After a long and hectic day at work, you finally get to settle down on the couch with a hot drink and an episode or two of Judge Judy, but as soon as you get comfy you hear that unmistakable sound. Yep, you’ve forgotten your dog has an unbearable habit of scratching at your once clean and new-looking doors. While you could forgive him the first few times as he only wants to come and join you, now your patience is wearing thin, much like your doors.
You know the raised eyebrows the in-laws are going to give you when they step into your home and see that you and your partner live in a house where the dog rules. If the damage itself wasn’t bad enough, the sound isn’t the least bit comforting and the collection of paint under your dog’s nails and the dangers of splinters run high too. Enough is enough, you want to paint the doors for the final time this year.
The good news is training him to leave your doors alone is relatively straightforward. You will need to use obedience commands to discourage and to incentivize him to focus his energy elsewhere. You may also need to use a number of deterrents to help highlight that doors aren’t for scratching. This training will require patience, but if your dog is a puppy he should be receptive and respond quickly. If he is older and the habit is more ingrained, he may need several weeks to fully kick the habit.
Mastering this training will be essential not just for the health of your doors, but also for the health of your dog’s paws and for your sanity. You don’t want a hefty vet bill because he has picked up another splinter, or guests thinking your doors have been through a world war.
Before you begin your training campaign you will need to collect a few items. You will need treats or his favorite food to incentivize and reward him.
You will also need a quiet room, free from distractions but with a well-fitted door! For one of the methods below you may want to invest in food puzzles to help direct his attention elsewhere. If the scratching is a result of separation anxiety, you may want to consider pheromone dispensers to help soothe and relax him while you’re away.
Once you have stocked up on the above, just bring a can-do attitude and patience and you’re ready to get training!
My dog keeps scratching the door, and I don't see any method that includes positive reinforcement. Could you tell me another way?
Hello Kien, Most methods for this behavior include corrections, but if you are willing to be a bit creative, you can reward a good behavior - that when he does that good behavior he can't do the bad one at the same time - laying down is a good example of this. A dog cannot easily lay down and scratch a door at the same time. For door scratching, he is likely doing it to get your attention, so you need to reward him without giving him any attention while he scratches. If you have a fenced in yard with a door into the house and a window next to the door, that is a good spot to practice this,. You can also set up a camera to spy on him and slip a treat under the door (where he can't see you) when he lays down and is not scratching. Doing that is going to teach him to lay by doors though - just not to scratch on them while he does it. To practice the training at an outside door in a fence, crack open the window that leads outside enough for you to toss a treat through it. Pull the blinds down so that he can't see you through the window. Recruit an assistant to stand at the window inside and you go outside with Lucky. Tell Lucky to "Down" (if he doesn't know "Down" spend time teaching him that first). When he lays down, praise him and have your assistant toss a treat to him through the window - you want him to think that the treats come from the window and not you so that he will do this when you are not there. Practice this with your assistant for several days until he lays down by the door every time without being told to. When he will do that, at your next session, put Lucky outside and you stand by the window inside. He will likely scratch or bark at first - ignore it. Wait for him to lay down. When he lays down, reward him by tossing treats to him through the cracked window. If he never lays down, then you need to practice being outside with him and having an assistant for longer, and try the training by yourself again in a few days. For inside, under a door, recruit an assistant also. Go into the room with Lucky and tell him to "Down". When he lays down, have your assistant slip him a treat under the door - She can tell when to slip him a treat by listening to you praising him when he lays down or hearing his body hit the floor if he lays down hard. Practice the training until he will automatically lay down at the door every time, without you telling him to first. When he can do that, then set up a camera in the room where he is to spy on him (Skype or Facetime on mute from two phones or tablets work for a camera. A GoPro with the Live App, a video baby monitor, or a security camera will also work - other types of cameras work too but many people already have one of those options on hand). Leave him in the room by himself now, and quietly spy on him from the camera on the other side of the door. Ignore any scratching or barking. When he lays down and is not scratching on the door or barking, slip a treat to him under the door. Practice this until he consistently lays down by the door when you leave him alone, or until he leaves the door and goes somewhere else to lay down. Once he has learned to always lay by the door quietly without scratching, then when you leave him in a room alone, give him something rewarding to focus on so that he does not revert to scratching on the door again. A Kong toy stuffed with food, a Kong wobble toy that will throw pieces of his dog food out when he bumps it, a durable puzzle toy will with some of his dog food, or an automatic treat dispensing device like one of the ones I will talk about below - Pet Tutor or AutoTrainer. To avoid him laying down by the door or needing two people to train him, you can also purchase an automatic treat dispensing device and tell it from an App on your phone to give him a treat whenever you want it to. You can set this device up in another spot in the room instead of by the door, so that he will not learn to lay the door. To teach him with this device, you would start out in the room with him. You would tell him to "Down", then push the button on the app for the device to release a treat for him when he lays down - so that he thinks the device is rewarding him even when you are not there later. When he begins to automatically lay down near the device in hopes of a treat, then leave the room and watch him with the camera. Have the device give him a treat whenever he lays down quietly. You can also program the device to detect when he is being calm, such as not barking or staying in one spot for a while - hopefully laying down. Continuing to give him treats to reward him for being calm while he is alone will help him learn a long-term habit of generally settling down also. This device is probably the most effective option out of the positive reinforcement training options I mentioned, but the first two ways to train this are free (minus some treats) and automatic treat dispensing device can be expensive - although you can use it for other things too. AutoTrainer and Pet Tutor are two automatic treat dispensing devices on the market. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
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She is scratching the doggie door while we are gone and ripping it trying to get in. How can I stop her if I am gone? Are there preventative measures that won't deter her from using the door as she should?
Hello Savanah, Since you do not want to deter her from coming near the door, I suggest attaching something to the surface of the door that doesn't feel good to touch - such as sand paper, bubble wrap, something crinkly or any other odd texture that would feel uncomfortable against her paw. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
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