How to Keep a Dog from Scratching a Door? Secret Tricks Revealed!

As a dog owner, few things can be as frustrating as coming home to scratched-up, damaged doors from your energetic canine companion. Not only is it an eyesore, but it can also turn into an expensive repair. The annoying sound of your dog’s nails scraping at the door can even drive you up the wall!

While scratching doors stems from natural dog behaviour, it can be curbed through proper training and care. This comprehensive guide will provide veterinarian-approved tips to understand why dogs scratch doors and how to get them to stop. With a bit of patience and persistence, you can have a scratch-free door and a happier dog.

INTERESTING FACTS

Fact 1: Dogs scratch doors primarily due to anxiety, boredom, or wanting to go outside. Separation anxiety and excess energy are common culprits for this behaviour.
Fact 2: A dog’s nails can cause damage not just to wooden doors but can even scratch glass! Their nails are sharper than they look.
Fact 3: Scratching behaviours can be a result of ancestral instincts – wild dogs scratch the ground to mark territory or self-soothe.
Fact 4: Puppies are more likely to scratch doors than older dogs. Early training is key to preventing this behaviour.
Fact 5: Dogs can be trained at any age to stop unwanted behaviours like door scratching. Consistency and positive reinforcement are key.

Table of Contents

Why Does My Dog Scratch at the Door?

It’s a common phenomenon – you hear the annoying sound of scratches coming from the door and realize it’s your dog digging in. Why do dogs feel compelled to use our doors as makeshift scratching posts? There are four key motivations behind this behaviour that require different solutions. Read on to learn the root causes of door scratching in dogs.

Separation Anxiety

One of the most prevalent reasons dogs scratch persistently at doors is separation anxiety. Dogs are naturally social, pack-oriented animals. When left alone, some dogs experience distress at the separation which manifests in vocalizing, destructive behaviour, and obsessive scratching near exit points in an attempt to reunite with their owners. The strength of the dog’s attachment determines the severity of anxiety when left alone. Scratching and howling are ways for them to soothe themselves and attract your return. Separation anxiety may be the culprit if scratching occurs within minutes of you leaving the home. It tends to be most pronounced in adopted dogs and puppies removed too early from littermates. However, any breed or age of dog can develop separation distress without proper acclimation to alone time.

Desire to Go Outside

Another common reason for pawing and scratching at the door is a desire to go outside, either to eliminate or play. When dogs need to relieve themselves or are eager to run around or explore the yard, they quickly learn that scratching and whining by the door usually results in it opening. Soon this behavior becomes reinforced. High energy breeds in particular are prone to scratching from being under-exercised. Dogs scratching due to a desire to go outside are usually reacting to a physical need rather than anxiety. The scratching only occurs sporadically when they have to potty or feel pent-up energy versus the more obsessive nature of separation anxiety scratching. If you notice the scratching is correlated to having held in their bladder too long or restlessness from lack of activity, the need for outside access is likely the reason.

Boredom and Under-Stimulation

Dogs left alone with minimal stimulation often turn to undesirable behaviours like excessive barking, furniture scratching, chewing, or door scratching simply due to boredom, frustration, and excess energy. A lack of activity, mental enrichment, and human interaction can compel them to act out. Without adequate outlets, dogs will create their own – often at the expense of your home’s condition! Ensure your dog receives sufficient physical and mental exercise. Also, provide appropriate chew toys when you are away to redirect scratching onto acceptable things. Rotate toys frequently to relieve boredom.

Territorial Behavior

Some dogs, especially unneutered males, will scratch flooring, furniture, walls or doors to mark their territory with the scent from their paw pads. This serves as a claim on their space, over-marking any smells from other dogs. Intact males have stronger territorial urges due to testosterone. Scratching for this purpose is usually targeted at vertical surfaces they can reach. It often occurs near entryways like doors where new smells are frequently introduced. Territorial scratching typically occurs on and off all the time versus the more frantic nature of separation anxiety scratching. Reduce this cause by spaying/neutering your dog, restricting access, and using scent deterrents.

The 6 Simple Steps to Get Dogs to Stop Scratching Doors

Dog scratching can drive owners crazy, but you can curb this behaviour with consistent training and management. Veterinarians recommend using these six techniques to teach stubborn dogs to stop damaging doors.

1. Prevention is Better Than the Cure

It’s ideal to prevent door scratching in early puppyhood before it becomes ingrained. Puppies start learning right away, so set expectations immediately about appropriate scratching targets.

