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Teaching an Automatic Sit at the Door

Teaching a dog to Sit automatically at your door isn’t just a potentially life-saving activity, but is also a mighty convenient, easy to teach behavior - especially once the humans learn that they are simply changing the meaning of a signal for their dog. Our business here involves identifying that signal (standing next to the door and putting our hand on the knob, and the other actions involved with opening a door) and changing its’ meaning from “Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines!” to “Sit.” 


Let's Get Started!

I’ll assume that you’ve already taught your dog to sit successfully with distractions. Even if your pup doesn’t hold the position for very long, and even if you can’t get too far away from your dog just yet, you’ll want your dog to have an understanding of Sit until you release her from that position with a word that you’ve taught such as “Break!” or “Okay!”.  You’ve also spent some time rewarding your dog for remaining in a Sit despite some distractions and slowly upping the ante as you see your dog’s understanding of “Sit (or Down) - until further notice” increase.

Prepare training treats; pick a quiet area to train in without many distractions. Using a closet door for this first stage is a wise move as the magnetic lure of a possible walk outside may be too powerful for your dog at this juncture.

     Get some Sits going at your location. Reward your pup for sitting at this new place, and don’t forget to practice releasing your dog from the Sit during this session, too.

Dog sitting on door mat

 Position yourself at your door so that you’ve got one hand for the distribution of treats and for giving the hand signal for Sit, keeping your other hand free. Now, cue your dog to Sit - as he does, simultaneously touch the doorknob and - if your dog is still sitting - feed your dog. If your dog gets up, take your hand off the doorknob and wait for a Sit. Repeat this a few times - your dog should be correct 80% of the time before you move on. (Bob Bailey)


4. “But - My dog got up!” Just freeze. Try to not reprimand, scold, or “eh-eh!”.  Just take your hand off the doorknob and freeze in position until your dog Sits again. Then, go right back to reinforcing that Sit as you rest your hand on the door. I don’t fret when my dog makes this mistake - it’s part of the learning process, and my clear feedback will get this mistake to go away.

Next : Proof it. Proofing means, “Add in more distractions.” I love this part of teaching the Stay behavior because my students tend to get very creative! They hop around on one foot, sing, dance, and do all kinds of nutty things to test their dog’s understanding of Sit and Stay.  In this process, a logical next step would be to try rattling the doorknob to see if that makes your dog get up. If she does, follow the directions in the previous paragraph. If not, repeat this bit and then take a brain break with your dog if you haven't yet.

Remember : don't be afraid of mistakes. You want your dog to make a few - the consequence of the mistake is that the door closes, the treats stop being delivered, and you freeze. Mistakes are part of learning and show that your dog is trying her best (as they always are) to understand what you want.

© Misa Martin  and Hudson Valley Dog Trainer, 2023

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