Why You Should Always Walk Through Doors Before Your Dog

I expect dogs to be calm at the door and going through the doorway.

Of course, we all know by now never to say “always” when talking about dog training.

I don’t really expect you to walk through doors before your dog EVERY SINGLE TIME. Yikes.

However, teaching your dog to be CALM at the door is obviously very beneficial. That’s what this post is really about. Teaching your dog self-control.

Why I teach my dog to be calm in doorways

You don’t have to believe that whoever goes through the door first is – God forbid – dominant. I wouldn’t think about it like that.

(Although, if your dog is especially impressed with himself, it would do him some good to be second more often.)

Should you walk through doors before your dog

Instead, think of it as teaching your dog self-control, because a dog who has self-control is going to be a happier dog in general who gets to go more places because he’s easier to manage. He’s less likely to pull, jump on people, etc.

And, simply, barging through doors is rude!

So when I’m training a new dog, I expect him to learn to be calm at the door and while going through doorways.

All dogs can learn polite door manners. I don’t care if he’s a big, strong, pushy dog. He can learn to pause, sit and wait.

The dangers of door-barging

A dog who barges through the door is obviously dangerous because:

  • He could pull someone down
  • He could knock someone over
  • He could cause you to drop what you’re carrying or get your arm caught in the door
  • He could bolt after something and get hit by a car
  • If he’s not paying attention to you before your walk even starts, good luck with the rest of that walk! 🙂

So yes, I do walk through doors first when it’s reasonable, and I expect a pause before and after we head through the door.

Of course, it’s not always reasonable to walk through the door before your dog. It’s often much easier to let the dog go first and that is absolutely fine! Just make sure you’re really the one who’s making that decision.

For example, my apartment has a heavy front door that opens inward. It’s just easier to have Ace go through the door first while I hold it open, especially if I’m carrying out the trash.

My dog is trained to pause before and after we head through the door. He doesn’t need a leash. He just stands there waiting. Good boy, Ace!

(Note that my dog is far from perfect. He is quite the Door-Barger in other scenarios like if we’re at someone else’s home. Ahh … that’s why training in different contexts is so important. It never ends.)

OK, so by now you see what I mean.

It’s not really about being first. It’s about expecting the dog to be CALM.

So how do we train this behavior?

Well, patience is key. And lots of repetitions over several weeks. And highly valued treats. And working with one dog at a time if you have a houseful.

Black Lab waiting at the door
It’s not about being perfect on the first day but setting small, specific goals and building from there.

For example, simply asking your dog to sit calmly at the door while you have your hand on the door handle might be your first goal and it might take a few days to accomplish.

Your second goal might be to train him to remain in a sit even while you move the handle a bit (quite the challenge for some!).

While you’re working on building your dog’s goals slowly, you can always manage your dog temporarily with any sort of training collar for control while you head through the door. Try to find something that prevents him from pulling hard so likely a Gentle Leader, prong collar or perhaps a no-pull harness.

Once you’re through the door, I recommend you ask him to sit again. This is a good habit to get into, because it encourages him to check in with you.

Quick tips to reinforce calm behavior in doorways:

  • Stay calm yourself. Take your time. If you are rushed to get out the door, it only affects your dog.
  • Pause and wait for that sit before you put on the collar & before you put on that leash.
  • Use highly valued treats.
  • Add all kinds of “micro-steps” & work on them one at a time. Can your dog sit while you put your hand on the door knob? How about while you turn the handle? Or when you slightly open the door?
  • Pause again once outside. Re-group. Adjust the leash and collar as needed. Situate your keys or bag or whatever you’re carrying.
  • Take 15 minutes and create an entire training session around the doorway. Go in and out multiple times. Make it a fun game with treats.
  • Quit if you sense frustration from yourself or your dog.

So those are my tips. I know it’s just a start.

What tips would the rest of you add to the list?

Let me know in the comments!

Related posts:

How to get multiple dogs to calm down before a walk

How to keep your dog calm when people visit

21 thoughts on “Why You Should Always Walk Through Doors Before Your Dog”

  1. This is something I can be almost OCD about! Hiccup is very respectful about doors and not barging (although it would be funny to see him try to barge past anyone at 12 pounds). The cats are the true door-bargers and I’ve found myself begging my dog to go through the door before me so I can block one of those damn cats. I feel bad for changing the rules on him, and sometimes he’s too scared to pass one of my more evil foster cats.

  2. We have been working on getting Ranger to calm down before walks. He just loves them so much. He starts getting excited, running around, whining, and yelping when he sees us get ready for walks. We make him sit and be calm before opening the door. Sometimes it takes a while for him to sit quietly — it took us a long time for us to figure out that if wait and wait he will eventually calm down. He then goes out the door and waits for me to shut the door and lock it. That’s the hard part. Once he is out, he is ready to go and pulls at the leash. Still working on that part! He goes through the door first because it is just logistically easier, but he has to wait for me to say “let’s go” first. We don’t do this for the backyard door though. Maybe we should! He is used to our old place, which had a dog door, so we never enforced the backyard as a reward for sitting.