Provide scratching posts and boards around 8-12 weeks old to redirect scratching onto approved surfaces. Any attempts at door scratching should be promptly interrupted with a firm “No” followed by redirecting their attention to a scratching post.

Heavily praise and reward them when they use these designated scratching spots. This establishes what they are allowed to scratch. Continue reinforcing this training as they mature. Getting ahead of behaviours prevents bad habits. An ounce of prevention truly beats a pound of cure in dog training.

2. Ignore Unwanted Scratching

Dogs persist in behaviours that get them attention, even negative attention. So when your dog scratches doors, completely ignore it rather than react. Don’t reward scratching with scolding or even eye contact.

Only give your dog attention once the scratching stops. The moment there’s a pause in scratching, immediately praise and reward the calmer behaviour. This teaches that appropriate calmness, not inappropriate scratching, is the route to your reaction.

It also prevents accidentally reinforcing the scratching with your response. Depriving them of attention is the most effective discouragement.

3. Manage Excitement

Over-eager dogs often scratch from anticipation or poor impulse control when stimulated. For these dogs, obedience training is essential.

Require them to perform calm behaviours like “Sit” or “Stay” before rewarding them in exciting contexts, such as opening doors or giving attention. Doorways are ideal spots to reinforce patience and self-control.

Ask for a few obedience cues before acknowledging excited scratching. This conditions patience and levelheadedness instead of impulsive reactions. Teaching impulse control dampens the initial urge to scratch.

4. Practice Healthy Separation

For anxious dogs, build independence through short alone time during the day. Confine them to another room for a few minutes with a stuffed Kong for distraction.

Start with very brief separations, then slowly increase duration. This acclimates anxious dogs to being alone in your absence.

Avoid overly excited greetings or goodbyes which exacerbate separation stress. Keep arrivals/departures low key instead.

5. Firm Corrections

Say “No!” firmly upon scratching, then immediately redirect their attention to teach what’s unwanted. Corrections are most effective within 2 seconds of behaviour, always followed by alternatives like obedience cues or toys to avoid reinforcement.

For example, say “No!” when scratching starts, then redirect to “Sit,” reward for Sitting, then provide a toy. Timing and consistency are vital. Never get physical or yell. A composed but authoritative tone works best.

6. Use Preventatives

Deter scratching and protect door surfaces using plastic shields, removable guards, double-sided tape, or pet-repellent sprays.

Restrict access with baby gates when you’re gone. Provide acceptable scratching outlets like cat scratchers and sturdy chew toys instead. Keeping nails trimmed reduces damage if scratching happens.

Prevention tools coupled with training reinforce the message to stop scratching. While not a quick fix, these 6 techniques can permanently curb problem-scratching behaviours with diligence.

PRO TIP: Dogs respond best to positive reinforcement training methods. Instead of scolding them for scratching, redirect their attention then reward them for NOT scratching with praise, treats or play. Make not scratching rewarding!

Tools to Stop Your Dog Scratching The Door

In addition to training, the following tools can help deter and prevent door scratching damage:

Dog Nail Covers

Vinyl nail caps and covers are temporary shields that slip over the nail to blunt scratching damage. They come in fun colours and patterns to make them more attractive to dogs.

Key benefits:

  • Protect door surfaces from scratches
  • Much safer than declawing procedures
  • Easy to apply at home
  • Allow normal activity while blunting damage
  • Last 4-6 weeks before replacement needed

Considerations:

  • Not all dogs tolerate them; introduce them slowly with positive reinforcement
  • Must be replaced as nails grow out
  • Can fall off if improperly sized or applied
  • Won’t prevent scratching behavior, only damage

Vet’s Best Comfort Fit nail caps are an excellent over-the-counter option available on Amazon. Have your vet demonstrate proper application and sizing if new to nail covers.

Door Protectors and Guards

Affixing protective material directly onto the door is an easy way to shield the surface from scratch damage. Options range from inexpensive vinyl strips to full door covers:

Type Materials Price Range Installation
Door protectors Self-adhesive vinyl or plastic $10 – $20 Peel and stick application
Door shields Plastic, wood, or metal $30 – $70 Screws or adhesive
Door covers Fabric or carpet $100+ Screws or adhesive
  • Protectors are the most affordable and easiest to install. Just cut it to size and affix it to the door.
  • Shields offer more heavy-duty protection for dogs that persist in scratching. Require tools.
  • Full covers provide the most coverage but are priciest. Best for severe scratchers.

Measure your door to size material accurately. Watch for chewing at the edges.

