How to Train Your Dog to Open a Door
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It’s been a truly exhausting day when you finally collapse on the couch with a blanket and an episode of The Big Bang Theory. However, as soon as you get comfy, you hear the unmistakable sound of your dog trying to open the door. He sits outside, moaning and barking until you finally give in and get up to let him in. It would be alright if this happened infrequently, but it’s almost as if he waits until you’ve gotten really comfy! I mean it’s fine when your partner is around because then they can get up and open the door, but you’ve had enough.
Solving this problem with some straightforward training comes with obvious benefits. Firstly, you’ll never have to get up when you’ve sunk into the couch again. Secondly, he won’t get trapped in a room when you’re not at home.
This training can be tricky to start with, but once you’ve shown him what you want him to do, he’ll quickly catch on. Training consists mainly of teaching him how to open doors. Once he knows it will quickly become a habit. Younger dogs are often more receptive and respond to training in a matter of days. Older dogs who have been stumped by doors for years may need a couple of weeks before the light bulb comes on.
Succeeding with this training is mainly about patience, but getting it right could see you remain comfy on your couch for years to come. It also comes with the added bonus of making other training more straightforward too. The more training you do with him, the quicker he will learn other useful tricks and the more eager he’ll be to please.
Before he discovers how to open the door to Narnia, you will need a few things. His favorite food or treats will play an essential role in motivating and rewarding him.
Also get some cloths or old T-shirts that you can tie to the door. For one of the methods, a pad of small, brightly colored sticky notes will also be needed.
Also, ensure you can set aside 15 minutes a day for the next week or two and that you won’t be distracted when you’re training. The only other thing you need is an optimistic attitude and then you can get to work!
The Tug Method
Tie a cloth or old T-shirt to the door
You can attach it to the handle or anywhere that he can easily get to. You’re going to show him how to pull it open himself and if you use an old T-shirt he won’t damage your freshly painted doors.
Kneel next to him and encourage him to play with the new handle. Dogs learn quickest when they think they are playing a game, so keep it fun and interesting. Do this for a few minutes and see if he figures out he can open it himself.
If he doesn’t realize he can do it himself, show him. Get his attention and slowly pull the door open. Dogs mirror their owners behavior, so this may well be the guidance he needs. Using your mouth will make it even clearer to him (but don’t feel obliged).
Keep playing and messing around with it until he opens it himself. As soon as he does, give him a treat and lots of praise. Really show him how happy you are with him. The greater reward he gets the more keen he will be to do it again.
Move onto the next door
You may find he automatically knows how to open the other doors now, but if not, go through the same process again. Practice this for 10 minutes each day. Consistency is key to swift learning, so keep up the training. When he gets the hang of it you can slowly stop giving him treats when he successfully opens a door.
The Click and Command Method
Tie a bandana, cloth, or old T-shirt to the doors in question. Make sure all the doors you want him to be able to open are kitted out with their new DIY door handles.
Take him to a door and say ‘open’
Once you’ve given the command, encourage him by looking and pointing at the new handle. You can even grab it to encourage him. This is the difficult stage, so be patient, it may take him 15 minutes before he understands what you want him to do.
As soon as he does open it, click your clicker if you have one and give him a treat. Make sure you reward him as soon as he opens the door, otherwise he won’t associate the command with the action, and the action with the treat.
Lead by example
If he doesn’t open it himself, get on your knees and show him how to do it. Once he’s seen his owner use the new handle, he’s much more likely to get the hang of it. So take it in turns. Show him how to do it, then let him try. If he fails, try again and keep repeating until he manages it himself.
Master the other doors
Once he gets the hang of it, work your way around the other doors in the house. Once he’s mastered them all you can cut down on the frequency of treats and the clicker until the verbal command alone is enough to get him opening doors.
The Sticky Note Method
Head over to a door with some sticky notes and a pocket full of treats. The sticky note is going to act as a target that will sign post him to the door handle.
Setting up the sticky note
Place a sticky note on the end of your finger and hold it in front of him. As soon as he touches the note with his nose or paw, give him a treat and lots of praise. Practice this for 10 minutes a day for a couple of days. He will soon learn the note is a bullseye.
Move onto the handle
Now head to the door and place a sticky note on the handle. He’ll probably walk straight to the door handle and touch it. If he does, give him a treat and praise. If he doesn’t, encourage him with words and your hands. Keep practicing this until he quickly reaches for the door handle every time you put a sticky note there.
Once he understands to touch the door with his paw, gently push his paw down on the handle until the door opens. He may need you to do this for several days before he fully realizes the world he’s just unlocked. Each time he successfully opens the door, give him a treat and verbal praise.
Slowly decrease the cues
Keep practicing this maneuver, but gradually remove the sticky notes and cut down the frequency of treats. By this point, he will know how to open the door and won’t need a target to help him get there. Then you can sit down on your couch and enjoy that glass of wine in the knowledge you won’t have to get up for anyone!
By James Barra
Published: 10/15/2017, edited: 01/08/2021
Training Questions and Answers
Miniature Australian Shepherd
0 found helpful
0 found helpful
We only have door knobs. What is the best way to get him to open the door keeping in mind he is just a wee little lad.
July 24, 2020
Darlene Stott - Dog Trainer and Groomer
104 Dog owners recommended
Hello, opening a door with a knob and being a shorter breed will make this task difficult, if not impossible. If you really want Pele to be able to open the door, a lever handle may be the best option. Typically you teach your dog to pull on a rope or long piece of fabric attached to the lever. The concept is explained here: https://wagwalking.com/sense/can-dogs-open-doors. All of the methods in the guide where you submitted the question are good. I've reposted the link here: https://wagwalking.com/training/open-a-door. The Sticky Note Method is often effective. Follow the steps as listed to give Pele the instructions. Changing your knobs to levers will give Pele more of a chance for success. All the best!
July 27, 2020