Problem Solving: Scratching at the Door to Come Inside
Just last week, we had a client ask for the 'magic trick' to keeping her dog from scratching on the door to come inside, after being out in the yard. Here are some solutions, applying our E.M.T.C.P.R method to the problem!
E - Eliminate the Cause - The cause is that there is a door in the way of your dog coming inside when s/he wants to. So, eliminate the door! Install a doggie door, so your pet can come and go. If that idea doesn't excite you, here's another compromise solution: let your dog scratch at the door! Many companies manufacture door savers, which are screens or clear materials that you put over your door. Your dog can scratch away, but the door is protected.
M - Manage the environment- This solution would entail either always being 'at the ready' when your dog wants to come inside, or making it so that your dog cannot get close to the door. If you open the door first, because you readily anticipate the dog's needs, your dog will never need to scratch. Would certainly work, but not too practical. You might instead use a free standing baby gate, or electronic Scat Mat outside the door, to prevent your dog from getting close enough to the door to scratch. Understand, your pet would be left to try and signal you in another way, such as howling or barking to be let in.
T- Train an Incompatible Behavior - A behavior incompatible with scratching at the door might be a 'SIT.' But if you are inside, and your dog does a 'SIT'...how will you see it and know to open the door? Your dog believes s/he must make a noise to get your attention (see above.) Another option is to make your pet LOVE being outside! There is no need to scratch, if you don't want to come in, right? Possible ways to increase your pet's desire to be outside include hiding treats all over the yard, using a Buster Cube slow-release food toy, getting a second dog to play with, or simply spending more time outside with your pet.
C - Change the subject - Some people have used a remote citronella spray collar in this situation. When the dog scratches, you press a button, and a collar with a reservoir of safe, natural citronella oil can spray up into your dog's face. This might be just enough deterrent to get your dog to stop scratching long enough to be quiet....then you can open the door. Remember, you want to open the door when your dog is quiet and *not* scratching...so it will be your job in the future to get your timing right. (Note: we don't recommend a shock collar for this!)
P - Provide an Alternative - If your dog does not enjoy being outside away from you, then you might substitute more walks for free time outside. This is not a 100% solution, because it could result in a separation anxiety problem if you never let your pet learn to be alone outside without you. But it could really decrease the number of instances in which your dog would be tempted to scratch at the door. Another good solution is to hang a bell outside, near (but not right at) the door, and teach your dog to push it when s/he wants in. Puppies who are trained to do this from the inside, during early potty training, have no trouble generalizing the behavior to the outdoors. Ringing a bell somewhere close to the door is a great alternative to scratching at the door.
R - Reinforce or Redirect the Habit- The door-scratching habit is reinforced when you open the door during/when/soon after the dog has scratched at it. Reinforce a no-scratch habit by not opening the door while your dog is scratching - open only after 2 minutes of no scratching. Say "Good Off" or some other word you have chosen, and only then, let your pet inside
You may choose to try one, or a combination of several of these ideas. Do you have this or another training behavior issue? Maybe Riverdog can help - contact us to schedule a free consultation. In any case, we think its a good thing that your dog wants to be *with* you...not outside away from you. It means you did something right when you built a relationship with your pet!