Doorbells or Hanging Bells

Hanging bells from door handles trains dogs to nudge them with a nose or paw rather than scratching when wanting to go outside. The bell sound becomes a cue signaling the need to go out. Keys to success:

  • Start by ringing the bell yourself as you take the dog out, so they associate the sound with the door opening. Reward going out.
  • Next, take their paw to ring the bell before going out. Reward heavily.
  • Over time, your dog will learn to ring bells on their own when needing to go out to potty or play.

The sound allows you to preemptively let them out before scratching starts. Not all dogs take to bells, but they provide an appropriate alternative scratching behaviour. Consider removable 3M adhesive hooks to easily install bells.

A multifaceted approach works best to curb scratching long-term. Door protectors shield the surface, the training addresses the behaviour itself, and deterrents like bells give dogs an acceptable scratching outlet. Used together, you can put an end to destructive scratching for good.

Train Your Dog Not to Scratch at the Door

While prevention tools help minimize damage, addressing the underlying behaviour through training is the only way to fully resolve door scratching. Here are effective methods veterinarians recommend:

Firm Correction Training

This pairs verbal deterrent cues with reward-based training. Strategies include:

  • Use a firm “No!” or “Ah ah!” each time your dog starts scratching.
  • Immediately after the correction, redirect their attention somewhere else positive like a toy or chew bone to avoid reinforcing scratching.
  • Be highly consistent. Only use the cue when actively scratching. When they stop, reward them with treats and praise.
  • Say the cue neutrally without anger. A scolding tone can cause anxiety making matters worse.
  • Correct every single time with perfect consistency for it to stick. Prevention is ideal, but correction is the next best tactic.

Manage Excitement Training

For dogs scratching due to eagerness or poor impulse control, teach patience.

  • Desensitize your dog to triggers like arriving home or approaching doors by repeating exposure until it loses novelty.
  • Require a settled down behavior before rewarding excited scratching. Only give attention, door opening, etc once calm. This reinforces patience as the reward pathway.
  • Use thresholds like doorways to reinforce impulse control. Ask for cues like “Sit” or “Down” before acknowledging scratching.
  • Start in low distraction settings, then work up to more stimulating areas like front doors. Take it slow.

Distract and Deter Training

Give acceptable scratching outlets and deter unwanted scratching. Strategies include:

  • Place tempting chew toys or food puzzles near problem doors to redirect energy into chewing instead of scratching.
  • Attach shelving with approved scratching posts near doors. Reward use.
  • Deter scratching by applying citrus-scented sprays onto doors. Reapply frequently. Double-sided sticky tape also deters.
  • Keep nails trimmed to minimize damage if scratching does occur.
  • Rotate toys to prevent boredom. Continually introduce new puzzles and challenges.

Use a Combination Approach

No one-size-fits-all solution exists. Employing a variety of tailored training techniques usually works best long-term.

For example, a firm correction paired with requiring the dog to Sit and redirect to a chew toy covers many bases at once. Work with your veterinarian or trainer to develop a plan combining correction, impatience training, and distraction specific to your dog’s needs.

The keys are thorough exercise, mental stimulation, identifying motivations, managing excitement levels, and relentlessly rewarding absence of scratching. With consistency and diligence, you can modify or extinguish the behaviour for good. Don’t get discouraged by occasional lapses. Stick to fundamentals like positive reinforcement, exercise, prevention, and addressing root causes to maintain progress.

PRO TIP: Employing a variety of tailored training methods usually yields the best results for long-term change rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

 

Training Techniques to Stop Door Scratching

Increasing Exercise and Mental Stimulation

Importance of Daily Walks and Play

  • Dogs need daily walks to expend pent-up energy, provide mental stimulation, and socialise through new sights and smells. Tailor walk duration and frequency to your dog’s size, age, and energy levels.
  • Indoor and outdoor play sessions give bursts of vigorous activity to tire your dog out. Try games like fetch, tug-of-war, or chasing toys. Have morning and evening playtimes when dogs are most energetic.

Benefits of Mental Puzzles and Toys

  • Work your dog’s brain daily through games, training, and puzzles to prevent boredom. Use food puzzle toys and Kongs that require effort and problem-solving to get treats.
  • Practice 5-10 minute training sessions on new commands and tricks daily. Training exercises their mind.
  • Rotate toys frequently to maintain novelty and interest in play. Introduce increasingly challenging puzzles.

