Is Your Dog Always on the Wrong Side of a Closed Door?
The humorous poet Ogden Nash once memorably quipped that "A door is what a dog is perpetually on the wrong side of." Never was a truer pun penned. From a dog's eye view, the grass is always greener on the door's other side.
Thanks to my apartment's front door, I discovered the depth of my German Shepherd's attachment to me. Whenever I return from stepping out briefly -- say, to run to the supermarket or laundry room -- I find Desiree sitting at attention by the door, her big ears pointing skyward with alarm, her mouth set in a grave expression, as if she were silently willing me to return soonest.
But there are some dogs who are a bit, shall we say, more physically forceful about expressing their desire to be on the door's other side. Desiree waits strong and silent, but many dogs bark urgently as if to say, "Come home right now!" And some simply won't tolerate a door at all.
Shortly after he came home from the animal shelter, my late, great dog Sam accompanied my ex and me with our other Pit, Daisy, on a holiday in the countryside. Running out to do some errand or other, we left the two dogs uncrated in my parents' house. In our absence, Sam pawed at the kitchen door until it bore incontrovertible evidence of his anxiety at being on the wrong side of that bothersome boundary. Needless to say, my parents were not pleased with how my dog left his decorative mark on their home.
Later, when the ex and I got our own place upstate, a charming little farmhouse, Sam accidentally closed himself into one of the small upstairs rooms. This time, he applied brute force to the door, huffing and puffing and boring a hole into one of its lower panels. Then, with the handy skill of Houdini himself, he somehow jiggered the door knob and let himself out of that room.
The damage was so impressive that, after softening the sharpest of the jagged edges with sandpaper, I left the door just the way I'd found it; it looked like the centerpiece of a modern-art installation titled "Get Me Outta Here!"
In short order, Sam figured he'd apply the same technique to our kitchen door, so he could let himself out for a relaxing sunbath. When we returned to another damaged door, we were obliged to start devising a solution to dog-proof it; this ultimately involved locating a piece of scrap metal and bolting it to the inside bottom of the door. It was none too pretty, but it worked.
That's the extent of my door lore. But in some animal houses, the dog can do more than tear down the door: He can answer the door, ring the door bell, even open the door. I always know when someone is waiting for me outside, such as the UPS delivery person, because my dogs bark to alert me. But what about when the dogs want to go out? They might sit by the door and whine. Or, if they're really smart, they'll figure out some other way to communicate their desire in terms even a simple human can understand.
My late, great dog Pepper once charmingly indicated her desire to "go" out by walking into my bathroom and sitting down by the toilet, as if to say, "I need to go out and do what you regularly do over here." But what if a dog could telegraph that message with less fuss? That's the thinking behind the Pebble Smart Doggie Doorbell. Presently seeking crowdfunding on IndieGogo, this contraption is designed to let dogs alert their humans when the need to go out arises.
"Waiting patiently for the door to open is a lovely thing," says dog behavior expert and author Sarah Wilson, "but if your dog isn't long on patience -- or if he's low on housebreaking -- using a bell or, in this case, a doorbell, can ensure that you understand each other better."
What if the going out is not a matter of need but of want? Wouldn't a dog take to ringing that thing relentlessly in hopes of conditioning his human to respond, a la Pavlov? And what if a human doesn't make it to the door fast enough?
"If you don't hustle to get to the door, your avid door-scratcher is likely to start scratching again and your barker may well bark," Wilson points out. "Additionally, some dogs will start ringing the doorbell if bored, if they see a squirrel, or they just want the door opened by you again, right now. If you use potty-bells-on-the-knob arrangement, you can simply remove them for a bit. This is not so simple with the doorbell attached to the wall."
Dogs who'll do anything for a tasty treat could also damage the device, which works by luring a dog to follow his nose to the treat hidden inside. "I have a concern that a dog more oral, food-focused, and pushy than the ones shown -- such as a young Lab -- might gnaw on the bell to get the last nano-crumbs of treats off of it. The box appears to be made of brittle plastic and the batteries easily accessed, which bears keeping in mind. [Battery acid is toxic if ingested.] Lastly, it is unclear to me how much scratching and pawing it can take. Having trained dogs to ring other bells, even if rewarded for using their nose, some dogs will switch to their paw."
So, concludes Wilson, "Like many tools for behavior change, this will be helpful to some, unnecessary for others, and a hassle for a handful."
What do you say, Dogsters? Has your dog done door duty in a memorable way? And would you consider trying out a device like the Doggie Doorbell? Please sound off in the comments!