by Rachel Moseley
Teaching your service dog to close doors can be a huge help if you need it (and a convenient trick if you don’t need it as a task). It can be useful for a lot of different disabilities. For example: if you have a mobility related disability, having a dog close a door for you can save you the pain and difficulty of having to walk across a room to close the door yourself.
This is the method I’ve always used. It doesn’t get to it straight away, but instead it builds up step by step through a few tricks. It’s fairly simple and shouldn’t take long for most dogs to grasp. The end goal here is the dog using its paw to close doors or cabinets for you.
Before You BeginThis method utilizes clicker training as I find it’s the best way to communicate exactly what you want with your dog. Clicker training is using a marker of sorts (either a word, typically “yes”, or a click) to mark the exact moment your dog does the desired behavior. For example, if you’re training a sit you would mark the second your dog’s butt hits the ground and then reward them. You’ll need to load your marker, so if you’re using a clicker click and immediately follow it with a treat and repeat until your dog begins to look for the treat when you click (change click to whatever marker word you’re using if you’re not using a clicker).
Step 1 – Giving Paw
The first step towards getting your service dog to close doors is simply getting them to give you their paw. To do this start by putting your dog in a sit. Pick up his paw and use your marker word or click the second his paw leaves the ground. Repeat that about five times and then wait to see if your dog starts to pick their paw up on their own. Even if they just barely pick it up off the ground mark immediately and reward heavily. If not, no worries. Just go back to picking it up and do that a few more times and then let them try again. Some dogs will take a bit longer to understand than others but they’ll get there eventually.
If your dog just barely picks his paw off the ground, you’ll need to do some shaping to get them raising it high enough to put it in your hand. Gradually raise criteria for how high they get their paw. Increase by an inch (or less) at a time or so until they’re consistently putting their paw in your hand. Remember, don’t name the behavior until your dog is doing it around 75% of the time or more.
Once they’re doing it perfectly sitting down, work on them doing it standing up. You may need to start back at picking up their paw but it shouldn’t take long for them to understand that it’s the same behavior.
Step 2 – High Five
Now you need to shape paw into a new behavior: giving high fives. To do this simply gradually shift your hand’s position from holding it relatively horizontal to the ground (when you were asking for paw) to holding it vertically in front of your dog (like you would if you were giving them a high five). In the beginning, you can cue them to give you their paw if they need a bit of help, but fade that out.
Once your hand is in the proper position and they’re doing it fairly consistently, you can add the new cue. When they’re doing that consistently, make sure they can do it standing as well. You’ll need them in that position for the final behavior of closing doors.
Step 3 – Wave
Next is adding some distance to the behavior so they can do it without having to have your hand right in front of them. This makes a new trick: wave. To do this all you need to do is hold your hand like you did for high five, then gradually move it further away from them. Start just an inch or two further away than you were for high fives and ask for a high five. They should immediately put their paw up. When they do, mark when their paw is at the highest point in its movement. Keep moving your hand away and marking at the highest point until you can stand a few steps away and ask for it and they wave nice and big without any issues.
Make sure they can wave standing up because this is the last step before getting your dog to close doors for you.
As a side note: wave is a cute trick for the general public . If someone asks to pet your dog you can instead offer to have him do a trick for them instead. Putting your dog in a sit and having them wave generally gives people the interaction they’re so desperate for and allows you to quickly get it over with and go back to whatever you were trying to do.
Step 4 – Closing Doors
At this point you just need to get the final behavior (as demonstrated by Ashim above). To do this stand by an open door with your dog right in front of it. Hold your hand up and ask your dog to wave. Their paw should at least touch the door if they were close enough to it. If they didn’t hit it, reposition your dog and try again. Mark the second their paw touches the door and reward heavily. Repeat a few times to make sure they understand that they’re being rewarded for hitting the door with their paw. The timing of the marker needs to be impeccable. If your timing is off then the dog may think it’s not supposed to hit the door or will just get confused about what you want.
Once your dog is hitting the door with you standing right there, add in your cue for closing doors. I keep it simple and use “close door”. Some people say “shut it” or “close it”. Repeat the behavior with the new cue a few times and then start gradually moving away. You may have to start by just moving one foot away and rewarding when they hit the door. From there, move away one step at a time until you can be anywhere and they still touch the door.
Once they can touch it from any distance, I shorten the distance again and work on increasing the strength of the paw touch. Most dogs won’t close the door all the way in the beginning. You’ll need to work on getting them to hit it hard enough to close it all the way. I set the door so it is nearly closed, then ask them to close it. That way it’s at its easiest to close. Then mark and reward when the door clicks shut rather than just for touching the door.
If they don’t get it closed at first, ask them to do it again. If they still don’t get it closed and seem to get frustrated, reward for any hit harder than they were doing before. Gradually work up until your dog is closing it all the way. Then rebuild the distance (it should be much easier and faster to re – add the distance this time).
Bonus – Generalizing Cabinets, Doors, and Different Locations
Now all you need to do is generalize the behavior to different doors and even cabinets if you want. To do this start with a different door than the one you trained the behavior with and go back through the process. You may be able to skip steps with your dog but in general it’s best to be prepared to go back to the beginning. Start with you standing by the new door asking for the behavior. The process will get faster with every door you add and should never take as long as it did the first time. Repeat with all the doors in your house. Even try hotel doors if you need that until they can do it with any door you ask of them.
The process is the exact same for shutting cabinets too. Just stand by the cabinet and ask them to wave. You can also try asking them to close it and see if they understand. Some dogs will get it right away but most will need some work in the beginning to understand you’re asking for the same behavior. Go back through the process with one cabinet. Then once they can do that, repeat it with all the cabinets in your house so they can generalize the behavior. You can even change the cue for cabinets if you want, just add the new cue before the old cue and gradually fade out the old cue.
Good job! You’ve taught your dog not only how to close doors but you’ve also taught 3 fun tricks in the process!