Barnum Shuts Bedroom Door (Video)

Barnum has known how to shut my bathroom door for a couple of months, and he’s very reliable with it. I have started to fade the rewards. He also is learning how to shut the office door, the hall bathroom door, and the hall closet doors.

The most important doors, however, are my bedroom door, and the door to the outside. I’m waiting to work the outside door with him because (A) it’s a very heavy door that will require using his paws, and I want him to have a firmly established skill of shutting lighter-weight doors with his nose, first, and (B) it’s a bit of a Pandora’s box.

The bedroom door is harder than most of the other doors because usually my power chair is crowding it from the front. Plus, it’s often slightly wedged open by my nightstand, making it difficult to get snout leverage behind it. Thus, this skill requires some deft maneuvering for a big dog.

However, he has mostly learned the skill of shutting my bedroom door for me when I’m in bed. Once this is established, it will be half of one of my most important service dog tasks. (The other half is opening my bedroom door.) Gadget used to do these for me all the time.

In the 18-second video below, the skill appears complete, but it is not actually finished. Barnum knows how to shut the door when the door is not open all the way. However, if it is, he sometimes has trouble figuring out how to get his nose behind the door, with my bedside table in the way. I’m still shaping him to problem-solve that by either pulling on the door tug or nudging the door against the wall so it bounces toward him. (Guess which one he prefers?)

He knows the cue about 70 percent, but if he would rather be playing with a toy or watching squirrels out the windows or leaving the room instead of shutting us in it, he takes some convincing that it’s really worth his efforts to shut the door, collect his treat, and then go back to his toy or squirrel watching. That is sort of a separate issue, though.

I need to Premack the squirrel-watching and chewy-bone playing so that that doesn’t get in our way anymore. In other words, his reward for stopping watching squirrels or playing with a bone to look at me is to get to go back to watching squirrels or playing with his bone. Once that’s established, he will be more eager to interrupt those activities to do a job.

Finally, of course, I’ll have to fade the clicks and treats. In other words, we have a long way to go.

Yet, he has, on occasion, actually performed this skill so that it was helpful to me! Huzzah, huzzah. That’s what it’s all about!

This video is captioned. The timing of the captioning of the click is off, though. I actually click five seconds later, right when the door shuts, and just before I say, “Good boy!”

Transcript of the video is below my signature line. Enjoy!

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (Oh puh-leeze, I did that all the time), and Barnum, strong-snouted SDiT

Transcription of Video:

View of Sharon’s open bedroom door, edge of the bed, and powerchair sitting next to bed. Sharon is not visible, except occasionally her hands, when she is signaling to Barnum.

SHARON:  I’m in bed. I’m going to ask Barnum to shut the door for me, which is an extremely useful skill once it’s established.

SHARON: Barnum, release!

Barnum, a black bouvier des Flandres with a short working clip and natural ears, bounces into view from behind the chair and looks toward the camera.

SHARON: Good boy. Shut the door! [Sharon signs “There, shut door.”]

Barnum lowers his head, goes around behind the door and nudges in an up-and-outward motion with his nose, causing the door to swing most of the way shut. He continues with this momentum and nose-nudges the door again, and it latches shut.


SHARON: Good dog!

Sharon reaches for a treat. Barnum stands, facing the bed, expectantly.



5 Responses to “Barnum Shuts Bedroom Door (Video)”

  1. 1 Courtenay July 5, 2011 at 2:24 am

    Oh this is wonderful 🙂 Made my night!

  2. 2 brilliantmindbrokenbody July 5, 2011 at 9:57 pm


    I’ve been meaning to ask your advice on a skill I’m training Hudson on. What I want him to do is go to the kitchen, open the fridge, get a bottle of water or gatorade, close the fridge, and come back. I’ve managed to train the first two as a chain, and we’re working on grabbing the bottle out of the fridge, but the hard part is closing the fridge. The fridge swings far enough open that there isn’t space behind it for him to go, and it’s swinging into his not-terribly-stable waterbowl holder, so he can’t bounce the fridge door off of it. He knows how to do an up, a touch, or a push to close the fridge door once it’s partially closed, but I don’t know how to set him up so he can get the door TO partially closed. Any ideas?


  3. 3 Sharon Wachsler July 5, 2011 at 10:59 pm

    I would back-chain it. This is one of those things I did with Gadget (getting water from fridge) that I did not back-chain, and I wish I had. I taught Gadget to bring me the water and then go back and shut the fridge. Most people teach them to shut it with the bottle in their mouth; for some reason I didn’t think of that.

    So you’d have Hudson learn to close the fridge first, since that’s the part you’re having the most trouble with. There’s a DVD called Take a Bow-Wow/Take a Bow-Wow 2 that shows how to clicker train this skill, but it assumes your dog can go around behind to shut the door with the bottle or can in his mouth.

    So, what I would probably do is attach a pull cord to the door handle or a suction-cup handle to the edge, teach him to use one of those to pull the door toward him and then shut it the rest of the way with a nose nudge.

    You could then either teach him to take out the drink and bring it to you, or take it out and set it on the floor or on a target (probably easiest to teach him to put it on a target on the floor). Then you chain those: put drink on target, shut fridge.

    Then you teach pulling the drink out of the open fridge and back chain that to putting it on the target and shutting the door. Then teach opening the fridge, and put together the chain. Wahla!

    In another 6 or 7 years I’m sure Barnum will know how to do that, too. (I’m in a VERY bad mood today.)

  4. 4 Sharon Wachsler July 5, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    Oh, and then you add distance, moving further and further away. In case it’s not clear, back-chaining is what it sounds like: YOu teach the last part of the behavior (the last link in the chain) first, then the next-to-last, etc.

  5. 5 brilliantmindbrokenbody July 8, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    It was the specific task of getting the fridge closed that we were having trouble with. Attaching a suction cup-tug to the side sounds like it should work. I read it and went ‘oh DUH!’ I knew I needed to give him something to pull on, but I was worried that if I attached it to the inside of the fridge door that he’d hit himself with the door and scare himself and set back anything to do with the fridge door.

    Luckily, as it happens, I have a giant suction cup we never use. We were given it for opening doors, but getting the suction cup on and off is harder for me than giving up and opening the door myself!

    I actually was going through things in a forward direction mostly because, um, it gave me time to think about how to get him to close the door! Hopefully the suction cup I have is a good size to stick to the door, and then I can tie some cotton rope to it, and we should be good to go. Thanks!


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