Saturday, February 28, 2015

Teaching your dog to go outside nicely

I think there are some basic doggie manners that every dog can learn. These manners make the dog a joy to live with, and make the owner’s life easier. Today I’m going to be talking about training your dog to go outside nicely. For my dogs, training all the different parts of this took years. Literally, I’m not joking, it took us a couple years to get them (ahem, NINJA) to behave the way we want consistently.

So, what are these “let’s go outside” manners?
  • Come to me and sit still while I put on the harness, collar, leash, coat, boots, and anything else they need decked out in to go outside.
  • Stay right near the door and wait for me to get my stuff together to go outside.
  • Wait for me to open the door. No rushing at it, jumping, climbing on it.
  • Go through the door when I tell them to.
  • Wait on the other side of the door for me to go through, shut the door, and lock it. We start the walk when I’m ready.
You can see my dogs going outside nicely with me in this video:

Here’s an example scenario:

I walk my former foster dog every day at lunch. He’s so happy to see me, I usually give him a big hug and hook his harness in while I’m holding him. He knows we’re going walkies and is ready to go.

Once I put him down, he waits by the door for me to open it. He knows that I won’t open that door if he’s standing on it or scratching at it. (This took at least a month for him to figure out.)

Now he gets a little bit excited once we get through the door. If there’s a person or a squirrel, he’s going to be racing off as fast as his little feet can take him. So I hold onto that leash real tight and make sure I have his attention before I try to shut the door behind me. He knows to wait on the front step, he just forgets in his excitement.

If I didn’t remind him of this behavior every time, then one day I’m going to go walk him, and he’s going to race out that door and rip the leash out of my hand. He’ll be long gone before I have time to say “WAIT!” So I practice with him every day, and one day it’ll just click and he’ll get it.

All the steps to get your dogs outside nicely:

All leashed up and waiting for me to tell them what to do.
1. Get leashed up - The first step is to get them to come to you when it’s time to go out. I talked about training your dog to come in a previous post, you can see it here. They don’t have to sit, but they need to understand that they need to stay near you, especially once they’re leashed up.

2. Open the door – Make sure they’re not jumping at the door or scratching at it. This takes a lot of practice. Be patient. If they jump at the door, shut it, get their attention with a “sit” or “watch me,” and try again.

3. Getting through the door – I’m a little lenient on this one. You can train your dog to wait for you to go through the door first. I wouldn’t recommend training that on an outside door, train it going into your kitchen or something, then reiterate the skill going outside. I have trained them to “wait” for my command to go through, and that’s good enough for me.

4. Waiting on the front step – I think this is the most important and the hardest skill to train. Have a good grip on their leash and plenty of treats. Once your dog is through the door, call him back to you, preferably have him sit, and treat him. Make sure he doesn’t just get up and rush off. He needs to stay right there while you lock the door.

5. Release – They don’t get to go until you tell them. They’re on the step waiting, you give them treats, tell them to wait again, lock the door up, treat again and say “ok.” Now you’re ready to be in control of the walk.

Do you want this hot mess rushing around your house?
NO! Make them wait by the door so you can clean them up.
On the same lines, you want them to get in the house nicely. No scratching at the door to get in, no racing around you and tripping you to beat you in the door, and no racing off once they get in. This is especially helpful if they’re muddy or snowy or just sopping wet. You can keep them near the door and towel them off before they go traipsing through the house.

I’m going to tell you again, it took us years to get both our dogs to do this consistently, and they still need reminded. Sometimes Mocha really has to go and he just pulls and pulls to get at the grass. (Or snow, this time of year.)
Hooray now we're walking and
I love you and you love me
and I love to walk OMG
this is awesome!

That’s a lot of skills to learn, where do I start?

Start small with these two key points:

1.  Don’t let the dog jump or scratch at the door. Be very consistent with this, it will pay off. If he’s not listening to you, you need a better treat to start out with. How does your dried little processed brown lump compare to the great outdoors and all those squirrels to chase? Get some cheese or a hot dog and get his attention.

2. Make him wait on the front step every single time. I’m not saying he has to be in a perfect sit looking at you with adoration in his eyes. Many of my foster dogs stood at attention looking out at the yard. But they stood on that step and knew they couldn’t go till I told them. Again, if you have something very tasty this will be easier.

Finally, be patient, especially if you have a puppy or a rescue. They only know what their instincts tell them and what you tell them. Give them time and be consistent by doing the exact same thing every single time. You’ll be surprised how fast they’ll learn.


  1. good tips. When raven was a puppy i took him to "puppy school" so he learned his basic commands there When we don't walk fore awhile (like in this horrid weather when i just let him out in the yard) he forgets the "heel" command and we have to learn it all over but he remembers quickly.

  2. I always try to look outside and see if there is anything out there before I let her through the door. There have been a couple of times that there was a cat hiding out there and she took off like a bandit; got to the end of the leash and did a 360 up in the air. I was so fortunate that she didn't break the leash. I think I should try to get her to wait as soon as we get outdoors; like you said. These are all great tips and training techniques. Velvet is old, but I think she can still learn new things. Thank you for this.