Training to help you exit a building

by Elaine Malkin

Elaine, an older white woman in jeans, a vest, and a ballcap, bends down and smiles joyfully as she pets her Sheltie service dog in front of an outdoor fountain.


We’ll look at a simple and effective way to train your service dog over several training sessions to help you exit a building. This is very useful if anxiety, panic, or just feeling overwhelmed leads you to stop what you are doing and just leave but you cannot find the exit.


A service dog team exits a glass-fronted store with automatic doors. The person is an average sized white woman with short hair and the dog is a Labrador Retriever.

Step 1

First at home, use the door you usually use to go outside with your dog.

With your dog on a leash, walk up to the door, and ask the dog to sit. Then open the door and, using the cue word/phrase of your choice, go out with your dog. Praise, use a treat, and generally act very happy with your dog. You know what kind of reward works well, so use that.

It is useful to train a behavior before putting a cue on, but you have opened this door many times and let your dog out or gone out with him, so this step has already been done.

So choose your cue—it can be “go outside”, “find the door”, or anything you will be able to remember under stress.

Repeat step 1 until you think your dog is getting the idea. Use a generous reward every time.


Elaine, an older white woman in a green "Dogs Saving Lives" polo shirt, holds her leash out with her Sheltie service dog sitting in front of her looking at her. This is in a hotel meeting room, with another person sitting on the floor happily watching.

Step 2

With your dog on a leash, walk farther from the door and say your cue, going through step 1 again. When your dog reliably heads to the door at short distances with the door in sight, start in another room of your house.


Elaine, an older white woman in jeans and a ballcap, looks into her Sheltie service dog's eyes as they descend concrete stairs outside.

Step 3

When your dog is good at taking you to the door from any room in your house, go to a building with automatic doors. Walk in a short distance, turn around, and use your cue. If the dog goes towards the door let him lead you outside. If he doesn’t offer, walk outside with him and praise.

Let him get slightly ahead of you so he gets the idea that he needs to actually lead you out. At some point after practicing this process (sometimes over many sessions), the dog will figure out what you want.

When this is solid, add distance from the door. In another training session, go to a different building and start over with going in a short distance. Then repeat the same process, getting further from the door as the dog learns the behavior you want.

After this is reliable across familiar and unfamiliar environments, use it often when you are not stressed, so it will be practiced up for when you really need it.


In a hardware store, a white woman wearing a mask bends down and pats her Sheltie, who wears a service dog vest. They stand on the side of a large platform cart with long 2 by 4 wood planks on it.