How to Train Your Dog to Not Scratch the Door

How to Train Your Dog to Not Scratch the Door
Easy difficulty iconEasy
Time icon1-3 Weeks
General training category iconGeneral

Introduction

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.

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Defining Tasks

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.

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Getting Started

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!

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The Firm Correction Method

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Firm Correction method for How to Train Your Dog to Not Scratch the Door
1

Shut him in a room

Stand outside the door and keep an ear out for him about to scratch at the door.

2

Catch him in the act

As soon as he starts scratching, open the door quickly. Be sure to look directly in his eyes and be ready to assert yourself as the pack leader.

3

Correct

Firmly say ‘NO’ as soon as you open the door. You don’t want to terrify him so don’t shout at the top of your voice, but you do want to get your disapproval across so ensure he gets the message loud and clear.

4

Wait several seconds

Let him calm down and look up at you with an apologetic face. You need to hold your stare and disapproving body stance until he has totally given up scratching and is only concerned with gaining back your affection.

5

Offer an opportunity

Now have him ‘sit’ or go ‘down’ and reward him with a treat. This positive reinforcement afterward is important to highlight the difference between your reaction to positive vs. negative behavior.

6

Practice

Be persistent and practice this training for 10 minutes each day for 2 weeks. He will slowly scratch doors in the house less and less. As the scratching decreases, reduce the frequency of treats until he no longer relies on the food incentive to perform the positive behavior after scratching.

The Manage Excitement Method

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Manage Excitement method for How to Train Your Dog to Not Scratch the Door
1

Keep your cool

Don’t be excessively affectionate when you leave. It may be challenging, but you could well be sending him the wrong message. The more affectionate you are when you leave, the more distressed and anguished he may be when you are out.

2

Train him to be alone

Again this may seem difficult, but if he is happy on his own then he may not feel the need to vent when you leave. Doing this means ignoring him sometimes when he demands attention.

3

Leave him distractions

If he has a food puzzle or toy to play with when you're out the house, he will have something to soak up the time and a game to focus his energy on. It may seem like a simple distraction but it could make those hours alone much more bearable for him.

4

Stay cool

If he is overly excited when you come home it’s important you don’t react in the same way. You will be sending them a message that you can’t be without each other and you’ll be justifying his separation anxiety. Instead, wait several minutes for him to calm down and then give him a cuddle.

5

Don’t take him out for a walk immediately

For the same reason as above, wait for him to calm down for a few minutes before you walk him. By doing all of the above steps you are educating him that anxious behavior achieves nothing.

6

Follow through

After a number of weeks, he will slowly cut down his anxious behavior when you’re home and most importantly, when you leave!

The Distract and Deter Method

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Distract and Deter method for How to Train Your Dog to Not Scratch the Door
1

Head out for a serious walk

Some dogs scratch at doors out of pure boredom when they are brimming with energy. By simply exercising him more, you may tire him out and soon he won’t have the energy to lay waste to your doors.

2

Make more of your walks

If you can't walk him anymore, throw a tennis ball for him on walks; constant short sprinting will seriously increase the work out for him.

3

Consider dog flaps

Some dogs only scratch because they simply want to be in the room with you, or perhaps because he wants access to a room while you are out. Dog flaps can be bought with ease online and from local pet stores. They’re relatively straightforward to fit and they will remove the scratching temptation entirely.

4

Play music quietly or leave the radio on

Many dogs suffer with separation anxiety when you aren’t around and express that by scratching. Simply leaving the radio on or music quietly may help make him feel less alone and more comfortable.

5

Invest in pheromone dispensers

This is a 21st-century response to an age-old problem. Pheromone dispensers regularly emit pheromones to help soothe and calm your dog when you are out. If he scratches because he suffers with separation anxiety then this may stop the problem in its tracks.

6

Consider a remote citronella collar

When you press the button these collars will emit a citronella oil spray into your dog’s face. This deterrent may quickly discourage him from going near your doors with outstretched paws again.

7

Be patient

It is important to be flexible and patient when trying the above deterrents and solutions. There isn’t always a quick fix to a bad habit, so be sure to give each of the steps above several days or a week before giving up hope and moving onto the next measure. It may simply take a little time, so be patient!

