Written by 7:48 am Behavior & Training

How to Stop a Dog From Scratching Door

This article talks about how to stop a dog from scratching door and the reasons why dogs scratch do…
a beagle trying to squeeze himself out from the open space from the front gate curiosity
a beagle trying to squeeze himself out from the open space from the front gate curiosity

Why Does My Dog Scratch the Door? Why Is She Scratching?

The main reason they scratch is of course because it feels good, but there are a few other reasons why your dog might be scratching at their door place of choice: boredom, stress, excitement or due to an illness.

If you think your pet might be scratching for one of these reasons then it’s important to take action and remedy whatever is upsetting them in order to stop the behaviour from continuing. You should also consider whether there are any health issues that might be related to the scratching including behavioural conditions such as separation anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder. As these can also cause a dog to scratch doors and walls, or other surfaces, relentlessly.

Making sure your pet is receiving the right amount of mental and physical stimulation as well as making sure they have enough free time can often be helpful in dealing with behavioural problems such as scratching doors. You could try some of the following approaches which might help if you think your pet is suffering from some of these conditions:

How to Stop a Dog From Scratching Door

Step 1: Find out why he is scratching at the door Before you do anything, take time to find out what’s behind it all, literally and figuratively. In other words, get down on his level and look for clues. If possible take your dog with you while you open the door or move over near where he is scratching. When I say ‘take him’ I mean that literally because if Fido has been doing this awhile it’s unlikely that you will hear the scratch noise while he is in another room or outside.

Step 2: What lies behind the door? I can’t be sure, but my best guess for what lies behind the scratching behaviour is that it’s a displacement activity. In other words, your dog scratches at the door when you are not around to address his needs. He doesn’t know how else to ask you to let him out or bring him inside because every time he’s tried barking, nipping or whining has failed. So he scratches instead. It seems like the perfect technique because the noise will eventually get your attention, right? Unfortunately for Fido, especially if he’s been doing this daily routine for a while now, it hasn’t worked so well either even though humans often jump up and run to the door. That could be because dogs are very smart and have short-term memories or it’s possible that he has already tried to get your attention before you actually come running to the door. Either way, this is a great place to start to teach your dog not to scratch at the door.

Step 3: Train him how to ask politely for what he wants My favourite method for teaching dogs how to communicate with us so they can stop scratching doors starts by giving Fido two meaningful choices which I call ‘Back Off’ & ‘Please’. This technique involves taking something valuable away from him, so I recommend you only use it if your dog is dangerously obsessed with cat litter, food wrappers or others in general…I mean obsessed. Here’s how it works. When Fido scratches at the door you tell him ‘Back Off’, which means to stop (or else, but don’t say that). I like this technique because the sound of your voice has an abrupt tone and it gets his attention right away. On the other hand, if he stops scratching for 1 second, one inch or anywhere in between…give him a reward (usually petting or praise). Don’t forget! At first, he may scratch again immediately after receiving his reward. That’s ok. It will take time before he learns what these words mean and makes lasting changes in behaviour. Use Back-Off only when Fido is scratching at the door; ignore all whining & barking while making sure he is on a leash. This way you can control him and make sure he doesn’t try to run outside or inside (depending on which behaviour you are trying to stop).

Step 4: Increase the scratch time Don’t like the tone of my ‘Back Off’? You can always use ‘Scratch’ instead if you prefer something more positive. I call this command ‘Scratch’ because it sounds more inviting at first until Fido gets better at this game, then it’s just another distraction. My Scratch technique is easy too. When Fido scratches I tell him to ‘Scratch’, but instead of giving him attention for stopping scratching I give him a little playtime with his favourite toy or treat for coming near me while scratching. Use Scratch only when Fido is scratching at the door; ignore all barking, whining & scratching while making sure he is on a leash. Now as for increasing the scratch time…I recommend you start this step after your dog stops scratching at the door every now and again. Otherwise, you risk reinforcing his old behaviour instead of teaching him how to ask politely with just “Back Off” or “Scratch”. This phase involves taking even more things away from Fido than before which means that you will need to be able to give attention whenever your dog successfully uses either command (or it won’t work). Keep in mind that if he doesn’t seem interested in playing by himself or eating treats then use his favourite toy like a special chew or rope since those are more of a reward to him. Also, make sure he is on a leash or you might have another dog problem on your hands.

