You arrive home, and he is at the door. You are relaxing at home, and he is at the door. You are moving about your home, and he is at the door. Many owners report finding their dog sitting by the door and are perplexed by this seemingly strange behavior. Dogs sit by the door for various reasons, each serving a purpose in his life and telling you a bit about him, his needs, and his perception of your family. In most instances, his sitting by the door is not a problem and can be helpful, while in other circumstances can cause a struggle for power in your home and can even be dangerous.
The Root of the Behavior
A dog that is sitting by the door waiting for you to come home may be dealing with separation anxiety. The last place he saw you was that door, so he waits there for your return. A good measure of the separation anxiety can actually be more evident when you are home. If he follows you around the house, waiting at the shower and bathroom door, you are most likely dealing with an anxious dog. Some dogs just listen very carefully for their owners to return and quickly head for the door when they hear the garage door open or the clang of house keys by the door. In that instance, his waiting by the door is more his way of showing his appreciation for you in general rather than being anxious until you return. Another reason your pup may be by the door is that his hormones are calling. Both intact males and females, when they hormonally feel the call to mate, may be anxious to get out into the world to find another dog to couple with for reproduction. Some, however, are not hormonal but are still hearing the call of the wild. There is a good chance he may be bored and he knows the world outside can offer him a lot more physical and mental stimulation than the house. Finally, he could just need to relieve himself. If he has not been out for a while or has been consuming a lot more water than usual, he may simply need to get out to go potty. This is especially true of recently housebroken puppies that have shorter time spans between their needed potty breaks.
At times, you may find your dog lying in front of a door or in a doorway, making it difficult for anyone to pass. Trainers and behavioral theorists believe that this is one way in which your dog is establishing himself as a leader. In claiming a key place, an entrance, and an exit, he is holding reign. He is the gatekeeper and everyone needs his permission to come or go. Dogs also walk through doorways based on the pecking order, so if your dog steps out of your way so that you can walk through before him, then he is showing you respect. If he is blocking you or pushing ahead of you, then he feels he is your alpha, and you have some work to do. Maintaining your lead role in the home is also important. If your dog is blocking you, do not go around him or step over him. Tell him to move and gently push him out of your way. If he frequently dives through the door before you, leash train him to heel and wait for you to pass first.
Encouraging the Behavior
Having your dog greet you at the door because he is happy to see you is a perk of dog ownership. However, if your dog has separation anxiety it needs to be dealt with. Ignoring the problem will invariably just make it worse, as an anxious dog will often begin to act out to relieve some of the stress he is feeling. While your dog is home, you can comfort him and play with him, but do not give any attention to his clinginess. Even yelling at him to ‘shoo’ or move can encourage him. You can try offering him his own space, a crate or penned in area, where he can see and hear you but is not physically with you. When you need to leave him alone, make sure to provide him with interesting and stimulating toys as well as food release toys to keep him occupied. Many dog owners report that leaving music on while away helps to soothe their dog. Hiring a dog walker to come visit and break up the loneliness of the day can also be helpful in alleviating separation anxiety. Ensuring he has been well exercised before you leave him can help too.
For the dog with wanderlust, who is looking to mate or go play outside, it is important to train him to stay away from the door when people are coming and going. A dog itching to get outside can surprise you, push past you, and dart out into a possibly dangerous scenario of traffic, construction, or other unfriendly pets. You can begin by teaching your dog to stay in a certain area when people need to use the door. Tell him to ‘stay’ and reward him. Have someone enter the room through the door and remind your dog to ‘stay’ If he has remained in his spot, reward him with a lot of praise and a high reward treat. This can be repeated several times for ten minutes, and then again the next day until he has learned to not be at the door when it is opening. For the dog that has difficulty with staying in a spot, you can try barriers that keep him from getting near the door, or crate training him. Some owners find it most useful to teach their dog to ‘get back’ or ‘go to your bed’ when the doorbell rings or they hear someone approaching, to keep their dog from lunging at the door. A trainer can help you identify what is best for you and your dog and provide specific guidance as well.
Other Solutions and Considerations
To your dog, a door is a barrier and he does not know what is on the other side. By offering your dog a view to the outside, he may be less inclined to focus on the door and relax. Spending time with him when you are home, and allowing him to come along on a lot of your errands may also alleviate some of his stress when you leave. Training him early in life to have a period of rest, quiet, and alone time can also help to prevent separation anxiety. Having a playmate, whether it be another dog or even a cat, can also limit the amount of time your dog focuses on your being away. Dogs are creatures of habit, so if you are coming and going at the same time each day, he may have just learned your rhythm and be meeting you just as you arrive. Training your dog early and teaching him door etiquette; to stay back when the door is opened; is important in preventing any problems that can arise from him sitting by the door.
Dogs sit by the door because they missed you, they heard you coming in, or they want to be the first to greet you. Sometimes they will sit by the door because they are looking to mate, they have to go to the bathroom, or they are bored. Dogs may also sit in doorways to stake their claim to an area and to show dominance. Some of these reasons are perfectly benign, while others can grow into more serious problems if not properly addressed.
By a Black Lab lover Zoe Byer
Published: 02/27/2018, edited: 01/30/2020