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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I have recently taking in this Shar Pei and when I leave her she is scratching my door frame quite badly, barks at everything that walks past the window. I rehomed her as her owners said she never barks, never chews, she just eats and sleeps. I've had the complete opposite. I understand it's probably an anxiety issue however I'm living in fear that she will trash my house every time I leave. Are there any techniques that I can teach her? I can't catch her in the act to train her not to do it as she only does it when we are out. If this carries on I'll have to move her to another home
Hello Amanda, She needs to be crate trained to teach her how to settle in her new location. Crate training her and giving her a wonderful food stuffed chew toy can condition her to settle down while you are gone. When she has developed a long term habit of staying calm when you leave and chewing on her own toys in the crate, then you can try transitioning her out of the crate if you wish, by leaving her for fifteen minutes at a time and seeing how she does. If she does well, then you can increase that time to thirty minutes, then 45, then 1 hour, ect... If she doesn't do well, then she is not ready for the freedom yet. She needs to be crated for probably several months to create a long-term calm habit. Some dogs need less and are just transitioning, but if it's not simply transitioning, then I suggest crating for a few months before easing into more freedom. You can also set up a camera and use a remote training collar such as Mini Educator to deal with specific behavior issues, as well as provide her with something else to focus on, such as an Auto Trainer or Pet Tutor, but she honestly sounds like she needs to be given the structure and confinement of the crate with a food stuffed chew toy, to help her practice self-soothing, self-entertainment, and learn how to rest while alone, before she is ready to transition to more freedom. To introduce the crate follow the Surprise method from the article linked below; https://wagwalking.com/training/like-a-crate https://www.solidk9training.com/sk9-blog/2013/02/21/separation-anxiety-im-not-seeing-it-at-my-place Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
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My dog has been scratching on the door and we just moved so they are all new doors any ideas of what I could do? P.S. my dog has separational anxity I know it is that I just don't know what to do.
Hello Adonica, Is the scratching only happening while you are away? If the scratching is happening only when you leave the house, then the separation anxiety needs to be addressed, which will involve crating him for a while. There are a couple of routes you can take with the separation anxiety. The first step is to work on building his independence and his confidence by adding a lot of structure and predictability into his routine. Things such as making him work for rewards like meals, walks, and pets. Working on "Stay" and "Place," commands while you move away or leave the room, and teaching him to remain inside a crate when the door is open. Change your routine surrounding leaving so that he does not anticipate alone time and build up his anxiety before you leave - which is hard for him to deescalate from, and be sure to give him something to do in the crate during the day (such as a food stuffed Kong to chew on); this is the general protocol for separation anxiety. It is gentle but can take a very long time for some dogs. Another protocol involves teaching the dog to cope with their own anxiety by making their current anxious go-to behaviors unpleasant, giving them an opportunity to stop those behaviors long enough to learn something new, then rewarding the correct, calmer behavior instead. This protocol can feel harsh because it involves careful correction, but it tends to work much quicker for many dogs. If you go this route, I suggest hiring a trainer who is very experienced using both positive reinforcement and fair correction. Who is extremely knowledgeable about e-collar training, and can follow the protocol listed below, to help you implement the training. Building his independence and structure in his life will still be an important part of this protocol too. First, check out this video from SolidK9Training on treating anxiety. It will give a brief over-view of treating separation anxiety more firmly. This trainer can be a bit abrupt with his teaching style with people but is very experienced working with highly aggressive, anxious, and reactive dogs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5GqzeLzysk Make sure you are implementing what he teaches there in other areas of his life too. Second, purchase a remote electronic collar, e-collar, with a wide range of levels. I recommend purchasing E-Collar Technologies Mini Educator for this. If you are not comfortable with an e-collar then you can use a vibration collar (the Mini Educator is also a vibration mode) or unscented air remote controlled air spray collar. DO NOT use a citronella collar, buy the additional unscented air canister if the collar comes with the citronella and make sure that you use the unscented