of a grandma saying "eat your broccoli first and then you can have ice cream". In this case, you are basically saying "sit, and the door will magically open". Dogs catch on this fast, since they are really eager to get out.

Generalize the Stay

The stay command comes in handy here because it allows you to open the door without your dog bolting out. Many dogs know how to stay when asked for it, but may have a problem when distance and distractions are added. Dogs are not great at generalizing behaviors and an open door poses a big challenge requiring good dog impulse control.

This is why you must do your best to train your dog that stays is stay no matter what, no matter where. This is accomplished gradually and in baby steps. Remember Bob Bailey's golden rule of training: "be a splitter and not a lumper"!

This exercise is therefore for dogs that have a basic knowledge of stay and should be done after you have desensitized your dog to the door opening and has preferably been taught an automatic "open sesame" sit.

  1. Walk with your leashed dog next to you and ask your dog to stay in front of the door and take a step and place yourself in front of him with your hand extended in the 'stay'.
  2. Go back next to the dog and praise and reward with high-value treats for staying.
  3. Repeat several times until your dog grasps the concept.
  4. Next, open the door and repeat the same exercise. If your dog is about to bolt ahead, use your body blocks to keep your dog from bolting out and get him back to the stay position.
  5. Repeat, ask for the stay, open the door and place yourself in front of the door. Your goal is to be able to keep the door open without him bolting out. Once you are out, call your dog to come out with you and go for your walk.

For visual learners, (see Youtube video) I created a video on how to train this for a client a while back, and I will gladly share it here. Please make safety a top priority! You will get a laugh or two when my cat decides to lick the camera! This video belongs to my Yellow Creek Dog Training Center LLC files, so please do not copy, but you are free to share.

These training tips will help your dog learn that good manners lead to the great outdoors. Best of all, when you train your dog and use rewards, you become more and more interesting and your dog bonds with you more which ultimately may also lead to making the outdoors less interesting. A win-win situation for all!

Important: If your dog tends to bolt out the door, make safety your top priority. Do not do these exercises without a leash and do your best to protect your dog from the many outdoor dangers! Happy training!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Adrienne Farricelli


Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 13, 2016:

Well, that's good she allowed you to put the leash on! Good girl, happy you praised her for that.

Melina on May 23, 2016:

My brother's dog.

Got so excited i was taking her for a walk she went ahead without me. She had no leash. She waited at the top of the stairs for us to leave the house and then waited for me to catch up every step of the way. She only came back when my brother yelled at me. Lol. On one of our walks ..i tripped and fell and lost her. But she was waiting for me sitting up ready to put the leash back on. Good girl I said. This all was after only 1 week petsitting her. Spoodles are the best.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 16, 2013:

thanks for stopping by, kingkos. Yes, countless dogs would escape less if they only had the time to train a few new cues.

kingkos on January 16, 2013:

Nice tips again! many owner will less their trouble around their neighbor if they watch this.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 26, 2012:

You're silly~! You must have typed this as I was getting ready for class. See you next week and keep up the progress you two are doing great!

Missy on September 25, 2012:

Thank you Adrienne, I am following your tips on Missy as you outlined, and I am happy you gave me this link so I can follow through. She is already making great progress not bolting out the door. You know how Missy is and how forgetful I am, so I am happy I can come here to remember what to do! I am sharing this with a friend that has a similar issue. I am happy to have found your training center and your guidance. Missy and I thank you! see you next week!

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 23, 2012:

Thanks a bunch agilitymatch! I hope it really does help save lives! Kind regards and thanks for stopping by!

Kristin Kaldahl on August 23, 2012:

A great advice hub that can save dogs' lives. Good work and good methodology!! Voted up and awesome!!

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 23, 2012:

Thanks for stopping by and bookmarking the article kittyjj! Kind regards!

Ann Leung from San Jose, California on August 22, 2012:

Great techniques on training dogs. Your video is helpful too. We don't have a dog now, but I think we will sometime in the future because my son has been asking for one as his pet. I am going to bookmark it because your hub will come in handy by then. Thank you for sharing!

DoItForHer on August 22, 2012:

Consistency! Yes indeed.


Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 22, 2012:

I do believe you and sounds like you really did a great job with your dog! My dogs also learned to walk off leash and are rabbit/cat-squirrel proof. Takes a lot of impulse control, but consistency pays off. Thank you for stopping by!

DoItForHer on August 22, 2012:

I also do that exercise with my car door, my friends doors, and even use the curb as a boundary.

When I'm walking in town and I let my dog loose, she is allowed to run ahead. Then she sniffs as much as she can and waits at the curb until I say she can go or until she walks beside me as I cross the curb. Doesn't matter if there is food or squirrels or dogs ahead of me.

No one believes me until they see it first hand, though. Saying stuff like this without actually seeing it often undermines my credibility.