Ogden Nash, a 20th Century American poet, clearly spent time with dogs when he made the now famous statement “A door is what a dog is perpetually on the wrong side of.” It seems that a dog, at some point in his life, will never be satisfied whether he is inside or outside. While seemingly indecisive, and perhaps frustrating, the behavior is quite normal. Your dog may simply feel the grass is greener on the other side, but his persistent asking to go out or come in could have some behavioral or medical issues behind the request. If the behavior seems to become excessive, there are some training techniques that can diminish the requests. A trainer can help you if your attempts to curb his demands are not productive. A visit to the vet may be necessary if be behavior modification does not work to identify any possibly physical problems your dog may be experiencing.
The Root of the Behavior
Undoubtedly, your dog quickly learned how to communicate his needs to you and train you to respond. No one wants to have a dog go to the bathroom in the house, nor do you want him to scratch up your door when he wants to come in, so chances are when he has asked to go out or come in you let him immediately. Dogs want to go out for a change of pace, to go to the bathroom, to run around, or even to see if they can get you to let them out. Dogs want to come in because they are tired, they are not comfortable with the weather, they miss you, or to see if they can get you to get up and let them in when they ask. Dogs need physical and mental stimulation, and when it is not provided through adequate exercise and training, they will seek stimulation where they can. Getting you to let them in and out, and then actually getting to go in and out, is a great way for them to get a rush and feel in charge all at the same time.
Dogs can be indecisive animals as well. He may need to go out, feel he is done with his business and wants to come back in only to realize he is bored inside and wants back out. He may be out, and while the yard is fun, he may miss you and want back in. Dogs will sit by the door, whine, bark, and maybe even scratch the door when they want in or out. Your normal response is to let him as you do not want him to use your home as a toilet, nor do you want him to be outside if he is unhappy. The minute you respond to his behavior, he has learned what he needs to do to get what he wants. He has also learned what he needs to do to get your attention in general. If you are not spending quality time with your pet, exercising, training and petting him, he may simply be asking to go in and out because it feels to him as if you are playing a game with him; he has gotten you to pay attention.
If you are giving him plenty of attention, exercise, and stimulation you need to look into possible physical reasons why he may need to go in and out repeatedly over short periods of time. Keep an eye on what he is doing outside, if he is urinating more often, seems constipated, or has diarrhea. He may also be going out to vomit. Also, monitor his food and water bowl to ensure that he is eating and drinking a normal amount. He may have an intestinal health issue or a urinary tract infection. If your dog is elderly, seems to bark at random times, stands facing corners, gets anxious and paces, does not eat, sleep, greet you, or follow commands like he used to, he may be developing canine dementia. Puppies need to go out more regularly than adult dogs, calculating an hour for every month of age plus one, so a three-month-old puppy will need to go out every four hours. If he is asking for more, he too may have a medical issue that your vet can address. It is best to make an appointment for a thorough examination if you feel your dog’s need to go in and out is more of a physical problem than a behavioral.
Encouraging the Behavior
The best way to avoid the in and out game is to establish a routine with your dog that allows him adequate time outside but is in your control. Starting from his first arrival in your home, develop a pattern or routine in your home that he can quickly learn and rely on so that you both know his needs are being met. Should he start to ask to be let out or in during a time that is not within your established time frame, distract him with something else away from the door. Once he has stopped asking, you can then offer him the option to go out. Ideally, you would take him for a walk because his going out may have more to do with a need for exercise than to alleviate himself. This way you can make sure he does not have an emergency situation and you are not reinforcing the behavior of him asking to go in and out.
The best way to eliminate the behavior of asking to go in and out is to ignore it the first time it occurs. While this is not easy and may take several days, it is one of the only ways to extinguish an undesirable behavior. Any attention you give to his demands will be a form of reinforcement to him and will only encourage him to be more persistent. It is important to monitor when he is asking to go in and out as well. If it is around mealtime, he may genuinely need to go out and perhaps a shift in the normal schedule is needed to accommodate his natural functions. If it seems to occur a lot in the morning or evening, he may need a change in his levels of exercise and stimulation. If you can add in a different or longer walk, a new training technique, or a challenging toy like a food-filled Kong you may be able to take back control and eliminate his need to get your attention.
Other Solutions and Considerations
The veterinarian may find your dog to be completely healthy, and you have been trying to ignore his demands to go out, but the demands continue. He is scratching up your doors and keeping the whole house up. Perhaps you gave in to his demands at some point and seem unable to break the pattern. Some trainers recommend using something called a bridging stimulus. A bridging stimulus is a neutral stimulus that lets the dog know that an undesirable behavior is going to occur. Rather than just ignoring his barking and walking out of the room, which he finds undesirable, you would offer the bridging stimulus prior to walking out of the room. The bridging stimulus is typically a sound, such as a whistle, tuning fork, or piano key. You make the sound as he starts his demands to go out or come in, and then you walk away. He then learns that when he hears the sound, you are going to walk away from him and ignore him. Eventually, when he hears the sound, he will stop his undesired behavior to avoid you ignoring him.
Dogs are often on the wrong side of the door, and they know they need you to help them out. Dogs may actually need to go out or come in, but most often it is just a game to them. They need a change of pace or something to do, and getting you to let them in and out is fun. They may want to go out to play, get out there and then miss you so they want back in, and over and over it goes. If they do not have a medical issue that is causing a need to go in and out, and you find the behavior annoying, then you need to ignore the behavior to stop his demands. If you struggle to reframe his behavior, consult with a professional trainer.
By a Black Lab lover Zoe Byer
Published: 03/04/2018, edited: 01/30/2020