Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Considerate Canine: Door Scratching

Lowcountry Dog Magazine
by Cindy Carter

The Problem: I have a 2 year old dog that ALWAYS jumps on the door and nothing we have done can get her to stop. She does not do it when we are on the same side of the door as she is, but if she is outside and we are in or vice versa she will literally jump up and scratch at the door the entire time. How can we teach her NOT to do it, if we don't have access to her? Opening the door to tell her to cut it out seems to only reinforce the behavior. She has now ruined our porch doors with scratches on the glass and has decimated the moulding around our front door... -Ashby

The Solution:

Ashby, you are absolutely right that opening the door to correct your dogs is reinforcing the behavior. Unfortunately, she has had 2 years to refine her door scratching/demanding behavior, making it more difficult to change the behavior.

As with most behaviors, management is the first step. Try to create some type of barrier that will deny her access to the door while you are on the other side. Baby gates, a plywood barrier, an expen are all viable options.

Teach her to relax regardless of what is going on around her. This is one of the most important and overlooked behaviors that we should teach our dogs. I teach relaxation by using a mat and rewarding all calm behavior on the mat. Begin in a quiet, low distraction area where she can learn that calm behavior is what earns a reward, a small food treat that isn’t terribly exciting, is perfect. As she learns to relax, look for body changes that indicate calm; sleepy eyes, slower heart rate, her tail becoming still, etc. and quietly reward her body changes. When she is successful, begin to work with more distractions, in different places, always remember that your last place will be on the opposite side of the door.

Once she can relax on her mat with things happening, you can place the mat on the porch, near the door. Your progression will be something like this, returning after each piece to reward her for remaining calm on the mat:

*Mat on the porch

*Walk to the door

*Return to door, touch handle

*Open the door

*Step inside

*Step inside and close the door

*Step inside, close the door, wait 3 seconds

*Step inside, close the door, wait 5 seconds.

You are gradually changing the emotions connected with being separated by the door. Is this an overnight fix? No.

Will it work? Yes, depending on your commitment and patience.

This is a broad generalization of teaching self control and relaxation. By no means is this all that goes into changing this type of behavior, but it is a start. While you are looking for a way to protect your door, you are also teaching your dog an important life skill.

Good luck in helping your dog relax.

Cindy Carter, CPDT-KA
Mindful Manners Dog Training

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