Dogs can learn many actions that improve the lives of their owners, and opening doors is just one of the many things they can learn. It is not a natural behavior and is challenging for the smaller varieties of dogs, but for service dogs, usually a Labrador size can easily learn how to open a door.
Dogs are more able to open lever type handles. The training of a service dog would include this very useful action, especially needed by owners with limited mobility. Many dogs take great pride in learning how to be helpful and love to be involved in family life.
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Signs a Dog Can Open Doors
Scratching on the door and pawing to go out or come in would clearly send you the message that your dog would like to have the door opened for them. Your dog may watch intently every time you come in or go out of the door. They could tilt their head to the side wondering how this door opens and, perhaps, they whine outside to come in.
Young dogs can master the trick of opening a door, but older dogs will be more established in their routine and they say, ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’ If you sense your dog would be able to learn how to open the door, and it is something you would like them to do, then it is not difficult to teach this behavior. It will be important to make sure that once the secret of opening doors is learned that the outside area is secure. A dog can’t open the door and find themself out on the street.
Dogs who have figured out that the handle operates the door may paw at the handle as it moves up and down, but some training will assist with the whole action to open the door and then pass through the opening. If you sense your dog is a potential door opener or that this will be helpful to you, a dog trainer could help you get started on this action. They would assess your home for safety once your dog has become a master door opener.
- Wag tail
- Waiting by the door
- Pawing the door handle
- Pulling the door open
The History of Dogs Opening Doors
Dogs have shown through their strong bond with people that they have an innate predisposition to protectiveness and a desire to be part of a pack. There are bravery awards for these hero dogs that testify to how they created a way out in so many situations.
In addition, when servicemen have returned home, it is often a canine companion that opens the doors for the recovering soldier. Dogs became part of ships at sea and spent time in trenches and army barracks. There are legendary dogs who entertained us in our childhood and it was Lassie who used to open the screen door in her TV series.
During one of the episodes of "Lassie Come Home", her dog trainer reports that she refused to open the screen door she had opened millions of times. Lassie turned back to look at her trainer for help. The trainer went to see the reason for lassie not being able to open the door. Someone had changed the lock! After a five-minute lesson, Lassie had mastered the new door latch and the filming could continue.
The Science Behind Dogs Opening Doors
Scientifically, behaviorists have noted that dogs, especially the working breeds, are predisposed to be helpful and protective. The more intelligent and eager-to-please dogs can learn different actions that help their owners and they really enjoy being involved. Their social nature and their desire to be part of the pack make them aware of helping their owners.
Some dogs thrive on being given tasks and would not be content if they were not involved in the day to day life around the home. It is possible to see a sense of pride in a dog’s attitude when they have successfully brought you your slippers and fetched the paper from the front yard, after opening the front door.
Training Dogs to Open Doors
Training your dog to open the door is one of the easier domestic activities. It does depend on the size of your dog, and if your canine companion happens to be a little 'Yorkie', the door handle is going to be a challenge. A medium-sized dog, who can respond to targeting, will soon learn the steps to take to open a door.
Targeting requires the dog to focus on a target, usually a sticky note, and tap it with their nose or paw to receive a reward. If you are teaching door opening, then a simple command like ‘open’ should accompany the note tapping as the reward is given. When your dog does this confidently, the sticky note moves to the door next to the handle.
Your dog is encouraged to target the note in a new spot. Show your dog how to target with their paw on the door handle and say ‘open.’ Patience and repetition will help your dog master this trick.
Door opening can be taught with a tug rope activity. This requires some fun and games for you and your dog. Teach your dog how to pull on the rope or fabric you intend to tie to the door handle. It’s a game most dogs enjoy. Then, try the game while the rope is tied to the handle. Get down on your knees and show your dog if you think that will help.
Once again, reward the good behavior when your dog gets the action right and opens the door. This is the way to train your dog to open a lever handle, other handles will be more challenging. Dogs are not able to turn a knob handle without using their mouths and turning the handle round while pulling the door open.
Safety Tips for Dogs Who Open Doors:
Make sure the outside area they can access is secure.
Inform people of your dog's ability while visiting their home.