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Holiday Door Manners

Turn holiday hub-bub into holiday training opportunities

If your dog barks, jumps up, and otherwise becomes hard to handle when folks come to the door, you might be dreading having guests over for the holidays. However, with just a bit of planning and smart management on you part, you can use the arrival of holiday visitors as valuable practice for good manners skills!

Preparation is key

In an ideal world, you'll start practicing these skills with your dog well in advance of your guests' arrival so that they'll be pros at waiting o going to their bed whenever there's a knock at the door. Even if you don't have a lot of time before your event, it's still a good idea to practice these behaviors by your door. By teaching your dog impulse-control skills in relation to the activities that occur at the door, you give them alternative behaviors to choose from when guests come. And besides, what dog (or person!) can't benefit from a little impulse control practice?

Make knocking boring

Grab a supply of really delicious, high value treats and go up to the door with your dog. (Think canned chicken, hot dogs, cheese, cold cuts, etc.) Quietly knock on the inside and then give them some goodies. Knock, then goodies. Knock, then goodies.

The key here is to avoid eliciting the barking, excited, jumping response that normally happens when there's a knock at the door. This might mean that you have to knock quietly on an interior wall first, then move to the door. If you have a doorbell, this might mean playing a recording of a doorbell, or having someone else ring it while you stand way out in the yard.

As your dog succeeds with this, gradually get louder and louder with your knocking, and ask someone to knock on the outside of the door as well to more closely resemble a real-life situation at the door.

Park it by the door

"Wait" and "place" are two behaviors that park your dog in a spot until you release them. Obviously, the door is the perfect application for these skills!

Wait- Get a supply of treats and your clicker, and put your dog on leash. Go up to the door and ask them to sit. Tell them "wait," and reach for the doorknob. Click when you touch the doorknob, then give them their treat. Say "wait," and reach out and turn the doorknob 45º. Click when you're turning it, then give them their treat. After about 3-5 clicks and treats, release your dog from their wait with a cheerful, "Ok!!" and encourage them to get up. Click and treat them for getting up and start all over again.

Remember to click at the most difficult point for your dog, which will be the new criteria you add to you repetitions. If you find your dog keeps popping up out of their wait, back up in your steps and make it as easy as they need it to be to succeed. Maybe just standing by the door, then moving your hand 3" toward the doorknob, then 5", and so on. Perhaps simply having the leash on is too exciting for them, and you need to start your process back when you clip it on (or forgo it until you get to opening the door).

"Place"- If your dog doesn't already know how to go to a spot and lie down on cue, start with this video

Put your dog's bed or mat near the door. It will be easier for them to stay put if they can at least watch the action when guests arrive, but you don't want it to be too tempting and simple to quickly slip out the door. Grab your clicker and treats.

Tell your dog "place," and click and treat when they lie down on their bed. Take one step toward the door, click and go back to your dog to deliver their treat right between their front paws. Take two steps towards the door, click and treat. Once you're at the door, touch the doorknob, click and treat. Then turn the doorknob, click and treat.

Just like with "wait," we are very gradually increasing the criteria until it more closely resembles what will happen when you need them to do this outside of a practice session. Don't forget to release your dog from their "place" every 3-5 clicks and reset.

They're here! Now what?

So you've been working hard on "wait" and "place" at the door, but your dog isn't ready to debut these skills for your arriving guests. Fret not, you can still turn this into a valuable training session!

Let your guests know ahead of time that you are working on door manners with your dog. Ask them to forgive a cold reception at first so you can focus on your dog as they come in. You could even set some treats by your front door so they can get in on the action!

Before they arrive, leash your dog and get your clicker and high value treats. When they knock, let the clicking and treating begin! Keep your clicks rapid-fire to capture any brief moment of polite, four-on-the-floor behavior. If you think your dog can do it, ask for a sit or a down.

Once everyone is inside and has gotten their coats off, let your dog say "hello" while continuing to click and treat for polite behavior. Since your dog is leashed, you can prevent them from jumping up by keeping your distance until they have four solid paws on the ground. Then can get on with your visit!

Here's a video of these tips in action:

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