Clicker training the dog door for cautious dog

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Clicker training the dog door for cautious dog

This is a discussion on Clicker training the dog door for cautious dog within the Dog Training and Behavior forums, part of the Keeping and Caring for Dogs category; Hi all--New here, but not new to training. :-) I am an experienced trainer with obedience and agility titles under my belt, and I ran ...

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Old 01-03-2019, 08:43 AM
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Clicker training the dog door for cautious dog

Hi all--New here, but not new to training. :-) I am an experienced trainer with obedience and agility titles under my belt, and I ran my own in-home training business for 10 years.

I am currently working with my dogs (Sam, a corgi mix, age 14, and Rachel, a lab mix, age 12) on their new dog door. I live in the boondocks and work 45 min. away from home, so since moving there 15 years ago my dogs have had to be outside while I was at work. They have a fenced yard with plenty of shelter and for a while at least Sam was using a dog door into the toolshed, which I had set up with beds and a heater. Then he had a bad experience with a foster dog in there and stopped using it.

Recently I finally figured out how to manage a dog door into the house without risking my indoor cats. There is a small room that the previous owners used for a laundry room--it can be closed off from the rest of the house and we put a dog door through the wall out to the deck. That means that the tunnel is about 8" deep and there are flaps on both the inside and the outside.

Sam, who is super food-motivated, learned to use the door quickly, and as he was the one who was really unhappy being outside, that was great. Now he spends the day on a cozy bed in the heated room. Rachel never minded being outside, but now she is agitated when I get home b/c Sam basically goes inside and abandons her so she's outside by herself.

I have worked with her on the door for multiple short sessions, but we cannot get past going (slowly and reluctantly) through the tunnel with the flaps taped up. She won't do it at all unless there is either a food lure or ME on the other side of the door. I need to get her over the hump of needing that lure so I can click and treat just going through and get the behavior more confident and relaxed. She (like all my dogs) was a rescue and has always had issues with close spaces, so the tunnel clearly freaks her out.

This weekend a friend is coming over to help me by being on on side while I'm on the other, so we can work on calling her back and forth without visible food (then C/T for the accomplishment). I am hoping that if I can get that strong, we can move to my being able to send her through from the same side, and then lower the outside flap so she will have to push through that as well.

I guess I am looking for suggestions for getting over the hump we are on. She is not quite as food motivated as Sam--she wants it, but not enough to get over her fear unless it's right there in front of her nose. Interestingly, she can be aggressive enough when her blood is up--she once destroyed a door to get out of a room during a thunderstorm and she also once tore my fence up with her teeth to go after something (I am assuming a possum or armadillo) on the other side. But when her blood is not up, she is a very soft, careful, sweet dog.

Thanks! :-)
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Old 01-03-2019, 03:15 PM
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Are you letting her in & out another way like with you through the door when you are home? becos my dog started using it when I told her- she's not coming through the door with me- she's to use the dog door everytime I was home & then she used it when I was out. Otherwise she just wanted the door option. Did this for about 6 weeks & then let her use both & she would use both. Also, I didnt tape the flaps up, just lifted it a bit for her for the first week & said go go go go go & gave her bottom a gentle nudge & she popped through, then I would go out the door & more praise games, then the same going back in. Does she chase balls? what about throwing a ball through the tunnel & tell her to get it- make it fun. I think if she gets to a point where she can use it without being scared, & she wants inside enough she will use it. Maybe with changes of weather etc some dogs dont like the flap on their face & my dog uses her paw first- copying my hand pushing flap, so maybe you could teach click touch paw, then go! go go go go go! yay! & I always say You did it!! (& her nickname) a few times when she does something & she waggles her tail fast, meaning yes I did it. Practise builds confidence.
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Old 01-04-2019, 12:37 PM
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Are you letting her in & out another way like with you through the door when you are home? becos my dog started using it when I told her- she's not coming through the door with me- she's to use the dog door everytime I was home & then she used it when I was out.
Yes, this occurred to me, but at this point she would just stay out, miserable and scared--she's never going to push through those flaps at this point, no matter what. And I can't leave it open when I am home b/c of the cats. The whole point of having it in this back room is b/c it can be closed off when I am away. When I am home, the dog door is blocked so it cannot be used. It is an option only when I am away from home and it has to be that way.

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Also, I didnt tape the flaps up, just lifted it a bit for her for the first week & said go go go go go & gave her bottom a gentle nudge & she popped through, then I would go out the door & more praise games, then the same going back in.
She has issues with confined spaces. Forcing her, even gently like that, would backfire big-time. And she is not very toy-oriented.

This weekend a friend will be helping me. As I said, she will come through if someone is on the other side (and the flaps are taped up--there are two flaps, one inside and one outside, so it's impossible to hold them open with my hand when I'm alone). Hopefully just going back and forth with us both there will help.
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Old 01-04-2019, 05:02 PM
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Its not forcing- if its a gentle nudge & praise with a motivation & reward its called encouragement. Forcing would be pushing against her will or making her do it against her will, which is not what I did or said. Its setting up a situation for success & supporting a dog in the situation so they dont feel scared. The gentle nugde or tap is her indication to move along with the instruction which does not hurt- it helps send a message to the brain connecting the go with movement. My dog got hit in the face by the flap later on when another dog went thru first & it flipped back on her - we still managed to overcome a small regression within a day with this method & she has no fear of using one.
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Old 01-07-2019, 08:52 AM
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What is considered "force" depends on the subject. :-) Rachel is a very soft dog, and it would completely freak her out if she were nudged, however gently, into doing something that worries her. Plenty of dogs would not react like that, but I know my dog. Training a soft dog requires a delicate hand and a lot of forethought! And the wonderful thing about clicker training is that it can be done entirely hands-off, so that the dog offers the behavior. One just has to be patient. :-)

Things are going pretty well. Saturday we had a breakthrough. I had to wait her out for a while, but she finally offered going through on her own with both flaps taped up. Once she had conquered that hump, she was going back and forth well. Then I lowered the outside flap. It took a bit (lots of C/T for just touching the outer flap with her nose), but eventually she started pushing through the flap. Once she was doing that well from both sides, we quit for the day.

