Dogs try to charge through doors for a variety of reasons. Some do it because they’re afraid to remain inside. Others charge at doors because they want to escape so they can play, roam around their neighborhoods or explore their environments. Dogs who haven’t been spayed or neutered sometimes attempt to rush through doors to find mates. Dogs who live together sometimes try to race each other through doors.
Door charging can be a life-threatening behavior, so it’s important to train your dog not to do it. For example, if you live near a road and your dog has a door-charging habit, she could get hit by a car. It’s imperative that you take precautions to make sure this never happens. While you attempt to change your dog’s behavior through training, make sure she’s unable to succeed in her efforts to charge through doors. Position baby gates in door frames, tether or confine your dog in a crate before you open doors, or fence outdoor areas near doors so your dog can’t escape from your property.
It’s also a good idea to put identification on your dog’s collar that includes your phone number—just in case she accidentally gets out. Microchipping your dog is also a good idea so that animal shelters can easily identify her and return her to you. (Please see www.homeagain.com for information on microchipping, or speak to your veterinarian.)
Why Do Dogs Charge Through Doors?
Roaming or Exploration
Many dogs charge open doors simply to get outside so they can roam and explore.
Dogs who haven’t been spayed or neutered sometimes attempt to get out so they can search for mates. Unneutered male dogs are especially likely to charge doors for this reason.
People, sounds or a previous traumatic experience near a door might trigger a fearful response. If your dog is afraid when a door opens, she might try to charge through it to get outside.
Competition Between Canine Housemates
Sometimes dogs who live together in a household compete with each other, each trying to get through doors first to race around outside.
Other Behavior Problems to Rule Out
Some behavior problems can cause door charging. It’s important to determine whether the problems below contribute to your dog’s behavior. If they do, they’ll need to be resolved before you can successfully eliminate your dog’s door-charging habit.
If your dog charges at doors when people she doesn’t know approach your house, she might be displaying territorial aggression. Growling or barking often accompanies this kind of door charging.
If your dog has separation anxiety, she might charge at a door in a desperate attempt to follow you when you’re about to leave her alone. Door-dashing behavior caused by separation anxiety is usually accompanied by at least one other symptom of the disorder, such as pacing, destruction, elimination, depression or other signs of distress. For more information, please see our article, Separation Anxiety.
What to Do About the Problem
If Your Dog Charges Through Doors to Roam or Explore
Dogs who seem highly motivated to get outside, either to play, explore or roam their neighborhoods, might develop door-charging problems. Most of the time, a dog who excitedly rushes to get through doors simply hasn’t learned how to behave appropriately around open doors. She needs to learn what to do instead of charging, such as sitting, waiting politely or going to a designated spot whenever a door opens.
Teach Your Dog to Sit and Stay at Doors
- Regardless of your dog’s motivation (play, exploration, roaming), teach her to sit and wait for you to tell her she can move before going through doors. Before you begin this training, you’ll need to teach your dog how to sit and then how to stay. Please see our articles, Teaching Your Dog to Sit and Teaching Your Dog to Stay, to find out how.
- After your dog learns how to sit and stay when you ask her to, you can start to teach her exactly what you’d like her to do at doorways. Put a leash on her and approach a door. Hold the end of the leash or tether your dog to a heavy piece of furniture near the door. Make sure the leash stays loose. Ask your dog to sit and stay. Slowly open the door about an inch. If your dog stands up and moves toward the door, quickly close it. Ask her to sit again. Repeat this sequence until your dog stays in a sitting position while you hold the door open an inch for one to three seconds. Be sure to give your dog a tasty treat while she’s staying. Then pause for another second or two and release her. (You’ll need to choose and consistently use a special word or phrase, like “Okay” or “All done.”) After you release your dog, you can either close the door and repeat the exercise or walk through the door with your dog.
- Practice the sequence above, gradually opening the door wider and asking your dog to stay in a sitting position for longer and longer periods of time before you release her. Remember to continue to give her plenty of treats while she’s sitting and staying politely. Also remember to use your special release word or phrase to let your dog know when she can get up.
Teach Your Dog to Go to a Spot
- Before you can train your dog to go to a spot and stay there when a door opens, you’ll need to teach her how to sit or lie down and then how to stay. Please see our articles, Teaching Your Dog to Sit and Teaching Your Dog to Stay, to find out how. After your dog has learned these skills, you can progress to Step 2.
- Identify a place in your home where you’d like your dog to go when people come to the door. If possible, choose a place that’s at least eight feet away from the front door but still within sight. It might be a spot at the top of a set of stairs, inside the doorway of an adjacent room, your dog’s crate, or a rug positioned at the far corner of an entryway or foyer.
- Say “Go to your spot,” show your dog a treat, and then throw the treat onto the spot where you’d like your dog to go. Repeat this sequence 10 to 20 times. By the 10th time, try pretending to throw the treat so that your dog begins to move toward the spot on her own. As soon as she’s standing on her spot or rug, throw her the treat. As your dog catches on, you can stop making the fake throwing motion with your arm and just give her the cue, “Go to your spot.” Then wait until she does and reward her.