Introducing Playmates or Doggy Daycare

  • Interacting with other compatible dogs provides vital socialization, learning, and exercise through play.
  • Schedule regular playdates with friends’/neighbour’s dogs or take them to daycare 1-2 days a week for mental and physical exertion.
  • Group training classes also provide mental stimulation through learning, bonding, and being around other dogs.

The keys are tailoring activities to your dog’s needs, monitoring their behaviour, introducing novelty consistently, and exercising both body and mind. A tired dog is a well-behaved dog!

PRO TIP: Working and sporting breeds like huskies, labs, and shepherds require upwards of 2 hours of daily activity to prevent destructive behaviours. Know your breed!

Improving Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is a common behavioural issue in dogs that manifests as stress when left alone. Symptoms include destructive behaviour, excessive vocalizing, urinating/defecating, pacing, and obsessively scratching doors. This distress stems from a hyperattachment between the dog and the owner. While most pronounced in rescues and shelter dogs, any breed can develop separation issues if not properly socialized. The good news is that with consistency and positive training, separation anxiety can be dramatically improved. This guide will overview how to recognize, prevent, and manage separation anxiety using veterinarian-recommended techniques.

Recognizing the Signs of Separation Anxiety

The first step is confirming separation anxiety is indeed the cause of your dog’s destructive or loud behaviour when alone. Consider if they:

  • Exhibit behaviours within minutes of you leaving, especially scratching/vocalizing near exit points.
  • Only display these behaviours when separated from you specifically. They likely behave normally when you’re home or with other family members.
  • Seem hypervigilant about your whereabouts at home and follow you everywhere.
  • React with high excitement or anxiety to your arrivals and departures.

If the behaviours correlate to you specifically leaving them alone, separation anxiety is likely the culprit.

Prevention Through Early Socialization

Preventing separation issues starts early with proper socialization as a puppy to build confidence. Best practices include:

Gradually Increase Alone Time

  • Start leaving your puppy alone for very brief periods from 8-12 weeks old, provided they have pottied beforehand.
  • Begin with minutes alone then slowly build up duration. Absences should be short and positive at first.
  • Use food puzzles like frozen KONGs to reward calm alone time and prevent boredom.

Crate Train

  • Introduce a crate early on as a safe den-like space with positive associations only.
  • Feed them in the crate and provide stuffed chew toys. Never use it as punishment.
  • Slowly increase crating duration as they age so being confined feels normal.

Socialize Outside the Home

  • Ensure they meet new people, dogs, environments, and stimuli during the critical 3-16 week socialization period.
  • Puppy kindergarten and controlled playgroups are great for building confidence.

Minimize Stimulation

  • Greetings and departures should be low-key – don’t throw parties celebrating your return!
  • Upon returning home, ignore anxious, excited behaviour and only give affection once they’re calm.

Managing Mild Separation Anxiety

For dogs with mild separation distress, the following tactics can ease their transition to being alone:

Obedience Training

  • Work on mastering basic cues like “sit”, “stay” and “down” using positive reinforcement.
  • Strong obedience improves confidence when left alone in challenging situations.

Exercise Beforehand

  • Ensure your dog has had adequate exercise and pottied shortly before you leave. Tired dogs behave better!
  • For high-energy breeds, vigorous exercise is key. Aim for 30-60 minutes minimum.

Distraction and Redirection

  • Provide appealing, long-lasting chew toys or food puzzles to focus anxious energy on appropriate chewing and licking.
  • Place tempting toys near exit points to distract from scratching. Change them regularly to maintain novelty.

Soothing Aids

  • Adaptil and other pheromone plugins can have calming effects by emitting nursing signals.
  • Thundershirts provide swaddling pressure that alleviates anxiety. Place before departures.
  • Calming treats with L-theanine or CBD can take the edge off but consult your veterinarian first.

Resolving Severe Separation Anxiety

For more extreme cases, seek guidance from professionals like board-certified veterinary behaviourists. Treatment plans may include:

Systematic Desensitization

  • Gradually desensitize them to departure cues like putting on shoes or picking up keys.
  • Start with minimal absence then slowly increase duration once calm. Avoid triggering anxiety.
  • Pair with high-value rewards. Only progress to the next step once relaxed at the current stage.

Anti-Anxiety Medication

  • In some cases, temporary medication may be prescribed in conjunction with training to accelerate progress.
  • Medication helps lower anxiety enough that they can learn faster. Consult your vet.

Re-Socialization Programs

  • Formal programs that focus on building independence around strangers and controlled socialization with other dogs.

