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You come home from the grocery store laden with things needing refrigeration. When you open your door, your little dog is overjoyed to see you and wants to run outside. You let her relieve herself, but now you would like to be able to leave the gate and the door to your house open so you can bring in groceries easily. Unfortunately, that open door seems irresistible to your little dog, and you worry that she will also run out the open gate. Therefore you have to close her in a room or crate her so she doesn’t run out. Suddenly the joy of your return turns to anxiety as you close your little dog up while you unload groceries.
Perhaps you have friends or family arriving, and the door is held open. Your little dog is guaranteed to make a beeline for that open door, turning the fun of having people over into a very dangerous situation. Do you have to keep your little dog closed up every time you have people over? Why won’t she just stay inside?
Teaching your little dog to stay inside is important safety training that could save your dog’s life someday. Small dogs can easily slip out unnoticed, to disastrous consequences. Furthermore, asking your little dog to resist impulses teaches self-control, which will result in a calmer, happier companion overall.
Training your small dog to stay inside when the door is opened relies on two concepts. The first is to desensitize your dog to the excitement of the door opening and the access to the outdoors. The second is to teach your dog to continuously resist the impulse to go out the door as new temptations arise.
Both concepts must be taught separately and completely in order for your dog to grasp this behavior. In order for your dog to internalize the concept that she should stay inside until invited out, you will need to practice over a fairly long time period in a wide variety of situations. Most dogs grasp the basic concept pretty easily, however, as the concept of a boundary is instinctual to most dogs.
You will need plenty of delicious treats and very desirable toys. Chew toys and food distributing or stuffed toys that take some time are an awesome way to continuously reward a dog who is maintaining her inside stay. If your yard is not fenced, a temporary fence set up outside your door or a leash is essential to keep your dog safe during training. If using a leash, attach to a secure harness, as your small dog could injure herself trying to bolt out the door on a neck lead. All dogs are susceptible to such injury, but small dogs are even more prone to it.
The Better Inside Method
Open the door
Open the door. If your little dog runs out, let her hit her harness or come up to the gate. If your yard is fenced, let her run around until she feels like coming in.
Open the door again
As soon as your dog comes back in, close the door and then open it again. If she goes out again, again do nothing and wait for her to come back in to try again. If she doesn’t go out, progress to step 3
When your dog chooses to stay inside when the door is opened, reward her enthusiastically. Be very affectionate and encouraging, so she knows you are personally happy with her decision to stay inside.
Keep practicing until your dog never goes out when the door is opened. When you do want her to go out, invite her by stepping over the threshold yourself and giving a command for “come out”.
Any distractions will likely set your dog back. Keep practicing in the presence of distractions. If your dog is still running out when people arrive, hold a treat or toy in clear view and scent of your dog when you open the door to remind her of what she will get if she doesn’t run out.
The Stay Inside Method
Harness your dog
Harness your dog with a secure harness and elastic leash. Hold the leash or tie it at such a length that when the door is opened your small dog will not be able to cross the threshold.
Give your dog a command like “stay inside” and open the door, when she runs up against the leash and falls back, wait until she is no longer straining against the leash and reward her.
Keep opening the door. Your dog will quickly stop trying to exit, and instead look to you for the treat when the door opens.
Increasingly add challenges like visitors and outside distractions while the door is open for longer and longer periods. When your little dog is looking at you when the door is open and is not trying to run out, move on to step 5.
Remove the leash
Begin practicing without a leash, making sure to have a safety net like an outside fence in case your dog runs out. Make sure to be generous with the rewards at the beginning, and gradually reduce rewards as your dog internalizes the training.
The Train with a Friend Method
Find a willing accomplice
A dog that knows not to bolt out the open door or even a human accomplice can help to model the desired behavior for your dog.
Open the door
Open the door, using a long leash or outside fence to allow your dog to exit safely. When your dog goes out and the other dog or person stays in, reward the individual who stayed enthusiastically.
Keep practicing opening the door, rewarding your dog enthusiastically when she doesn’t go out.
Remove accomplice and increase distractions
Increase distractions, rewarding your dog for resisting temptation. Reward a lot, especially at the beginning when you have removed your accomplice.
Remove safety net
When you are confident that your dog has internalized her training, you can remove the safety net of the leash or outside fence.
By Coral Drake
Published: 01/24/2018, edited: 01/08/2021