“Party in the Kitchen!” Handling Door-dashing Dogs During the Holidays

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Originally published: 12/19/2011

Race to the door

For many dogs, the sound of the doorbell is like the clang of the starting gate at the races. Ding dong—and they're off! Have you nearly been knocked off your feet trying to get to the door? Or, have you found yourself having to drag one, two, or even three lunging, baying, gagging, slobbery (but otherwise people-friendly) beasts back by the collar as you let your guests in? If so, the following advice is for you!

Dog waiting at the door

Although there are many elegant solutions to door-dashing, such as teaching your dog to wait behind an invisible barrier, or to go to his crate or bed and stay there when the doorbell rings, most people don't have extra time for elaborate training plans during the holidays. Luckily, the "Party in the kitchen!" technique can be taught in just minutes a day. The party doesn't have to be in the kitchen. Any room adjacent to your entryway or living room will work well.

Practice pre-holiday

Attach a walk-through gate to the doorway of the "party" room or, if you have a more open floor plan, hang an exercise pen from U-hooks attached to the walls or use a convertible pet gate to create a sturdy barrier between your dogs and the incoming guests.

A week or two before any holiday parties, begin to recondition your dogs to run away from the door instead of toward it when the bell rings. Ring the doorbell yourself (or have a family member stand outside and do it for you), announce "Party in the Kitchen!" and encourage your dogs to run with you into the secure area. Once the dogs arrive, scatter a bunch of high-value treats all over the floor to keep them occupied while you close the gate and pretend to open the front door. (If you have multiple dogs that guard food from each other, teach them to run to separate crates or pens instead, and scatter treats for them in the crates or pens once the doors are safely closed.) Repeat this exercise 3-5 times per day and, whenever possible, practice by asking friends and family to ring the bell at random times. After just a few days, what you should start to see is your dogs turning towards their safe room automatically when they hear the doorbell ring. They may still bark and get excited, but they should be much easier to redirect.

On the big day, have high-value treats ready to go. When the time comes, be sure to pepper the floor with them so your dogs are really absorbed, happily and quietly snuffling around behind the gate, while you greet your guests. You can also gift each dog with a delicious stuffed Kong to unpack as guests arrive. If the dogs finish their prizes and start to bark, ignore them. As soon as they start to calm down, say "yes" or click, and toss another round of treats. Repeat until the dogs are completely calm and/or all guests have arrived. At that point, the dogs may be ready to join the party!

Happy holidays!

About the author
Sarah Owings, KPA CTP, is passionate about reaching the difficult dog, and specializes in using clicker training principles to help transform the lives of fearful or shy dogs. As the owner of Bridges Dog Training, co-creator of Cyber Dog Online, and a regular contributor to online training forums, she is known for her innovative approaches to tough behavior problems and her compassionate and insightful teaching.
A speaker at ClickerExpo for the past three years, Sarah was invited to serve as both a Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) faculty member and a ClickerExpo faculty member in 2015. Sarah’s next project will focus on special-needs dogs.