Training Dogs And Humans For A More Enjoyable Life Together

By Susan Smith, East Valley Dog Training

Answers to questions are based on the information provided. It’s always a good idea to have your pet thoroughly examined by a veterinarian when having behavior problems. Although I can give general information and management suggestions on serious behavior problems such as aggression, issues such as these can be a very serious problem and a certified dog trainer should be consulted.

My dog is a runner. She’s bolted out the door once and has almost got out several times in the last month. How can I get her to come consistently and keep her safe without using a shock collar?

I’m not a fan of shock collars. There are many reasons not to use a shock collar, and I can’t go into them all, so I’ll just say that unless you understand the science behind learning and training, it’s unlikely you’ll use the collar correctly, which then results in abuse – and your dog probably won’t be any better trained than he would be without the collar. 

Door dashing is a serious problem and not an easy one to resolve because once a dog has been successful, they’ve discovered there’s a fascinating world to be explored. I would recommend doing two things.

First, teach your dog to come when called. This is not an easy endeavor, so I would recommend you hire a professional trainer. But you can start by calling your dog throughout the day and reinforcing him with a small treat or a short game. I recommend that my clients (everyone in the household) grab a handful of treats in the morning, keep them in their pocket (or bait bag, which you can get from any pet store), and make a point of using all the treats that day by calling the dog and reinforcing. 

This will give you a good start on a reliable recall. You need to gradually increase the distraction – don’t think that because your dog will come to you in the house that he’ll come to you outdoors, so start easy and build up to the harder environments.

The other thing I recommend is turning the open door into a cue for some other behavior. You can choose any behavior you want, but it should be something the dog likes. One thing dogs like and rarely get enough of, is play time with their humans. So, an example might be play time with a special tug toy that only comes out when the door is open (and no – playing tug with your dog will not make him dominant). So, starting with your dog on leash, open the door, make the tug toy magically appear, with great excitement say something like “Yay! Tug!” and play a short vigorous game of tug. Repeat this several times throughout the day.

As with the recall, you want to gradually increase the criteria (such as opening the door without a leash on the dog). Don’t move to the next level of criteria until the dog is turning to you in excitement because the door is open. Also, you can use a longer tether for safety purposes – they sell 30’ leashes, or you can get a clothesline, which usually comes in 100’ lengths, which gives him a little more freedom to choose between tug and the outdoors. Remember, the goal is that whenever he sees an open door, he chooses tug. You might find a place close to the door to keep the tug toy, so it’s always available.

If you have questions for the trainer, please send them to:

Susan Smith, CDBC, CPDT-KA, is a dog trainer in San Tan Valley, AZ, specializing in pet dog training as well as cat and parrot training—from obedience behaviors to serious problems such as aggression. She can be contacted at:

Sue is also the owner of Raising Canine, LLC which provides professional education to animal trainers.