Should I let my dog through the door first, or should I go through doors before my dog? This may sound like a big dilemma for many new puppy and dog owners. 

Here's the thing: in the past letting dog go through doors first was something that was heavily frowned upon because it made humans appears as if inferior, risking dogs to take over and become the "alphas" of the household. 

Is my dog trying to dominate by going out the door first? No. Nowadays, as we learn more about dogs through newer research, we know better. 

Whether you should let your dog through the door first therefore boils down to personal preference, but there are some safety components to consider. 

The So-Called "Pack Rules"

In the past, you may have heard the rule to never let your dog through a door first, along with other rules such as "never let the dog eat before you, never let your dog walk ahead of you or never let a dog go through a hallway before you."

All of these so-called "pack rules" were rules stemming from the the fact that, back in time, dogs were believed to form packs with their humans and that they were always vying for achieving the top status over them. 

These outdated beliefs originated from old studies based on captive wolves conducted by Robert Shenkel in 1947.

A Look at Robert Shenkel's Studies 

Back in 1947, Robert Shenkel observed a pack of unrelated wolves in captivity at the Zoological Institute of the university of Basel in Switzerland and his observations deduced that packs of wolves were led by an authoritarian lead figure that was called "the alpha wolf."

In his studies, Shenkel describes "violent rivalries" for a status order to be established and therefore competition for higher rank in the hierarchy.

Further studies on wolf behavior in captivity were conducted and the researchers confirmed Shenkel's findings, that indeed, wolves go through violent social struggles to gain "dominance" and that the winner of such social struggles is the "alpha wolf," which ultimately keeps all other subordinate wolves in check.

Based on these studies, therefore dogs were believed to also form packs with their human owners along with a deep ingrained desire to raise their status over them. 

The concept that dogs were always vying for the alpha status has therefore led to an insurgence of pack rules meant to ensure dogs knew their "place in the human pack."

 This because, back in time, dog behavior was believed to be closely related to wolf behavior, while nowadays we know better courtesy of newer research. 

A Look at David Mech's Studies 

More extensive research on wolves were conducted by American biologist and wolf behavior expert, David Mech. Instead of studying wolves in captivity, David Mech decided to study wolves in a natural setting.

Mech spent 13 summers observing the interactions of wild wolves on Ellesmere Island, in North-West Canada. Mech's observations brought a whole different picture to the table.

Unlike Shenkel's observations, David Mech's studies revealed that the leadership role was not carried out by a single authoritarian "alpha wolf" but rather by an "alpha pair" comprising a male and a female wolf.

Most importantly, the alpha pair's role simply encompassed the role of being parents, and the whole pack was simply a family.

David's Mech revolutionary studies therefore paved the path to kinder training approaches since the social structure of wolves no longer reflected a single authoritarian figure vying for the alpha role, but rather closely resembled a family structure with the alpha pair providing guidance and care to their offspring.

In a sort of way, this shifted to the idea that humans are ultimately more like parents to their dogs, providing them with gentle guidance and care. This has paved the path to a less adversarial relationship between humans and dogs. 

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“The idea of possessing the dominant position in any relationship or hierarchy has inappropriately been applied to dog training, based on faulty research of wolf behavior. That idea has now been disproved by research on free-ranging wolves, and with that in mind, certainly does not apply to dogs." ~Decoding Your Dog: The Ultimate Experts Explain Common Dog Behaviors and Reveal How to Prevent or Change Unwanted One

American biologist and wolf behavior expert, David Mech, decided to study wolves in a natural setting.

American biologist and wolf behavior expert, David Mech, decided to study wolves in a natural setting.

Dogs Are Not Wolves Just as Humans Are Not Chimps!

Despite dogs and wolves sharing the same number of chromosomes (78 arranged in 39 pairs) and therefore 99.96 percent of their genes; this 0.04 percent difference is enough to set wolves and dogs distinctly apart.

Turns out, wolves and dogs are not only different from a physical standpoint but a behavioral one as well, not to mention differences in the ways they develop, form social bonds and reproduce. 

Intrigued? Read more about this here: 30 differences between wolves and dogs. 

If It Isn't Dominance, Then Why Does My Dog Insist in Exiting the Door First?

Many dogs are attracted to doors because they unleash an entertaining world behind them. Dogs love to sniff, they love to explore and go on walks. 

Doors are also associated with dog owners leaving the home with or without them. Dogs therefore pay extra attention to when their owners go near the door because it can mean they are ready to leave the house. 

This can be a good thing or a bad thing. If the owner is leaving without the dog, the dog may feel antsy and even rather anxious about being left alone. If the owner is bringing the dog along, then the dog may feel ecstatic about going on a walk or car ride. 

The doorway is therefore a "hot spot" of activity causing a variety of strong emotions. Dogs may rush through doors in their eagerness to explore or being taken out or out of the fear of being left alone. 

An eagerness to pay attention to doors is proof that a dog is smart and has learned to associate the door with a variety of emotions. 

The greatest fear dogs know is the fear that you will not come back when you go out the door without them.” ~Stanley Coren

Should I Let My Dog Go Through the Door First?

The answer is no, but for valid reasons, and no, these have nothing to do with "showing your dog who is the boss." The main reason why you should go out of the door first is for safety reasons. 

By opening the door and checking things out first, you are preventing putting your dog into sticky situations such as letting your dog out and being exposed to other dogs walking nearby, a stray cat walking by or some possible dangers such as traffic.

 Countless dogs are injured and killed each year from bolting out of opened doors. Don't let this happen to your dog. This can be easily prevented with some training. 

On top of this, having a dog trained to get out of the door only once you are out will help you on those days you are carrying heavy grocery bags or some other bulky items. 

Training your dog to hold a sit/stay in front of an open door and releasing him after you are out is also a great exercise for impulse control training.

 Your dog learns to be patient and polite in face of distracting situations. Here are 10 exercises for training impulse control in dogs. 

Two 8-week-old puppies learning to sit when I touch the door knob. 

Two 8-week-old puppies learning to sit when I touch the door knob. 

How to Train Your Dog to Not Bolt Out an Open Door 

To train your dog to not bolt out an open door, you will need a dog trained to sit and  hold a rock solid stay. If your dog isn't that great in holding a stay, keep him leashed for safety. 

Ask your dog to sit in front of the closed door and open the door slowly. If they scooch or stand up, close the door. You want to teach your dog that you only open the door when your dog is sitting nicely.

Once your dog is sitting nicely and holding a composed sit/stay, exit first. Release your dog when safe to do so and reward with a tasty treat once your dog has joined you outside. 

Tip: touch the door knob a split second before you ask your dog to sit. Do this several times. Then after several trials, omit asking the sit and see if your dog will sit upon you just touching the door knob. 

With several reps, your dog should learn to sit when you touch the doorknob and stay seated until you open the door and invite him to join you outside! 

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