How to Stop Your Dog From Bolting Out the Door
Why did Rover bolt out the door? Most likely to get to what is outside! As much as this sounds like a riddle, many dog owners dread the thought of Rover 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 goes 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 Rover from bolting out the door every chance he gets? There are several solutions to this problem. An understanding as to why Rover finds the great outdoors so irresistible may also help pinpoint the problem in the first place, but it should be every dog owner's priority to teach their dog how to not bolt out the door for safety's sake. And of course, all dogs should be taught how to come when called.
Five Reasons Why Your Dog Bolts 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 makes 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 dogs that uses his nose a lot. Scent hounds have a big reputation for being escape artists for the simple fact that their nose commands them to follow 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 got from home. This is a type of dog you want to keep on leash or on a long line at all times and prevent from escaping out the door. 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.
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 as 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 cross word 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.
3) Access to other dogs. If you own an intact male, he will likely bolt out the door to engage in "manly behaviors' such as urine marking, protecting the property from other canine competitors or gain 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 in 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.
4) Relief from the exhilarating 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 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 will be reluctant to come when called.
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, some tasty cow manure from your neighbor's farm or some attention from a friendly neighbor are all bonuses that add up and will increase the desire for getting more and more outdoors, every chance she gets. And as opportunistic beings, dogs will look for chances over and over!
How to Stop 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.
- The Magical "M"
The magical "M'' word is management. Management means keeping your dog safe, as you train your dog better behaviors. It is a temporary fix to a behavioral problem but I often recommend to absolutely not wean management options unless you are 100% 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.
In this case, management entails installing a baby gate before the door, closing the dog in another room when the front door is open, keeping your dog on a leash when the door is open and all other strategies that contain and prevent your dog from heading outdoors. As much as this sounds like an obvious solution, it is often overlooked: after all, you would never allow a toddler to get out of a door risking to fall over the steps, would you?
- 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:
- 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.
- Get up again, go towards the door and put your hand on the handle. Then go back and watch some TV. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
- 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 the 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 back yard and then finally to the one that leads to the real outdoors.
- Put your dog on a leash
- Head towards the door
- Ask your dog for a sit
- Praise your dog for sitting
- Open the door and head out
- Come back inside
- Touch the door knob
- Ask your dog for a sit
- Praise your dog for sitting
- Open the door and head out
- Repeat, repeat, repeat
- 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 impulse control. This is why you must do your best to train your dog that stay 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.
- 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'.
- Go back next to the dog and praise and reward with high-value treats for staying.
- Repeat several times until your dog grasps the concept.
- 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.
- 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 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!
Disclaimer: 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 video was made for one of my client/group classes: How to Prevent Dog From Bolting out the Door
Does your dog bolt out the door given the opportunity?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2012 Adrienne Janet Farricelli