Matilda is a well behaved dog – except for those times when she dashes out the door. Which is at least once a week.
The d’oh is on me – every time she dashes, it’s my undisputed fault. We need to manage her until I can train her, but it hasn’t been easy.
Sometimes, it seems like it’s Cow’s fault, because Matilda cannot resist dashing when Cow is chasing a cat or a chicken. Cow is a bad influence, and she knows it. She looks right at Matilda as though to say, “Ready sis? Let’s raise hell!” and then runs like the wind, Matilda following close behind.
But it’s not truly Cow’s fault, because she’s a dog. It’s my job to stop this from happening – even if it sometimes seems impossible.
Our screen door is loose, so even if it’s closed, Matilda can push through to sweet, sweet freedom.
The only way to keep her from dashing is to close both doors, but when we’re airing out the house, bringing in groceries, or throwing out a bug – she sees a golden opportunity, and snatches it.
Even worse, the property we live on is not entirely enclosed, so she’s easily able to run across the street every time. (Our living situation is not ideal for our dogs right now, and might not have been the best place to raise a puppy. At least we’re moving in a few weeks.)
Successful positive reinforcement training depends on careful management until the dog is actually trained. But I’m sure we’re not the only ones who, despite our best efforts, had management failures that lead to major setbacks.
You see, every time Matilda has a successful dash, and makes it across the street to pee on her favorite tree – that action is very self-rewarding. She has a grand old time, and is even more likely to do it again and again.
Thankfully, she has pretty good recall, so she’s not hard to retrieve when she’s loose – though she does take her time because once she comes back to me, the fun is over. I always praise her when she runs to me, even if she’s late.
To be fair, Matilda has been trained to stay inside even if the door is open, Most of the time, she’s wonderful about this.
I used boundary training to teach Matilda to wait until I call her.
First, I made a habit of asking her to sit before I open the door, every time. If she rushed to the door, I’d just ask her to sit again. She used to get very excited about going outside, so I would have to wait for her to settle down before opening the door.
It didn’t take long for her to realize that the more patient she was, the sooner she would get outside.
Then, I asked her to sit, and stay seated while I crossed the boundary – the doorway.
I didn’t need to use treats for boundary training, as the joy of me opening the door and allowing her out to play was rewarding enough for her to catch on quickly.
I gradually increased the wait time and my distance from her. At first, she needed to wait just 2 seconds before I would call her. Now, she could do it forever, and I can walk across the yard and know she won’t dash out the open door.
Any time Matilda steps outside before I call her, I tell her, “get back inside.”
She is trained to go inside when I say “let’s go inside,” and I often gave her a treat the moment she did. I still occasionally praise or reward her when she comes inside. This came in handy with boundary training.
Every time I take her outside, I leave the door open, and I no longer have to ask her to remain seated until I call her. The girl knows her boundaries!
But she forgets about those boundaries when something exciting is happening outside.
I have not yet convinced Matilda that staying inside is a better choice than door dashing – especially when Cow gives her the look.
What Your Door Dasher Wants You To Know
I’m creating a plan that will finally get Matilda to stop door dashing, even when Cow is conspiring up a Homeward Bound style adventure.
If I want to do that, I need to put Matilda’s motivations first.
She almost always runs straight to a specific tree across the street – a scent landmark that dozens of dogs pee on every day. Her motivation is to pee on that very special tree.
She also needs daily exercise and mental stimulation. When I get lazy, she’s more likely to dash.
I’m not against Matilda getting her “runnies” out, nor do I mind her getting to pee on her favorite tree.
If she can act appropriately, by asking me for a fun adventure, instead of helping herself to it, I’m glad to help her do whatever makes her happiest.
Breaking The Habit
When Matilda is close to dashing out the door, I usually call her away from it. If I have a treat handy, I’ll reward her, or at least praise her for choosing not to dash.
I recently had a lightbulb moment.
Matilda doesn’t really want a treat, nor does she give a diddly if I approve of her choices. Not because she hates me, but because PEE TREE!!
Next time she makes a good choice, walking away from the door instead of dashing, I should ask her to ring her potty bells.
Then, I’ll grab her leash and take her to pee tree, and allow her to sniff to her heart’s content on a wonderful adventure walk around the neighborhood.
The strongest reinforcer for better behavior is what your dog desires the very most.
The Premack principle states that a less desirable behavior can be reinforced by a more desirable one.
Staying instead of dashing isn’t fun for Matilda, but she’ll be more likely to do it if it’s rewarded by what she wanted all along.
The doorway is a pretty solid boundary, but the sidewalk boundary that leads to the pee tree is not.
I’m training it a bit differently. Matilda will need to come to me when she approaches the boundary.
Every fiber of her being, even neuron in her brain tells her that once she hits the street, there’s no turning back until she’s had a thorough exploration of her special tree.
We’ve been practicing going near the yard’s boundary, and I’ll work on her recall in that area. Every time she goes near the boundary, I call her back. She gets a high value reward – a juicy, meaty treat, and sometimes I’ll pair that with the reward of running with her – she loves that so much.
I can reinforce this boundary, too, with a leashed trip to her favorite tree.
If I want to train Matilda to ring her bell instead of dashing to get her desired sniff-and-pee adventure, I’ll need to set her up.
I may leave the door ajar, and ask Alberto to hang out outside the door or hook her up to her long line for backup. I have to set her up for success. If I ask too much of her, too soon, it wouldn’t be fair to her.
When Matilda gets close to the door, I’ll ask her to ring her bells.
Then, I’ll take her out on a fun walk to her tree.
Over time, I’m hoping she’ll realize that if she wants to be outside, her best option is to ring her potty bells to ask me to take her on a walk. I don’t mind if she rings them when she doesn’t actually have to go.
Going on little adventures in life, that’s a need, and sometimes we need a very special door dasher to remind us of that.