By Amy Caldwell

Published: 10/04/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Reese

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Pit Lab

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2 Years

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I recently moved into my mother's house and we have to keep three sets of dogs and let them out separately at different times and she won't stop scratching at the door when it's her time to go up

Feb. 7, 2022

Reese's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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Hello Mikaela, Has pup ever redirected aggression toward you when aroused? If so, you will need to modify any methods to include a basket muzzle or something that keeps distance between you and pup while they are excited about the other dogs outside the door. Work on teaching pup a sit. Before you let them inside each time, have the sit. Open the door a bit and command Sit. If they obey, open the door all the way and tell them "Okay". If they disobey and try to rush the door, close it more so they can't get through and wait until they sit before opening it again. That alone may be enough, but if not, when pup scratches on the door, open it slightly and spray a small puff of air from an unscented air canister at their side or chest - avoiding spraying them in the face, then close the door again - not letting them in yet. When they are calmly waiting at the door or especially if they sit to be let in instead, let them in or toss them a treat if it's not time to come in yet - to encourage the polite manners. Don't use citronella for this, only unscented air, and avoiding spraying in the face. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Feb. 7, 2022

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Chaplin

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Pug

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6 Years

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I am Fostering him and he is so anxious when I go to bed and scratches and paces round and round getting breathless and very anxious, I’ve tried to take him outside to check he doesn’t need the toilet, but it’s just purely separation anxiety. I’ve only had him a few days but he is in my bed and seems to only want to sleep right by me.

Dec. 29, 2021

Chaplin's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sarah, I recommend teaching pup Place and Quiet. Quiet method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark Place command: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O75dyWITP1s I would practice both commands first with you in the home, working up to you going in other rooms while pup remains on place in that room. Depending on the severity of the anxiety, you might also need to consider low level remote collar training, to correct pup for disobeying commands you have worked up to, once pup is at the point where they can be expect to obey after enough practice. I would start by just working on building independence with Place, and rewarding quietness when you are out of the room by returning briefly with a treat then leaving again when pup stays quiet. Check out the Surprise method from the article I have linked below. This can be practiced in a crate, in an exercise pen, or with pup staying on Place once that's trained. Surprise method: https://wagwalking.com/training/like-a-crate If corrections are needed, start by leaving the room, returning quickly and rewarding when pup stays quiet. If pup barks or leaves Place (spy on pup with a camera), I would correct with the remote collar briefly, and using the section on how to use Out to deal with pushy behavior from the article I have linked below, "herd" pup back to the Place bed they tried to leave if they don't return to it on their own. Out: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Once pup is doing better on Place, space out your rewards so that you are rewarding pup for staying on Place and Quiet for longer and longer. Begin leaving your home briefly, spying on pup with the camera so you can return to reward or correct remotely. Work up to longer periods of time by going for walks near your home, within range of your remote and camera. Once pup can handle Place with you gone, then repeat the same type of training with pup not being required to go to Place first, and interrupt with the collar, reward with the treats and spy on with camera when pup begins barking, scratching, or getting getting overly worked up. Once pup is more calm overall, I would try reintroducing the dog food stuffed kong to help with boredom. Pup is probably too worked up to accept it right now. Once calmer pup will need something to help entertain themselves with though and will be more likely to chew it then. For a camera, you may already have what you need. 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. To properly fit an e-collar, check out this video on their use and fit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLxB6gYsliI When introducing an e-collar, you will want to find pup's "working level", which is the lowest level pup will respond to. You should only use a high quality e-collar with at least 30 levels to ensure you can get the right level and the collar will be reliable. Some well known brands include e-collar technologies, Dogtra, Sportdog, and Garmin. E-collar technologies' mini educator is a common option for such training. The working level is generally found by turning the collar to it's lowest level and pushing the stimulation button twice very briefly. 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 A modern, high quality collar will have so many levels that each level should be really subtle and he will likely respond to a low level stimulation. It's uncomfortable but not the harsh shock many people associate with such collars if done right. 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 or days if you can before starting training with it, to allow pup to get used to the feel of it and not associate the training just with the collar, but with his behavior. (Be sure to take it off at night to sleep though and rotate it to different spots of his neck to avoid any sores from it sitting on the same spot all the time). At night, once pup is trained, you would start commanding pup to stay on Place (pup's bed on the floor or whatever room you want pup to sleep in, or a crate), return pup by herding pup back over to Place if they get up, and correct if pup won't obey your Place or Quiet command at night. If you want pup to sleep away from you immediately, before pup has improved at Place, I would crate pup in another room, while still working on building independence during the day. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Dec. 30, 2021


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