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Thought scratching was just a problem for cats? Think again! Your dog cannot retract his claws, so any time he paws at you, or an object, he is liable to scratch. Dogs paw and scratch to get attention, or at objects, such as doors they want out of their way. Unfortunately, pet owners unwittingly reinforce this behavior by responding to it, without realizing they are creating a habit. When your dog scratches the door you run to let him in, after all you don't want the paint on your door damaged. When your dog paws at you to get your attention when he is a pup, it seems pretty cute; you respond with pets and belly rubs, inadvertently setting your dog up to scratch you and other people in the future because, as it turns out, scratching works to get attention.
Even negative attention can be a reinforcement to a dog who is bored and looking for attention. He paws and scratches you and it hurts, so you respond by yelling, pushing him away, or scolding him. Even though it is negative, some attention is better than nothing to many dogs. A scratching habit is created, which can be damaging to property, your stockings, and your skin. A dog that scratches can be particularly hazardous around small children whose faces are lower to the ground, and a scratch to the face, eyes or mouth can cause serious physical and psychological damage in a child.
Teaching your dog not to scratch will not only prevent damage to life and limb, but also to property. You will want to break the habit by removing the reward and/or replacing the behavior with an alternate behavior. This may take several days, and consistency on the part of everyone in your household, to establish that scratching will not be rewarded. Teaching your dog not to scratch when they are young before the habit develops is ideal, but even a seasoned scratcher can be rehabilitated. Read on for training methods to stop your dog from scratching.
You will need to remove the reward for scratching, which means ignoring it. This will require patience and the cooperation of everyone in the family, to be consistent and successful. If you are teaching your dog an alternate behavior, treats will be helpful to reward the new behavior. You can combine training methods to both establish a new behavior and remove the reward for scratching to increase your success in abolishing this annoying and destructive behavior.
The Teach 'Shake a Paw' Method
Although this may seem counterintuitive, putting pawing on command makes it less likely to occur when not asked for. Hold your hand out in front of your dog's paw. Wait for him to raise his paw, even a little bit. If he noses your hand, or does anything else, ignore him. When he raises his paw, even slightly, provide a reward in the form of a treat.
Repeat a few times, then take a break. At subsequent training sessions, add the command 'shake' and wait for him to bring his paw closer to your hand.
Establish 'shake paw'
Eventually, your dog will know how to shake on command, this makes him aware of what he is doing in raising his paw, performing a task, and associates it and a reward with the command to shake.
Ignore if not commanded
Only reward your dog for raising his paw when you say "shake", ignore him if he performs the behavior at any other time.
Continue to establish
Your dog will learn that he only gets rewarded for putting his paw on you when you ask him to shake, and he will stop performing the behavior when he is not commanded because he does not get a reward.
The Remove the Reward Method
Have an assistant on the other side of a door. Close yourself and your dog together in the room.
Reward for not scratching
When your dog approaches the door and raises a paw, call him over to you, and reward him for responding. If he ignores your command, say "no" and move him away from the door. Repeat until your dog responds to your calling him and stops pawing at the door.
Put dog alone
Put the dog in the room by himself with the door closed.
If your dog scratches, ignore him. Wait until he stops scratching for at least 30 seconds.
Respond to no scratching
Once your dog stops scratching, open the door and reward with a treat and praise. Repeat. Your dog will learn to associate scratching with increased time before the door is opened and not scratching results in the door opening.
The Extinguish Method
Get everyone on board
Make sure during the training period that all people your dog has access to are on board, and that no one will reward scratching behavior with attention.
Wait for your dog to put his paw on you. When your dog scratches at you freeze, do not make eye contact, or turn your back and walk away.
Continue this every time your dog puts his paw on you to get your attention.
Reinforce non scratching
Randomly go up to your dog when he is not pawing or scratching you, and offer treats, praise, pets, and play.
Eventually, your dog will associate not pawing with receiving attention, and pawing with being ignored, or even deserted, and cease using scratching as way to get a reward.
By Laurie Haggart
Published: 11/13/2017, edited: 01/08/2021