air. (Citronella collars are actually very harsh). The vibration or spray collars are less likely to work though, so you may end up spending more money by not purchasing an e-collar first. The Mini Educator has very low levels of stimulation, that can be tailored specifically to your dog. It also has vibration and beep tones that you can try using first, without having to buy additional tools. Next, set up a camera to spy on him. If you have two smart devices, like tablets or smartphones, you can Skype or Facetime them to one another with your pup’s end on mute, so that you can see and hear him but he will not hear you. Video baby monitors, video security monitors with portable ways to view the video, GoPros with the phone Live App, or any other camera that will record and transmit the video to something portable that you can watch outside live will work. Next, put the e-collar on him while he is outside of the crate, standing, and relaxed. To learn how to put the collar on him, check out this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLxB6gYsliI Turn it to it's lowest level and push the stimulation button twice. See if he responds to the collar at all. Look for subtle signs such as turning his head, moving his ears, biting his fur, moving away from where he was, or changing his expression. If he does not respond at all, then go up one level on the collar and when he is standing and relaxed, push the stimulation button again twice. Look for a reaction again. Repeat going up one level at a time and then testing his reaction at that level until he indicates a little bit that he can feel the collar. Here is a video showing how to do this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cl3V8vYobM Once you have found the right stimulation level for him and have it correctly fitted on him, have him wear the collar around with it turned off or not being stimulated for several hours. Next, set up your camera to spy on him while he is in the crate. Put him into the crate while he is wearing the collar and leave the room. Spy on him from outside. Leave however you normally would. As soon as you hear him barking or see him start to try to escape or destroy the crate from the camera, push the stimulation button once. Every time he barks or tries to get out of the crate, stimulate him again. If he does not decrease his barking or escape attempts at least a little bit after being stimulated seven times in a row, then increase the stimulation level by one level. He may not feel the stimulation while excited so might need it just slightly higher. Do not go higher than three more levels on the mini-educator or one level on another collar with less levels right now though because he has not learned what he is supposed to be doing yet. The level you end up using on him on the mini educator collar should be low to medium, within the first forty levels of the one-hundred to one-hundred-and-twenty-five levels, depending on the model you purchase. If it is not, then have a professional evaluate whether you have the correct "working level" for her. If he continues to ignore the collar, then go up one more stimulation level and if that does not work, make sure that the collar is turned on, fitted correctly, and working. After five minutes to ten minutes, as soon as your dog stays quiet and is not trying to escape for five seconds straight, go back inside to the dog. Do not speak to him or pay attention to him for ten minutes while you walk around inside. When he is being calm, then you can let him out of the crate. When you let him out, do it the way Jeff does is in this video below. Opening and closing the door until your dog is not rushing out. You want him to be calm when he comes out of the crate and to stay calm when you get home. That is why you need to ignore him when you get home right away. Also, keep your good byes extremely boring and calm. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5GqzeLzysk Continue to put a food stuffed Kong into the crate with him. Once he is less anxious he will likely enjoy it and that will help him to enjoy the crate more. First, he needs her anxious state of mind interrupted so that he is open to learning other ways to behave. Once it's interrupted, give him a food stuffed Kong in the crate for him to relieve his boredom instead, since he will need something other than barking to do at that point. When the anxiety is dealt with and he has learned how to be calm when you leave instead of destructive, then you can try giving more freedom from the crate in a few months if you wish and if he has shown signs of being ready. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
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My dog keeps waking up at 5/6 am in the morning and start scratching the door and barking untill someone gives him food and lets him into the garden for a while. As you can imagine it’s very anoying to wake up at such hours everyday. Especcially on the weekends! We have two dogs. Woody & Tidor. Both Shih Tzu’s. Tidor just lies by the door while Woody is going mental. When trying to get them to quiet down without giving them food or anything, he just starts right up with scratching the door again. Do you have any advice for this particular problem? Many thanks!
