“Curiosity killed the cat,” the old saying goes. It’s supposed to be a cautionary tale about getting too wrapped up in trying to find out what is really going on behind the scenes. But this saying only works if you don’t know the second half. “Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought her back.” Of course, cats aren’t the only curious animals out there. People, of course, are notorious for trying to find out the truth behind secrets. But dogs are, too. You already know that dogs use their noses to sniff out animals and the messages they leave with their urine and their feces, and you may know that there are treat boxes made for dogs to solve to get at the yummy inside. But a dog’s curiosity doesn’t end there. Anyone who has ever tried to close the bathroom door with their dog on the outside can tell you that!
The Root of the Behavior
Dogs evolved from wolves, animals who hunt in order to survive. A dog has a superior sense of smell and excellent hearing. She also has an insatiable curiosity. Among wolves, this trait helps makes the animal a superior hunter. In dogs, this trait can result in some very big human headaches. The problem with dog curiosity is due to their modern existence. In a human home, there’s just not a lot of mysteries for a dog to solve. So, your dog looks for mysteries wherever she can find them. Anyone who has taken their dog for a walk knows that a dog will try to sniff out any gross, disgusting scent and follow it long past your curiosity. In the home, a dog will often treat a closed door as a mystery waiting to be solved. And think about it from your dog’s perspective: there’s a closed door, and she doesn’t know what behind it.
Even if she’s been in the room a million times, even if the door is normally open, she will want to know why it isn’t right now. What’s changed? Why is it different today? And why are there so many interesting smells coming from just under the door? Your dog may find that she has the ability to just push the door open with her shoulder. She may find that she needs to use her paws to kind of pry the door open. Whatever the method she uses, your dog will likely be bound and determined to see what’s beyond that door. Given your dog's size and determination, this will very likely cause more problems for you than it will resolve for your dog. But since your dog lives in the moment, she isn’t worried about things like claw marks on a door or the embarrassment of a guest or a family member who just wanted to use the toilet in peace. She found a mystery and she solved it. Yay!
Encouraging the Behavior
There may be times when you want your dog to be able to open a door. Perhaps you are mobility impaired and, if your dog can open the back door and go out to the backyard when she needs to, that might be a huge convenience. Another reason you might want your dog to be able to open her own doors would be to spare your door jambs and door knobs. Plus, let’s be honest – it would be a really cool trick to show off to your visitors. “Duchess, do you need to go potty? Okay, girl, go ahead and let yourself out.” If you do wish to have your dog open doors for herself, it would be a good idea to change your door knobs from round to French door handles. You can use treats and click training to encourage your dog to manipulate the door handle to open the door. You will likely need to pose your dog and manipulate her into opening the door so she can better understand what you’re asking her to do. If you want to make everything especially convenient for you, you can also teach your dog how to close the door behind herself. Imagine how much that would impress your guests. “Oh, your dog can shake hands and roll over? That’s cool. Mine can open and close the door. She lets herself into the backyard to potty whenever she needs to.”
Other Solutions and Considerations
If you are going to teach your dog how to open doors, you will need to be very careful, especially when your dog has access to the outside. Remember that your dog may use her training to make a run for it and go out for adventures, and misadventures, on her own. You would be wise to not use a French door handle on your front door, and to always lock all the doors when you are going to be out. Take precautions to ensure that your dog only has outdoor access at appropriate times; examples of inappropriate times would be when you’re sleeping and when you’re out at work or running errands.
Why does your dog open doors? Because she is curious. If you are smart and careful, and if you treat your dog with patience, you can put this curiosity to good use. Your dog will enjoy the chance to open her own doors. She will have a cool, convenient trick that can actually be quite useful.