Training

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2 min read

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How to Train Your Dog to Not Scratch

Training

|

2 min read

|

1

Comments

How to Train Your Dog to Not Scratch
Easy difficulty iconEasy
Time icon2-5 Days
Behavior training category iconBehavior

Introduction

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.

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Defining Tasks

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.

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Getting Started

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.

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The Teach 'Shake a Paw' Method

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Reward 'paw'

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.

2

Add command

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.

3

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.

4

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.

5

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

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Set up

Have an assistant on the other side of a door. Close yourself and your dog together in the room.

2

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.

3

Put dog alone

Put the dog in the room by himself with the door closed.

4

Ignore scatching

If your dog scratches, ignore him. Wait until he stops scratching for at least 30 seconds.

5

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

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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.

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Ignore

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.

3

Establish ignore

Continue this every time your dog puts his paw on you to get your attention.

4

Reinforce non scratching

Randomly go up to your dog when he is not pawing or scratching you, and offer treats, praise, pets, and play.

5

Create association

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

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Murphy

Dog breed icon

Havanese

Dog age icon

Six Years

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Question

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Stop scratching to get out of crate.

Aug. 27, 2023

Murphy's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello, First, during the day practice a modified version of the Surprise method from the article I have linked below. Whenever pup stays doesn't scratch the crate for a few seconds (in substitution for the barking the article mentions), sprinkle some treats into the crate without opening it, then leave the room again. As he improves, extend the time between treat rewards, waiting until he refrains from scratching the crate for that long before rewarding - only giving the treats every 1 minute, then 2 minutes, then 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, then 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes, 1 hour, 1.5 hour, 2, hour, 3 hour. Practice crating him during the day for 1-3 hours each day that you can. If you are home during the day, have lots of 30 minute - 1 hour long sessions with breaks between to practice this, to help pup learn sooner. Whenever he scratches in the crate, tell him "Ah Ah" or "Leave It". If he stops scratching - Great! Sprinkle treats in after five minutes if he doesn't scratch again. If he continues scratching or stops and starts again, spray a quick puff of air from a pet convincer at his side through the crate while calmly saying "Ah Ah", then leave again. Only use unscented air canisters, DON'T use citronella! And avoid spraying in the face. Surprise method: https://wagwalking.com/training/like-a-crate Repeat the rewards when calm and the corrections whenever he scratches. Once pup is doing well with you in the house in another room, use a camera to spy on pup from outside. Start going outside where pup can't see or hear you. When pup scratches, return to quietly correct then go back outside again. When pup gets quiet and stays quiet, initially for a couple of minutes, gradually working up to longer periods, then return to sprinkle in treats then leave again. After 30 minutes of practice, gradually working up to three hours, return when pup is quiet, ignore pup in the crate for 10 minutes until they are waiting calmly while go about your business in the home (correct if pup gets persistent scratching and isn't settling down on their own). When pup is being patient and calm in the crate, let pup out calmly. If pup tries to rush the door, close it again, making pup wait. Practice this until pup is waiting inside with the crate door open. At that point, happily tell pup "Okay" and let them come out calmly. You want to set that expectation of staying calm as they exit, so they don't get into the habit of getting anxious and excited in anticipation of being let out. As pup improves when you are outside, work that time up until you have worked up to you being outside for three hours and pup staying quiet the whole time. At that point, you can give pup a dog food stuffed chew toy in the crate. They will probably enjoy it once they are calm enough to focus on that for entertainment. The dog food stuffed durable chew toy will be very important for helping the new calm habit continue long term, and pup not revert to scratching again. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Sept. 14, 2023


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