Escape artist at home? Prevent your pet from “door dashing” with these tips

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Whether you live with cats or dogs (or both), you may understand that door's can be a tricky thing when it comes to our four-legged family members. If your dog or cat is a “bolter” who takes advantage of your comings and goings to dash outside ― a behavior commonly referred to as door darting or door dashing ― it's important to be aware of the potential hazards that come with door darting. Live on a busy street? High-trafficked areas can be especially dangerous. Maybe your dog is super social, and takes off to greet another not-so-friendly dog going for a walk (yikes)! A successful escape can also lead to one of our greatest fears as pet parents: a lost pet.

Like so many other pet behaviors, door dashing can be prevented! Practicing a combination of management and training will help you outwit your little escape artist.

1. Set them up for success

Remove your pet's entryway access

Use a baby gate or exercise pen to keep your furry friend out of the foyer, and ask guests to text or call you when they’ve arrived rather than ringing the bell. This will give you time to crate your pet or move them to a separate room before opening the door.

Make the foyer a boring place

As tempting as it is to shower your animals with affection, avoid big hellos and goodbyes when you come and go. Since you want to keep your pet away from the entryway, the more boring that area is the better.

For food motivated pets, toss treats away from the door to a specific location when you arrive or depart. Your pet will learn that if they wait in that spot, food happens (yay!). For cats, this area could be a cat tree or a chair. For dogs, a bed or mat.

2. Teach your furry pal to stay

A dog lays on a rug

Work on mat/spot training

Have a special spot outside the foyer where you greet your four-legged friend. Place a mat or bed for your pet within sight of your door (but not too close — remember, the foyer should be boring).

Your first goal will be getting your pet to come to the mat when you’re standing next to it because they know that’s where they’re rewarded with food. Begin training them by using treats to guide them to the mat. You’re teaching them that paws on the mat is what you’re looking for. The next step is to give that spot a name so they go to it when you say “go to the mat” or “go to the bed”. Once they’ve mastered that, you can work on increasing the amount of time they stay on the mat.

For cats, a cat tree, shelf, or chair works well. They can learn to go to their designated area in the same way a dog goes to the mat. Work up to having your cat stay on the cat tree and rewarding them for staying there.

Teaching dogs to “go to the mat” is a skill we practice in our training classes. When you work on this skill enough, your animal will learn that the mat is where they’re supposed to stay and relax. Once they catch onto that idea, the mat can help them to settle down and chill out at dog-friendly patios or your friend’s house for dinner.

Create happy associations with the indoors

Your pet thinks outside is more exciting. Teach them that’s not the case. Pick a quiet time of day when there’s not much going on in your neighborhood. Leash your pet, let them out the front door, and close it behind them while you stay inside. Give the leash just a few feet of slack so they can’t wander. After a few moments, open the door, and let them back inside. Say “There you are! I didn’t know where you were!” while you feed them lots of treats in your designated spot outside of the foyer area. Repeat this several times. If you let them out and notice that they’re looking back at the door for treats, open the door right away to let them back in, and praise and treat them in their designated spot.

With lots of regular practice, you may get to a point where you open the door and they don’t even go out because they know that they’ll get treats for staying indoors. The goal is for them to eventually stay in the house when someone comes or goes because good stuff happens inside.

Desensitize them to the doorbell or knocking

Start by keeping your pet in a separate part of the house, further away from the door, so when you knock or ring the bell it’s more muffled. Alternatively, you can use an app on your phone and begin with the volume very low. Over time, move your pet closer to the door, or increase the volume to get them used to the sound. Sound desensitization works for other triggering noises like fireworks, too.

3. Be prepared if your pet goes missing

Ensure that if your four-legged friend does run out the door, they’re protected and can be reunited with you as quickly as possible.

Keep pet ID up to date

Dogs and cats should wear a collar and ID tag at all times (yes, even indoor cats — because break-ins and other unforeseen circumstances happen) so their finder knows who they belong to. If your pet has a microchip, ensure the information is current.

Don't skip preventative care

We recommend providing your animals with flea, tick, and heartworm prevention year-round. You should also vaccinate your pet for rabies, parvo in dogs, and panleukopenia in cats. These viruses are often fatal for pets, and rabies can also affect humans ― so it’s important to stay on top of these vaccinations, among others. Your vet may also recommend regularly treating your dog for kennel cough, Lyme disease, and/or leptospirosis depending on their specific level of risk.

We're here to help!

If your pet does go missing, visit Animal Humane Society’s website for helpful tips to ensure a safe reunion, and be sure to check our stray animals listing.

Need more training support? Contact our professional trainers. Request behavior help online or call our Behavior Helpline at 763-489-2202.