- Once your dog is reliably going to her spot, vary where you are when you send her there. Practice asking her to go to her spot from many different angles and distances. For example, say “Go to your spot” when you’re standing a few steps to the left of it. After a few repetitions, move a few steps to the right of the spot and say “Go to your spot” from that position. Then move to another area in the room, then another, etc. Eventually, practice standing by the front door and asking your dog to go to her spot, just as you might when visitors arrive.
- When your dog masters going to her spot, start asking her to sit or lie down when she gets there. As soon as your dog’s rear end hits the floor on the spot, say “Yes!” and reward her with a tasty treat. Then say “Okay,” and allow her to move off the spot. Repeat 20 to 30 times.
- Now add stay into your exercise. Stand next to your dog’s spot. Ask her to sit or lie down, say “Stay” and wait one second. Then say “Yes!” or “Good!” and give her a treat. After you deliver the treat, say “Okay” to release your dog from the stay and encourage her to get off the spot. Repeat these steps at least 10 times per training session. Progressively increase from one second to several seconds, but vary the time so that sometimes you make the exercise easy (a shorter stay) and sometimes you make it hard (a longer stay). If your dog starts to get up before you say “Okay,” say “Uh-uh!” or “Oops!” and immediately ask her to sit or lie down on the spot again. Then make the exercise a little easier the next few times by asking your dog to hold the stay for a shorter time. Avoid pushing your dog to progress too fast or testing her to see how long she can hold the stay before getting up. This sets your dog up to fail. You want her to be successful at least 8 out of 10 times in a row.
- When your dog can consistently stay on her spot for at least 30 seconds, with you standing in front of her, you can start moving toward the door. Say the cue “Go to your spot,” walk with your dog to the spot, ask her to sit or lie down and ask her to stay. At first, just turn your head away from your dog. Then turn back to give her a treat and release her from the stay. After a few repetitions, make things a little harder. After your dog is sitting or lying down on her spot, ask her to stay and then take one step toward the door. Return immediately, give your dog a treat and then release her from the stay with your release word or phrase. Gradually increase the number of steps that you take away from your dog and toward the door. Eventually you’ll be able to walk all the way to the door and back while your dog stays sitting or lying down on her spot. (Don’t forget to keep rewarding her for staying!) If your dog stands up or leaves her spot before you release her from the stay, say “Oops!” the moment she gets up. Then immediately tell her to sit or lie down on her spot again and stay. Wait a few seconds and then release her. You may have progressed too fast. Next time, make the exercise a little easier so your dog can succeed. Ask her to stay for a shorter period of time and don’t move as far away from her. When she’s successful at an easier level, you can gradually make the exercise harder again. Never end your dog’s stay from a distance. Instead, always return to her, say “Yes!” give her a treat, and then say “Okay” to release her.
- When your dog can consistently stay in a sit or a down on her spot for 30 seconds, while you turn away and walk to your front door, you can start to introduce some distractions. Tell your dog to stay, and then do something distracting. At first make your distractions mild. For example, start by bending down or doing a single jumping jack. Over many sessions of training, gradually intensify your distractions to things like running a few steps or tossing a treat on the floor. Reward your dog quickly after each distraction for holding the stay. If she breaks the stay, quickly say “Uh-uh,” ask her to sit or lie down on her spot, and try again. When your dog can stay while you do all sorts of distracting things, ask her to stay while you go to the front door of your home and pretend to greet someone there. Your goal is for her to learn to stay the entire time you’re at the door.
- The next step in “Go to your spot” training is to recruit friends and family to help you conduct mock practice visits. Arrange to have someone come to the door. You will work with your dog to help her stay on her own. Be prepared! This will probably take a long time the first few visits. When you open the door, one of two things can happen. Sometimes you leave your dog there on her spot while you talk to the person at the door, as if your visitor is a courier or delivery person. Your dog never gets to say hello. (However, you, the person or both of you should frequently toss treats to your dog to reward her for staying.) At other times, invite the visitor in. Wait until the person sits down somewhere, and then release your dog to join you and your guest. When you have a friend help you with a mock visit, be sure to repeat the scenario over and over, at least 10 to 20 times. Practice makes perfect! Have the person come in for 5 to 10 minutes or just pretend to deliver something, then leave for 5 to 10 minutes, then return for a second visit, and so on. Your dog should experience at least 10 visits in a row with the same person. With each repetition, it will become easier for her to do what you expect because she’ll be less excited by the whole routine—especially when it’s the same person at the door, over and over again.
- Continue to recruit people to help you practice “Go to your spot” exercises until your dog reliably goes to her spot and stays there until you release her by saying “Okay.” At this point, your dog should be able to perform her new “Got to your spot” skill perfectly about 90% of the time during training sessions. The hardest part for your dog will be going to her spot and staying there in real-life situations, when she hasn’t been able to do a few warm-up repetitions. To prepare your dog for times when real visitors arrive, ask friends who already know your dog well to drop by randomly when you’ll be home. Then ask friends who don’t know your dog well to drop by. With plenty of practice, your dog will be able to go to her spot and stay there, even when neither of you knows who’s at the door!