  3. Great perspective. We allow our dogs to barrel through the side door and they know this; they get super excited and bolt out onto the property. The back door and front door is different – they walk out. I think they walk out the front door, because they know that it’s either a brief visit outside or because we’re leaving so they go to the car.

    Our back door exits to a deck and furniture and there are stairs down to the yard; this slows them down.

    I do think I need to start making them wait, because a few times Scout has pushed his way outside before I could stop him.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Haha! I think I’ve seen a video you posted of the four dogs barging out the door to play! They all looked soooo happy. Ace ran right through my parents’ screen door to get out into their backyard to play one time. Oh, dogs …

  4. Need this for my escape artist beagle mix… Will be reading over and over again.

    It would not have worked on my husky. When I was pregnant for my first born he knew before I did. He became my protector. See my husband had him before we got together and when I moved in he liked me but he could take or leave me. The minute I got pregnant he snuggled me (spoon) and would not allow me to enter a room before he scoped it out first (my husband traveled a lot). The. He would give me the go ahead.

  5. Waiting for you to go through the door first is what our nearly 4 yr old GSD does. He has always done it – naturally – not really been taught this. Its not just through the door either, its all other areas where he waits for us first. I think it is a natural behaviour meaning that there’s manners on board (that’s how I see it). I think its us humans who get the dog exited at certain times without realising it (and I’m as guilty as the next person), and the dog forgets themselves. Twizzle, our Staffie x charges out – she has had to be taught and is much calmer for it.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      That’s awesome that your shepherd does this naturally. Your Staffie on the other hand … sounds like most dogs! 🙂

  6. I agree – I first heard this as part of the “dominance” theory in the ancient dog books I used to read, but it’s still a good idea for all of those reasons. It’s just not safe to let a dog rush outside without permission. I try to keep my dogs away from the door as often as possible. It’s all about that self control!

  7. Not only do I make sure I go through doors first, I also make Buddy wait until our older dog, Daisy, gets her treats first. I also let Daisy in the house first a lot of the time. It gives Buddy a moment to calm down before racing in to find his favorite toy!

  8. Would love some advice. Our 3 year old lab jumps straight up in the air at the back door when he wants to come in. And I mean he jumps about 2 feet off the ground like he is on springs. At first it was funny but now I am worried that he will have no hip joints left when he gets older. When I get to the door, I make him sit before I let him in, but by the time I GET to the door he has already been jumping. Other than a vibrating collar I just don’t know what to do any more. Any thoughts?

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Yeah, take him out on a leash. 🙂 I know, not so helpful probably. But seriously, sometimes if you just remove the opportunity for “bad” behavior long enough they just stop doing it because their brains get focused on a new habit.

      Or maybe toss a handful of kibble right in front of the door so when he comes back he focuses on finding the treats. Then you ask for a “sit” or “down” and let him in. No chance to jump.

      Or, yes, you could consider an e-collar if you think it’s an issue. I’m just trying to brainstorm.

  9. Sharon Haliniewski

    Thanks. Kibble might work at some point. We have another dog and a foster right now but are moving soon and won’t be able to foster any more :(. I will definitely try it after we move. Hate the idea of an ecollar.

  10. Currently our GSD has s buster collar on. It is very helpful that he goes after us as we can guide him from knocking it – he can charge, banging the cone on the left, which pushes his head over in the other direction and can bang it again. It must be really uncomfortable for him having his head bashed from side to side, so he lets us help him. He still uses it as a battering ram/weapon when he doesn’t get his own way – its a tool for him to push his weight around – he’s not always polite and well behaved!

  11. Same here, I expect calm behavior at the door. Both pups are 100% good at our front door, but they do tend to get excited when we pull up at their favorite indoor doggie pool…they know exactly what’s coming and they can’t wait to get inside. I typically keep their leashes extra short when we get there and use my body to block them from bolting past me.

  12. When I first got Emma Lou I did the I go befor you thing but there were times she need to go first plus I don`t think the dog cares who go first as long as she gets to come along.After reading and learning (ThatMutt.com and others)I just want her not to jump or bark at people who come by.I worked with her on those things.Shes three now and the best dog ever when people come by.Theres dogs that I walk and the owners ask me what they can do to stop there dogs from going nuts at a knock at the door.I don`t need to go into all I told them but the first thing I said to them was quit picking the dog up ever time someone comes over.There just feeding the bad behavior.I can`t lie,Emma Lou still gives a low growl when its someone she don`t know which is ok to me.

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