In December, a two year old Miniature Schnauzer named Nala stayed with me for three weeks. A schnauzer is a type of terrier, so her personality reminded me of my little Quincy. She loved her owners, was feisty, stubborn and smart. While her owners had several behavioral issues they wanted me to work on, I began with what I considered the most dangerous…door crashing.
What is it exactly? Door crashing occurs anytime a dog runs out a door without permission. It can be your front door, back door, the crate door or a car door.
Door crashing was highly rewarding to Nala because going outside to smell the grass and bark at strangers was lots of fun. Besides, she’d been doing it successfully for years, so stopping the problem would require consistent, incremental training.
First, I cut Nala’s food in half. She wasn’t fat, but she could stand to lose a pound or two–there wasn’t much definition behind the ribs. Besides, a hungry dog is more willing to work for food.
Second, I bought her a pinch collar. (I love this one because it buckles on and off like a regular collar!) I had to have a way to correct Nala’s door crashing quickly and effectively. It was a dangerous habit that had to stop.
We began with heel. I walked her in the backyard, and when she stepped out of heel position she got a quick pull on the pinch collar. When she walked at heel she got a treat. Within a couple of sessions, she walked at heel perfectly. Then I added sit. While Nala would sit in front of me for a treat, a sit at heel was not the same thing to her. So, we practiced in the backyard and when I stopped I would tell her to sit. She got a quick correction when she didn’t, a treat when she did. After about a week, she would sit at heel.
Only once she had a solid foundation of heel and sit did we move to the front door. Training dogs is about being fair. Nala didn’t know any commands when she came to me, and I couldn’t begin with door crashing until she understood heel and sit. Staying at heel and holding sit by the front door added another level of intensity for Nala. If she had her choice, she’d much rather run out the door and bark at the neighbors than hold sit for me. So, we practiced heeling to the front door, and then sat multiple times. She earned a treat for a good sit, a correction for lunging toward the door.
Step two, I opened the door. Again, Nala’s excitement level increased. So, we had to practice with a treat and a correction until Nala could sit at heel next to me with the door open.
Step three, we walked out the door with Nala at heel. Then I told her to sit as I turned and locked the front door.
All told, we practiced heel and sit hundreds of times. I had to establish a new pattern of behavior, and while Nala was a smart dog, she was also stubborn. She needed repetition to learn to exit my house safely.
What’s important to remember about training dogs is that you must be fair. In dealing with an adult dog that has no training, start with a couple of basic commands, like heel and sit, in an environment with no distractions. When the dog is successful, you add one new element. In Nala’s case it was proximity to the front door. It isn’t fair to take a dog that knows nothing to a stimulating environment (like a dog park) and demand a sit stay or a perfect heel. Dog training means teaching your dog in logical, sequential steps. It takes hundreds of repetitions in multiple environments for a dog to learn a command.
Does it sound daunting? Don’t look at it that way. It’s an opportunity to bond with your dog. I think it’s lots of fun, and I delight in each dog’s progress!
I love getting updates from clients, and I’m happy to report that Nala’s behavior continues to improve! Is she perfect? No. But then, neither are my dogs! 🙂
P.S. I wrote a post for Ruffwear’s Blog! It will go live tomorrow morning (1/20/16) so please check it out!