Separation Counseling

  • Training plans tailored to your dog’s unique needs. Trainers help troubleshoot and provide accountability.

Managing Long-Term Expectations

While separation anxiety can be mitigated with training, it may not be fully “cured” depending on severity. Be realistic that occasional lapses are normal. Have patience and stick to routines. With time and consistency, most dogs can learn to become comfortable alone for reasonable durations. The keys are setting dogs up for success, reinforcing calm behaviour, tirelessly preventing anxiety triggers, and viewing training as an ongoing process. Don’t become frustrated by occasional setbacks. Stick to the fundamentals of exercise, enrichment, desensitization, prevention, and positive reinforcement to maintain and further improve progress.

Resolving Severe Separation Anxiety
Picture credit @Zeynep from Pexels

Final Thoughts

Door scratching can be a frustrating and costly problem, but is curable with diligence and the right training approach tailored to your dog. Remember, patience and consistency are key when modifying any ingrained behaviour. Try not to become angry or punish them harshly. If the problem persists or you’re unsure about training methods, don’t hesitate to enlist the guidance of professionals like veterinarians, trainers, or behaviourists. With time, positive reinforcement, and effort you can stop undesirable scratching for good and have a happy, well-adjusted dog.

Conclusion

Door scratching is a common challenge dog owners face, but there are solutions. By understanding the motivations behind the behaviour and employing consistent positive reinforcement training, you can curb this undesirable habit. Have realistic expectations about the time investment required and don’t give up. Combining training with proper exercise, mental stimulation, and anxiety reduction tactics will help set your dog up for success. If needed, enlist the guidance of professionals for more severe cases. With diligence and patience, you can nip door scratching for good and regain peace within your home. Just remember to always reinforce good behaviour, never punish your dog, and work on addressing the root causes like boredom or separation anxiety. Your dog depends on you to set them up to succeed. So stay committed, get creative with solutions, and you’ll have a content dog that leaves your doors scratch-free.

FAQs

At what age should I start training my dog not to scratch doors?

Start training as a puppy as young as 8-12 weeks old before the behaviour forms. But keep in mind you can reduce scratching at any age with consistency!

My dog has damaged my door. How can I repair it?

Light scratches can be buffed out and touched up. Deeper scratches may require covering with putty, sanding smooth, priming then repainting. Severe damage needs door replacement.

How long will it take to train my dog?

Most dogs respond within 2-4 weeks with frequent training sessions, but ingrained behaviours can take 6-8 weeks. Have realistic expectations about the timeline.

Can I use any deterrent spray on the door?

Avoid chemical-heavy or potentially toxic sprays. Opt for non-toxic citrus or mustard oil-based sprays labelled “pet safe” instead.

Are doorbells or jingle bells effective for every dog?

This method works for dogs wanting to go outside. But it won’t resolve separation anxiety or boredom. Use in conjunction with other training.

My dog only scratches when I’m away. What can I do?

This likely signals separation anxiety. Try calming aids, exercise before departure, positive reinforcement, and gradually lengthening alone time.

Are there breeds more prone to door scratching?

Herding breeds and terriers are more likely to be obsessive scratchers. But any breed can form the habit. It’s more about personality.

Can a dog scratch a glass door?

Yes, a determined dog can absolutely scratch and damage glass with their nails. Glass scratching sprays or covers may be needed.

How can I determine the root cause of my dog’s scratching?

Observe the context and timing of the behaviour. If it only occurs when you’re gone, anxiety is the likely cause. If random, it’s likely boredom.

What should I avoid while training my dog?

Never hit them for scratching. Avoid scolding or yelling as it can reinforce anxiety. Don’t inadvertently reward the behaviour with attention.

Can I get my dog declawed to prevent scratching?

Declawing has serious risks like pain, infection, and behavioural issues. It’s safer and more humane to trim nails regularly and train them instead.

Is crating my dog an effective solution?

Crates prevent damage and reinforce good potty habits. But crying or injured paws from attempting escape means anxiety needs addressing first.

How often should I exercise my dog to prevent boredom-related scratching?

Most dogs need 30-60 minutes of daily walks and playtime. High energy breeds require upwards of 2 hours per day of activity.

My dog is older, is it too late to train?

Old dogs can learn new tricks! Stay patient, and consistent, and use positive methods. It may take longer for habits to improve but training helps at any age.

How do I reward my dog for good behaviour?

Use whatever motivates them – praise, petting, play, treats, allowing access to you or doors, or getting to go outside. Be creative in rewarding the absence of scratching.