If you need help teaching your dog these skills, don’t hesitate to enlist the help of a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) or a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB) in your area. A professional trainer can meet with you one-on-one to guide you through the process of teaching your dog to sit, stay and go to a spot on command. Please see our article, Finding Professional Help, to locate a CPDT or a CAAB near you.
If Your Dog Charges Through Doors to Search for a Mate
Dogs who haven’t been spayed or neutered are more likely to roam in search of mates. If possible, neuter your male dog. If you have a female dog, spay her, if possible, or at least keep her indoors when she’s in heat. There’s no guarantee that your dog will stop door charging after surgery, but spaying or neutering will reduce the motivation to run off and find mates. An added benefit of spaying or neutering is that your dog won’t produce any unwanted puppies and contribute to the pet overpopulation problem. Please see our articles, How Will Spaying Change My Dog? and How Will Neutering Change My Dog?, for more information about spaying and neutering.
If Your Dog Charges Through Doors Because She’s Afraid
If your dog is afraid to be inside your house for some reason, she might charge doors in an attempt to get outside. Another dog in your household, a person, an object or a sound might trigger your dog’s fear. For example, a dog who’s frightened of doors slamming might try to escape from her house on windy days. Alternatively, if a dog fears strangers, she might associate doors opening with the arrival of guests. While most dogs might retreat to hide somewhere inside when strangers appear, some try to escape through doors instead.
Before you can resolve your dog’s door-charging behavior, you must identify the source of her fear and, if possible, eliminate it. If you can’t entirely remove or prevent whatever frightens your dog, consider using a desensitization and counterconditioning procedure to help alleviate your dog’s fear. Please see our article, Desensitization and Counterconditioning, for a detailed description of this kind of treatment.
Desensitization and counterconditioning are complex and can be tricky to carry out. Fear must be avoided or the procedure will backfire and the dog will get more frightened. Because treatment must progress and change according to the pet’s reactions, and because these reactions can be difficult to read and interpret, desensitization and counterconditioning require the guidance of a trained and experienced professional. For help designing and carrying out a desensitization and counterconditioning plan, consult a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB) or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB). If you can’t find a behaviorist, you can seek help from a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT), but be sure that the trainer is qualified to help you. Determine whether she or he has education and experience in treating fear with desensitization and counterconditioning, since this kind of expertise isn’t required for CPDT certification. Please see our article, Finding Professional Help, to locate one of these professionals in your area.
Always consult with a veterinarian before giving your dog any type of medication for a behavior problem.
In conjunction with desensitization and counterconditioning, medication might help reduce your dog’s fear and stress. There are many different anti-anxiety medications available for dogs with fear-related behavior problems. If you’d like to explore this option, speak with your veterinarian, a veterinary behaviorist or a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist who can work closely with your vet. Please see our article, Finding Professional Help, to locate one of these professionals in your area.
What NOT to Do
- Do not force your dog to confront whatever frightens her. If you do, you might actually increase her fear and make her behavior much worse.
- Do not scold or physically punish your dog for being afraid. This is likely to cause increased stress and fearfulness, and it won’t help resolve her door-charging behavior.
- Avoid constantly reassuring your dog. You do want her to look to you for safety and security, but it’s not helpful to repeatedly pick her up or chant “It’s okay, it’s okay....” Your dog won’t understand what you’re saying, and if you sound anxious, you might make her even more upset. Instead, you can calmly praise and reward your dog for confident, relaxed behavior if she offers it on her own.
Competition Between Canine Housemates
Dogs sometimes get into patterns of behavior that are difficult to alter. For example, if two canine housemates like to compete with each other, they might habitually charge through doors to race each other to the end of their property or to a specific location. Even if the behavior starts as a fun game, it can become more and more regimented until the dogs seem antsy anytime people move around doors that lead outside.
- Try teaching your dogs to stand, sit or lie down and stay at doors until you say a specific word or phrase that releases them from the stay and gives them permission to exit. (To learn how to do this, see Teach Your Dog to Sit and Stay at Doors, above). This training will take a great deal of patience on your part, but it can effectively reduce door-charging behavior. Be sure to leash or tether your dogs during training, because they will probably make mistakes. First, you’ll need to teach each dog to stand, sit or lie down and stay at doors separately. Then you can practice the skill with both at the same time. It’s a good idea to plan to release each dog individually, rather than releasing both at the same time, so you’ll need to use two different release words or phrases. If you’d like, you can use each dog’s name as her release word. Alternate which dog you release first.
- You can also try identifying some alternate activity that your dogs can engage in right before you open a door. For instance, giving each dog a cookie or chew bone prior to opening the door might reduce your dogs’ motivation to race outside. If your dogs consistently engage in their new activity when you open doors that lead outside, they might lose interest in their previous racing game over time and have no reason to charge doors.