Should You Or Your Dog Go Through A Door First?
Should You Or Your Dog Go Through A Door First?

“Never let your dog go through a doorway before you.”

If you’ve ever raised or trained a dog, you might have heard this idea. It has floated around in various forms for a long time, but has been vocalized most famously over the past several years by Cesar Millan, “The Dog Whisperer”.

I was recently reading a book by a well-known dog trainer that made fun of the idea, calling it a “voodoo ritual”. (In other words, as ineffective as sticking pins in dolls.) Another book calls the idea “bat doo-doo crazy”. I don’t think the idea is ineffective or crazy, in fact it is part of a very effective training philosophy. Furthermore, the reasons it works are actually quite rational and understandable. I want to add my two cents here, since I’ve never seen the idea adequately explained or defended.

Wall-as-doorway

A few clarifications first.

For one thing, the idea isn’t just about doors, gates, or even just things on hinges. Anything counts as a door in the relevant sense as long as it is narrow, something that you and your dog probably won’t pass side-by-side.

In the photo of the black poodle on the left, for instance, the space between the walkers and the wall of the building counts as a “door” (or at least the humans can use it that way): either they lead their pup down the sidewalk past the wall, or the dog pushes ahead and leads them. (Which is what’s actually happening.)

Shrubs-as-doorway

In the picture with the white poodle, the wall of shrubs acts as a “door” when you walk alongside it, for the same reason.

Also, it isn’t just about who’s physically in front. Physically leading the way is part of it, but that is really only intended as a means toward the goal of psychological and emotional leadership. Your dog is supposed to follow both literally and metaphorically.

Finally, following the true spirit of the rule will mean there are going to be circumstances when it doesn’t apply. For instance, after coming home after a long walk and visit to the dog park, if your dog doesn’t want to go back inside to boring old home, I don’t lead – I direct him to go through before me. This will become clearer after I explain the reasons behind the rule: in your dog’s mind there’s really no great reward inside, compared to the joy of the walk and dog park. Another example is a fear case, an agoraphobic dog who is anxious going out into world. Again, instead of dragging a fear case out, I’ll often “herd”, direct and corral through the door in front of me.

if you lead:

you are the source of good things, so positive reinforcement in following you
metaphorical following


he’s following loose-leash, so calm; so rewarded for calmness

you get to decide what is friendly, non-threatening

your responsibility to decide what is threatening

you can block (herd), visually and physical presence

if Fido leads:

he only gets what he wants, and where he wants to go, by finding it on his own, going away from you.
metaphorical pulling, demanding

his mind isn’t slowed, pulling 100%; so rewarded for non-calmness

his responsibility to protect the pack

you can only pull back, which isn’t visible and only increases tension/forward surge

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