Closing the back door is one of the most crowd-pleasing tricks I’ve ever taught my dog, Kirby. It’s also really convenient!
The Goal: Have Kirby close the back door when I say, “Kirby, get the door!”
The Method: Shaping and capturing.
The Reward: Small treats
Timeline: The learning curve of a dog is about 4-6 weeks. Depending on your dog, it could take less or more. It took me about 4 weeks to teach this trick to Kirby.
Before I explain how I trained this, let’s define a few terms. “Shaping” is a method of teaching that breaks a complicated behavior into small, easily trainable steps that slowly build on each other for the final, desired behavior. “Capturing” is a method of teaching that simply waits for the dog to offer a behavior – the trainer doesn’t need to do or say anything.
Prerequisite: Your dog will need to have been previously conditioned to a marker word. I explain how to do this in my ebook 7 Days to a Better Dog. The book is available in my shop or you can join my email list to get it for free. To join my email list, click here.
- To begin the training using shaping, I used a single sheet of paper. I held it out in front of me. When Kirby touched his nose to it, I said “yes” and gave him a reward. (Troubleshooting: If you try this a few times and your dog will not touch the paper, try rubbing a stinky treat on the paper to make it smell more interesting.)
- This is all we did for the first few days. I would hold out the paper (the same piece every time) and would mark then reward Kirby for touching it. Once he was reliably touching the paper with his nose every time I brought it out, I knew it was time for the next step.
- Next, I taped the piece of paper to the back door. He was so used to touching the paper that whenever it was on the back door, he would go touch it with his nose. (Troubleshooting: Only leave the paper taped to the door when you’re actively training.) Once Kirby got used to targeting the paper taped to the door instead of being held, it was time to go to the next step. I am still using “yes” and a small reward each time he targets the paper.
- The next step is opening the door just a crack. A teeny crack! Just so it’s barely open. This part of the training is where we need to train the dog to use enough force to have the door latch. The first few times Kirby touched the paper, it wasn’t enough to get the door to close. I did not say “yes”. I simply waited. I could see his little mind trying to figure out what was different and why simply touching the paper wasn’t good enough anymore. When he used enough pressure to latch the door, I said “yes” and then threw him a big party! Lots of kisses were involved! I opened the door the same amount – just a crack – and had him try again. It took a few tries for him to realize what the new rules to the game were, but once he did, he was reliably closing the door with enough force to latch it. (Troubleshooting: Patience is your best friend. If your dog is getting frustrated, go back to where she was last successful and work from there. Training is most effective when done in short sessions – no more than a few minutes long.)
- Once your dog is reliably shutting the door, it’s time to start opening the door a little bit more. Perhaps an inch or less at a time. He should only be rewarded when the door latches shut. This part went relatively fast for Kirby. Your dog’s progress may vary. This is when we can start adding in the verbal cue. (Training note: You do not want to tell the dog a cue/command until the behavior looks like the final behavior you want. Therefore, I had not been giving Kirby any commands about shutting the door up until this point.)
- Once Kirby was closing the door reliably, even when it was wide open, it was time to start phasing out the paper. I cut the paper in half and just taped half of it to the door. When I knew he was still reliably closing the door, I cut it in half again. And so on – until there was no more paper left! (Training note: Kirby only got rewarded when I actually said “Get the door”. If he closed the door without being asked, I did not reward him.)
Now I have a dog that will happily shut the door whenever I ask, “Kirby, get the door!”
Fair warning: Your door may get scratched. Kirby decided that it was easier for him to use his paws to shut the door instead of his nose. I was ok with that. If you are not ok with that, then only reward your dog if they use their nose to shut the door. Or, purchase a clear, plastic door protector to prevent scratches.