Dog Training: Who’s First Through The Door, You Or Your Dog? And Does It Really Matter?

In dog training does who goes first through the door really matter? Yes, it really does. But not for the reason you may think. At least according to Temple Grandin.

Grandin, a professor at Colorado State University, has a PhD in animal science, has written five books, and is one of the most cutting edge authorities on animal behavior — largely due to the fact that she is autistic so can relate to animals and understand them in ways most of us cannot. I have read her books and am a great fan of hers because she has revolutionized many of the slaughter house processes in our country, making them much more humane for the animals. But more than that, her observations about animal behavior and what animals respond to just make good sense to me.

Dog training techniques have evolved into several different schools of thought in the last few years, but the older, more classical approach of dominating your dog and making him relate to you as an alpha is still very predominant. We all know the drill: choke chains, barked commands, harsh jerks on the lead to get the response we want, etc. In other words . . . proving we are alpha.

I’m not passing judgment here and do prefer the milder techniques of dog training myself. But I do believe there are those dogs among us whose aggression or lack of control almost demands that these dominating techniques be used. I found it to be true myself, in fact, 25 years ago when my 100-lb. Old English Sheepdog, Samson, who required three 6-week courses of training to even pass the basic level of obedience, could still not restrain himself from loping across the park to leap on terrified toddlers, or, sadly, to scoop up unsuspecting cats (usually ending in their untimely death).

Samson’s brain, from day one in his litter,  was in some kind of mindless overdrive, and the only thing that finally jarred it into a state where he could think clearly and hear a command was a few carefully devised sessions with a shock collar. Yes, I said a shock collar. Two or three well-timed shocks, along with appropriate commands, enabled Samson to start thinking instead of just reacting and totally changed his life . . . and mine of course. Samson turned out to be a great dog after all . . . but that’s another whole story.

So what’s the deal about who goes through the door first – you or your dog?

Well, as in the case of Samson, what’s important here is your dog’s ability to control his reactive behavior. Not whether you let him go through the door before you or not.

To put it very simply, a dog who can WAIT is a much safer dog than a dog who can’t. A dog who can WAIT (or ‘stay’, or both) has learned to deal with the emotion frustration. And, for dogs (as for many other species), frustration leads to rage, which is one of what Temple Grandin identifies as the seven basic, hard-wired emotions in almost all animals. And rage happens to be the one that leads to out-of-control aggression.

So for a dog to learn to deal with frustration, especially if he is hyper-reactive or classified as a ‘dangerous’ breed, is not only crucial, but is almost tantamount . . . as dramatic as this may sound . . . to his survival. You can see why including this in your dog training program, no matter what method you employ, is paramount.

Puppies begin learning to deal with frustration immediately, almost from day one, because they are constantly pushed aside while nursing and have to seek out another teat to clamp on to. These informal dog training lessons continue amongst the littermates, and then continue within the context of your own family, once that puppy has become a member of it. I could go on and give dozens of examples.

But the point is, teaching your dog to deal with frustration — whether that be by taking his bone away or by teaching him to “wait” when he is eager not to — is one of the greatest forms of insurance you can buy for shaping him into a happy, healthy, well-integrated member of society.

Your dog doesn’t really care who goes through the door first or whether you include this lesson in his dog training. He doesn’t have an agenda about who’s alpha. At least most dogs don’t. He just needs to learn to be a willing family member, just like one of your kids, who sometimes has to wait his turn and sometimes gets to go first.

If you’re a dog devotee — and especially if you’re having a dog training problem of who goes through the door first — I urge you to buy Temple’s latest book, Animals Make Us Human, and read very carefully the chapter on DOGS.

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