How does your dog tell you that he wants to go out or come in when let outside? Perhaps your dog is like Rico who would scratch at the door in order to signal he wanted to come inside.
Rico had learned all sorts of new stuff. The previous week I taught him how to lie down. This next session we were finally putting the behavior on a verbal cue- which I like to introduce only when the dog is lying down without me having to offer him a food lure. As I arrived to the session and to my surprise, Rico greeted me in his typical effusive manner, but shortly thereafter he did lie down! Some dogs really know how to turn the charm on!
Rico’s “mom” mentioned that she did not like Rico scratching at the screen door to let her know he wanted in. So, I suggested we try having Rico lie down outside as his signal of wanting to come in. We set it up so that Rico was outside and I remained inside ready to pay him when he would lie down. I was confident he would lie down in order to be let in.
The reason I thought this was because he had just been reinforced for lying down. We have ample proof that whatever behavior gets reinforced, will be repeated. You see, dogs are really smart. They do what works and they abandon any behavior that is not reinforced in some way. Pretty brilliant, right?
It did not take long before Rico was lying down outside and next to the door. We practiced for a few trials and it took him less and less time with every trial to realize that lying down was the “correct” response to be let in. I love it when I can find an acceptable behavior for both parties!
Here is how you can teach your dog to stop scratching at the door or even barking, and instead politely lie down to have the door open.
First, you need to make sure your dog has truly learned what lie down (or down) means. You can find out if your dog’s lie down is up to fluency if you ask your dog to lie down and he can comply with at least 85% or more correct answers. Anything under this requires more practice in order to make the behavior fluent. If your dog needs a refresher, read below for some tips in teaching him this very handy behavior.
Lure your dog into a down (from a sit) by:
- Placing a treat in front of your dog’s front paws.
- Treat for lowering the head/neck.
- Bending the elbows.
- Bending of the knees or at the hip.
- Going all the way down.
Use of An Empty Hand Signal:
- Remove the treat from your hand and with an EMPTY hand.
- Give your dog the EXACT same hand signal you did while holding food in your hand. Your dog might hesitate at this point. Be patient and give your dog time to process. At this point you can pay your dog for a behavior that he has learned well (like a sit) to keep him interested in continuing working with you.
- Reward your dog for lowering the elbows, knees or even the neck at this point. Pay for any of these approximations.
- Once your dog is lowering his belly all the way to the ground and has done this consistently for 5 trials, it’s time to introduce the verbal cue lie down or down.
Introducing the Verbal Cue:
When using a verbal cue AND a hand signal it is CRUCIAL that you first give the dog the hand signal and then the verbal cue and not both at the same time. Dogs will default to minding our body language over verbal cues so if you give both of them at the same time (hand signal and verbal cue) your dog will not learn the verbal cue.
- Once your dog is fluent in lying down when you ask him to do so, you can ask with abandonment.
- Practice in different locations inside your home, a café if this is a typical outing for your dog, etc.
- Occasionally pay your dog for lying down, otherwise the behavior will go into extinction.
Training for Success:
We ALWAYS want our dog to succeed so that we can reward them. Remember that whatever behavior gets rewarded you will see more of. Please train/practice with the following guidelines below:
Practice each new behavior five times (five trials) in a row. Depending on the success of your dog for that particular exercise you will…
- PUSH: If your dog is successful five out of five trials… push to the next step.
- STICK: If your dog is successful three out of five trials… keep practicing at this level until he/she improves.
- DROP: If your dog is successful two or one out of five trials…keep practicing at this level until he/she improves.
Now you are ready to generalize the behavior, which means teaching your dog that “lie down” (or down- pick your cue and stick to it) means putting the belly on the ground when you ask in the living room, outside, inside the car. This is a skill that dogs find challenging so do not skip this step.
Teaching your dog to lie down to be let in:
Make sure you take your dog outside where you want him to eventually lie down and ask for the behavior. Pay handsomely. Repeat a few times.
You can stop here and practice a bit more another day or after a few trials outside, try leaving your dog outside while you go inside and wait for him to lie down on his own. When he does, open the door immediately and let him in to cash in on the prize. Repeat a few times making sure your dog gets paid for every correct response besides letting him come inside. In your next session you can practice with having your dog inside next to you at the door. It would be easier if you warm him up with a few trials of lying down before requesting the behavior at the door.
In time you can stop paying your dog for lying down when wanting “door services” and use the opening of the door as the reinforcement for him lying down first.