Step 5: Make it a habit Once Fido gets used to asking politely by either saying ‘Back Off’ or ‘Scratch’, then start removing the safety cue (leash) and rewarding for just scratching at the door. Keep in mind that only playing with his favourite toy or getting some petting & praise as a reward still works best for this technique, so use his snacks as treats only when necessary. In addition…start ignoring all other unwanted behaviour such as whining, barking or growling because those are distractions from what we want him to do which is scratching at the door ONLY when told to do so.

Step 6: Teach other family members to use this method You are not always going to be around Fido so it wouldn’t hurt for your other family members to learn these techniques too. I just tell them what words mean, how to do it and then they practice giving treats & pats while ignoring distractions…and that’s all there is to it! It might take a few weeks before he would stop scratching at the door every time you leave the house, but the more consistent you are with this technique (cleverly designed by Paws Abilities) the faster he will make lasting changes in behaviour.

What if Fido isn’t interested in playing with his favourite toy or eating treats when it’s not dinner time? Then simply use his food bowl, favourite chew or rope toy instead – just make sure it is something he will get excited about.

Step 7: Make the command mean what you want it too You might have heard of this saying before “If your dog’s behaviour changes then so should your training technique”. I put that phrase into play near the end of my training programs. You can do it too by simply rewarding him with his favourite thing whenever he uses the word ‘Back Off’ or ‘Scratch’ (and ignore all distractions of course). The more fun and interesting you make the game for Fido, the faster he will learn to play on his own without relying on constant attention from you.

Keep in mind that it might take a bit longer for Fido to understand what those words mean so don’t give up on this command too soon. If you think he has a pretty good understanding of the game, then move on to training him how to play by himself without relying on his favourite toy or treats.

Step 8: Phase out all rewards for this command Have your dog do 5 “scratches” on his own without any rewards for each one. Then reward him after 2 or 3 of them so he will know when to stop. If you notice that he is not motivated by toys or treats anymore, then use petting & praise instead (or whatever else motivates him). Once he is doing 10 scratches on his own, then start rewarding him with a treat every 3 or 4 scratches. Keep in mind that you do not need to reward Fido after all scratches as he will be learning how to self-reward for this command.

Step 9: Eliminate the command You have now taught your dog to play & scratch by himself, so it is time to phase out the command by slowly removing the safety cue word. For example, you can say ‘Scratch’ only once or twice at first then eventually just tap at the door or open it without saying anything. Fido will eventually learn that scratching happens when he feels like doing it, not because he hears a command. I usually use this technique to teach my pups how to play on their own, but you can also apply it for other tricks or commands as well.

Step 10: We are not done yet! Pin It Now that you have taught Fido how to behave using these simple techniques, what happens when he starts making mistakes? I recommend that you teach him to give a high five instead, but reinforcers should not be used as a punishment. If Fido whines because he is scared of a guest, then stop giving him attention and ignore his whining until he stops! You can also try moving away from your dog or putting him in one room while the guest enters another. Most likely he will stop whining if you are not giving him any attention, but it might take several visits before that happens. I have trained over 500 dogs in the past 8 years and started learning about dog psychology when I got my first puppy 10 years ago. Soon after, I realized that his behaviour changed for the better when he saw other dogs on the streets and that’s when I discovered the secret to controlling my dog’s excitement: By simply turning my back on him, he would automatically calm down. This technique will work best for dogs who get excited when they see other dogs or people, but it can also be applied for specific activities such as chewing (or barking at the door). It is simple because you are just teaching your dog that if he wants your attention, then he should calm down first. All of my clients who have successfully implemented this technique have also seen their dogs respond better to other training methods as well, so I highly recommend that you try this.

Why wait until your dog is 11 months old (or older) before you can apply these techniques? You can start training your puppy today. If you want to learn how to apply these techniques or need more help, then please send me an email.

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