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Many service dogs must learn skills like opening car doors to help their owners become more mobile and independent in the world. Teaching a dog to open a car door for someone who isn't able allows them to move more freely without relying on other people. Any dog can learn to open a car door, but keep in mind this trick is not an easy skill to teach. It will require your pup to have extensive training, understand how to mark objects, and follow your behavior.
Putting in the time and effort to teach your dog to open car doors will certainly be worth it, whether they are going to be a service dog or just a family pet. When your pup learns how to open the car door, she can assist you when your hands are full and load herself into the car to get ready for road trips. If you put in the time and have some patience, your dog can learn to open the car door on command.
This kind of trick works best for dogs who are calm and attentive. Many service dogs are Labs or Golden retrievers who have been in training since they were puppies. Other highly focused dogs like Australian shepherds or Border Collies would be great candidates for learning how to open a car door. Many of these dogs love to learn and enjoy more complicated tasks.
Before you can teach your dog to open a car door, she must already be well versed in basic obedience training and moving on to advanced tricks. Clicker training is very helpful to make sure she quickly understands each step you ask her to do and doesn't get too confused. She should also understand how to mark an object, pick it up in her mouth on command, and release it. This command might take up to three months to teach, depending on the car and how long it takes her to pick up the steps, so have patience and keep it fun.
To get started you should be sure you have a few of these items on hand.
- A clicker
- Plenty of treats
- A sturdy rope
- A few post-it notes
- A key fob
- Dog booties to protect your car from her nails
There are a few different methods you can use to train your dog to open a car door. Read through the three listed below and decide which one will be the best for you.
The Tugging Game Method
Start with a game
Take the length of rope you will use to train your dog and begin to play together.
Encourage tug of war
Encourage your dog to tug roughly on the length of rope.
Attach the rope
Tie the rope to the car door. This works best if your car has a pullout handle.
Get the rope
Tell your dog to get the rope and encourage her to start playing tug of war.
Reward an open
When she pulls hard enough to open the door, say "yes" and give her a big treat. Keep practicing this until she is grabbing the rope and pulling the door open immediately.
Introduce the command
Start to introduce your command right before you give her a treat. You can say "open" or "car door."
Reinforce the command
Start using the command to initiate her opening the car door. Once she's performing the action when you ask, you can start to ease off the treats.
The Target the Key Fob Method
The right car
This method works well if you have a car that will open a door or the trunk with a key fob.
Prepare the fob
Tape a small piece of cardboard over all the other buttons on the key fob, aside from the button that opens the door. This will prevent the alarm or lock buttons from being activated.
Target the fob
Use a clicker to begin to target the fob. Start by clicking the clicker each time she smells the fob and give her a treat.
Move to a touch
Start to click only when her paw touches the fob.
Reward the step
Encourage her to step on the fob with her paw. You can reward for a light touch at first and then move to a harder one.
Mark the open door
Move your training close to the car if you've been training inside. Begin to treat her only when she steps hard enough that the door opens.
Name the trick
Once she is consistenly pressing the fob hard enough to open the door, start to name the trick with "open" or "car door" before she gets a treat.
Test the command
Test her by asking for the command before she does the action. If she listens and presses the fob, she's ready.
The Target Method
Set up the command
Tie a length of rope to the car door you want her to open. This works best with pull open door handles.
Sniff the rope
Bring your dog to the car, and when she sniffs the rope, click the clicker and give her a treat.
Take the rope
Move on to targeting when she takes the rope in her mouth. If she needs some encouragement you can give her the 'take' command.
Encourage her to pull on the rope. You can play with it a little if she's not understanding what you want. As soon as she backs up and puts tension on the rope, click and reward.
Reward the open
Once she pulls hard enough to open the door, give her a big reward with lots of affection and treats.
Give it a name
When she's consistently opening the door with the rope, introduce the name of the command "open" or "car door." Soon she'll know exactly what to do when you ask her with the command.
By Katie Smith
Published: 03/16/2018, edited: 01/08/2021