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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!
The Firm Correction Method
Shut him in a room
Stand outside the door and keep an ear out for him about to scratch at the door.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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