Hello Maeve, First, understand that every time you feed him after he scratches you have rewarded him for scratching and increased that behavior - I can certainly sympathize with feeding at 5 am just to get him to quiet down though, but that's part of why he is doing it still. At 11 years old the waking may have started because his bladder capacity is decreasing due to age, then once up he figured it was time to eat also. If that is the case he will continue to wake up indefinitely to pee because he physically won't be able to do better. You need to first determine if this is what's happening. Has his bladder capacity decreased some at other times too? Many people teach their older pups to do potty on an indoor potty at night when night wakings start happening due to age. Since he is trained to go potty outside, I suggest limiting any indoor pottying to an exercise pen with a disposable real-grass pad inside, set up in an area where he normally won't spend time unless it's time to sleep or you have to be gone for several hours - so that he only learns to pee in that one spot and not in the house in general. Do NOT use pee pads if he is currently trained to go potty outside - they can lead to accidents on the carpet and rugs and general confusion because they don't resemble outside but fabric things found in your home. Exercise Pen method for potty training inside - don't phase out the exercise pen in your case, set it up somewhere were he doesn't normally hang out the rest of the day so he won't learn to potty in the house in general, and use real grass pads instead of pee pads or a litter box - this method mentions a litter box which isn't a bad thing to use, but you can use grass pads instead for more effective training since grass is familiar to him already. This method mentions puppies but older dogs can learn it too: https://wagwalking.com/training/litter-box-train-a-chihuahua-puppy Real grass pad - not astorturf - most of these can also be bought on Amazon: www.freshpatch.com www.doggielawn.com www.porchpotty.com Deal with the potty issue first - making sure he can get to the potty when he needs to in early mornings by either having him sleep in an exercise pen with a real grass pad on the opposite end, or by taking him potty on a leash when he wakes, but not letting him play or eat at that time and making him go right back to bed afterwards, so that he doesn't learn to wake at that time for any reason other than actually needing to go potty. If you don't feed him or let him play but make him go back to bed, then if he is waking for reasons other than actually needing to pee he should start sleeping in again. When you take him potty, then return him to bed. Correct any scratching or barking using a pet convincer - which is a small canister of pressurized air. When he scratches at the door or barks, tell him "Ah Ah" while at the same time quickly spraying a small puff of unscented air at his side (not face), and then leaving again. Try to get your timing as close to his barking or scratching as possible. Repeat the corrections every time he barks or scratches. You are removing the reward for waking and scratching - the food and play, and making scratching unpleasant so it's not worth doing anymore. You can also put him in a crate if you are confident he doesn't need to go potty, and correct barking through the crate wires the same way (avoid his face). He will be more likely to settle down in a crate and go back to sleep and he won't be able to scratch at your door - I understand if you are hesitant to crate train this late if he has never been trained though. He can certainly learn it still but that's up to you. When using a Pet Convincer do NOT buy citronella spray - you want unscented air. The citronella is far too harsh and can be confusing because the smell lingers. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
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She scratches at the door like she wants to come in, then she just stands there and looks at me while I tell her to come in and she doesn’t come in. Then I close the door cause she is not going to come in, and no sooner I coalesce the door she scratches to come in. Goes on for 3 or 4 times then I just ignore her for as long as I can.
Hello Carl, If you would like for her to signal to come in be scratching at the door - but her only do it when she wants to come in, I suggest making her come in every time she scratches at the door, whether she actually wants to come in or not. To do this, while you are home to supervise through the window, keep a drag leash on her. When she scratches at the door, calmly grab the end of her leash, say "Inside", and lead her inside. Don't make it optional. If she wants to come in, she will associate the scratching with coming inside. If she doesn't want to come inside, then having to come inside is a consequence for scratching at the door. Once she is inside, ignore her for several minutes, since the scratching appears to be attention seeking or her trying to get you to come outside with her. If you don't want her scratching at the door, I suggest purchasing a pet convincer. Practice two things. Practice having her on a long leash while in the yard. Tell her "Inside" after a while, and if she comes in willingly, give a treat. If she doesn't come inside willingly, reel her in with the long leash - to teach her to come in when you tell her to. When she scratches at the door, open the door, tell her "Ah Ah" calmly, and spray a small puff of air at her chest or side (NOT face), then close the door again. A Pet Convincer is a small canister of pressurized air. Only use the unscented, normal air ones. DON'T use the citronella. If she has any history of aggression, then I recommend using a correction that is more remote, so that you can correct without being close to her. The correction should be mild and very calm, then close the door again after so that you are not giving any extra attention. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
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