Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Part 5: Dogs and Doors - Patience Is a Virtue

How many doors do you go through in a day? Probably more than you realize. We started counting how many times we went through doors but lost track somewhere around 40.

One way a service dogs helps his partner is by opening all those doors. However, even more important than the skill of opening doors is the patience to wait calmly while a door is opened. You've probably noticed how excited your dog gets when you open the door to go outside. He probably prances in place and bolts through the door as soon as you get it cracked open. Our service dogs are no different before they complete their training. Just like any dog, they sometimes get so excited to go outside that they try to dash out the door before we barely get it open.

They may try to bolt, but we don't let them. We train our service dogs to wait patiently - either sitting or standing - until we give them the "okay" to go through the door. Especially when we're opening the door to the outside, we want to make sure it's safe for the dog to go through. And once the dog is placed with his partner, the dog may need to wait patiently by the door for the safety of his partner, as well.

We use a fairly simple method to teach our dogs to wait calmly when we're opening the door to the outdoors. We start to open the door, and if the dog moves toward the door, we close it. (Being careful not to close the door on the dog, of course!) We repeat this process until the dog waits patiently when the door is opened and only goes through when he's released. During this process, we usually keep the dog on a leash. That way, if he manages to get through the door before we can close it, we can easily bring him back inside to start over.
Once the door is open, we give the cue for the dog to go through ("okay," "go on through," "let's go"). There is no need to give the dog a treat for waiting calmly. Getting to go outside is enough of a reinforcement or reward. The dogs soon learn that patience is a virtue when it comes to doors.

Next post: crates and time for chilling out.

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