Sunday I had a friend come over. She was outside with treats and I was inside with clicker and treats. It took a lot to get my friend not to talk to Rachel all the time--too much of that, when they are thinking things through, just confuses the dog. Within 5 min. Rachel was going back and forth without any prompts. Then I lowered the inside flap, and after a short delay for her to work that out, she was pushing through both!

I am now, finally, at the stage where I am asking them to use only the dog door for coming and going while I am home, just for a while. This cannot be long term--b/c of the cats, the dog door needs to be blocked when I am home so I can leave the doors open to that room (it is, unfortunately, the way to the bathroom!). But temporarily, I am keeping the doors to the room closed and the dog door unblocked and if they ask to go out, we go into that room. They won't go out unless I go outside and call them, b/c Sam never wants to go out anyway LOL, and when I want them in, I have to stick my head out the dog door and call them, but at least Rachel is getting the idea.

This AM when I left, I put them both in the room with the dog door unblocked, so that Rachel will HOPEFULLY realize that this is where Sam goes when he disappears on her! I forgot my phone and came back 3 min. later, and Sam was still inside but Rachel was outside. Thinking of getting a web cam so I can see if she is using it or not! I will have no way of knowing. Sam's hearing is shot so he doesn't hear my car pull up and he's usually in the room fast asleep on the dog bed when I get home, but Rachel hears fine and so no matter what, she is likely to be at the gate waiting for me!

Anyway, I think things are going well, all things (and personalities!) considered. :-)

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Old 01-07-2019, 06:06 PM
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well your description was cautious aggressive sweet soft careful - ? making it difficult to know what advice- versus personality. No where in your first post did you mention sensitive & doesnt like being touched. So I can only go by the info you provide- am glad you tried my advice as it sounded like from your initial reply of cants & wonts before even trying some of it, that you wernt even going to try. I am also glad it's working & if you look through previous posts in the search bar, you'll see I do my best to fit advice with personalities & situation. I also recommend clicker- but knew you were already implementing it so elobarated on other aspects of training & my message is respect & kindness towards animals.
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Old 01-08-2019, 08:19 AM
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She loves being touched! But she does not like being pressured--physically or psychologically, however gently, into doing something she is worried about. This is similar to many soft dogs. She is in no way aggressive, either towards dogs or towards people--by that I simply meant that if there is a prey animal on the other side of the fence, she will (and has) torn the fence apart to get to it. She also went through an interior door once out of fear (thunderstorm when I was not home). The point was that pushing through things (like a dog door flap) is very much not in her nature UNLESS she has an overwhelming reason to do so (like a prey animal or extreme terror). Sam, OTOH, has little prey drive and just bounces through life but was happy enough to push through the flaps.

I don't think we are disagreeing essentially, and there is certainly no reason to take offense here! :-) I was just explaining what my particular dog is like. Anyway, we worked through the problem and she is using the door. Whether she will use it when I am away from home, I don't know! Cheap webcam has been ordered so I can check and see!
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Old 01-17-2019, 08:05 PM
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Yup, @pawsplus your posts totally remind me of how hard it was to get my shy cautious Gracie dog to use her doggie door!!! Omg. My small chihuahua was totally a pro right from the beginning, but my blue heeler Gracie was so wizzed out by it. I think it was the sound or fear of the flap hitting her.

I kept practicing daily with praise and tupperwares full of yummy food bites on either side of the flap as I incrementally trained her. First paying her to come close to area, then using "touch" with the flap to put her nose to it, then rewarding her for sticking her head into the area while I raised the flap, etc etc. Baby steps!

But then I upped the ante to Dad's homemade chili in the tupperware and whoa!! That did it! High enough motivation for her. Success!!!

But, like you and your sensitive dog, Rachel, I could never have even physically pushed my sweet cautious Gracie or nudged a tiny bit. Not even gently. I get it! My confident puppy Puma, yes, that would have worked just fine. But then again, Gracie is very touch sensitive and I have to work very patiently and carefully with her on her high stress/ high fear issues.

Good luck to you guys! Let us know if the webcam works and update us on y'alls progress!
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Old 01-18-2019, 12:22 PM
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Well, Rachel is coming and going happily when I'm there. Every AM we start in the little room, with lots of treats. I leave them there when I leave the house, and by the time I'm at the car she's outside in the yard. I got a webcam and have been spying on them for a week now, and the only dog EVER in the little room is Sam. He sleeps ALL DAY LONG LOL, with occasional breaks to switch from one comfy bed to the other, get a swig of water, or go outside (for at most 1 min) to pee. But no Rachel, ever.

I feel confident that she knows where Sam is and knows how to get in there. If she chooses not to do so, there isn't much I can do about it, I guess. I keep watching the cam, hoping she'll change her mind, come inside, and lie down on a bed and go to sleep, but not so far. Of course, when I'm home she is ALWAYS in the house, on her bed or mine, very happy for the comfort. But apparently NOT when I am gone.

At least Sam is much happier now. So it's an improvement for one of them, at least!
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