Photo: Harper

This dog training thing seems to be an endless loop of making a list, breaking that list down, breaking that list down, then breaking that list down even further etc. until eventually you get something you can take action on.

And this week is no different.

Last week's list was of all the goals we'd like to work on. Of that, I'm choosing "Politely greeting people when they come to our house."

Breaking Down the Goal

That one "goal" is actually a bunch of little goals though, including:

Not barking at random noises in the hall (or is willing to stop when asked)

She does this thing where if there is a noise in the hall she lets out a little muffled bark almost like she's trying to hold it back. Sometimes it turns into some loud barks. We'd prefer it to turn into no barks.

Not rushing the door if someone is at the door, including us

The entrance to our loft is actually at the top of a handful of stairs with a small entryway. If we or someone else comes in the door and Zelda rushes up the stairs it leaves little room to come inside, especially if you're carrying something.

Not jumping on people once they're inside

She's not a big jumper but it happens occasionally and mostly with us rather than strangers.

Not barking at people once they're inside

It's attention seeking barking. She wants everyone to shower her with outward displays of affection. Her barking can sound mean though. Maybe we just need to teach her how to flirt?

Not going out the door unless given permission to

She's actually pretty good with the door as a boundary. We do work on it every time we leave with her; however, we haven't tested it much with some real distractions.

A couple problems here...

I just listed a bunch of things for my dog not to do and dogs don't do well with not doing something. It's much easier for them to understand what they should do instead.

Also, this is a lot of things to think through and work on, especially if you start to break these down in terms of all the different variables - someone knocks, that person is me vs that person is a stranger, someone comes in the house, that person is me vs a stranger, the person stands outside the door vs comes inside, etc.

I started to list out all of those scenarios and then I had a thought...

What's the one behavior I could train that would solve the most things or make the most things irrelevant?

The answer is obvious: Train Zelda to wait at the bottom of the stairs when something is happening at the door.

If she's at the bottom of the stairs she can't:

  • Rush the door
  • Go out the door
  • Jump on anyone

This doesn't achieve all of our goals but I'm looking for progress, not perfection.

How to Train This

I'm going to invent a new place and I'll probably call it "stairs."

We already have her bed at the bottom of the stairs and she has a strong place on cue for that but due to its position she can't see what's going on at the door and I think that'd make it harder for her to hold her place. Also, I can't easily treat from that position.

Right now, I think the training protocol will be something like this:

"Stairs" Place Training Plan

  1. Train a new place right at the bottom of the stairs and put it on cue
  2. Do some early proofing. Will she hold it if I move around? What if I go out the door and come back in?
  3. Proof it with everyone in the house who she's already familiar with
  4. Make knocking on the door a cue to find her "stairs" place
  5. Proof it with unfamiliar people coming to the door

I feel good about that plan. Now to start training a new place location...

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