How to Stop Your Dog from Scratching Door

Preventing your dog from scratching your doors starts with understanding why he wants in or out and dealing with those needs. Then you can teach him a better communication method.


Dogs who scratch at the door want to go outside or want to come back inside – that much is obvious. If we can learn why he wants to go through the door, and meet those needs, we can more easily change his behavior – in this case, ceasing to scratch at the door.

Humans will always accept “I need to go to the bathroom!” as a valid reason for a dog wanting to go outside. But we often make judgments about our dogs’ other motivations for door-scratching – which isn’t quite fair!

If he’s bored or lonely, try giving him interactive toys to play with in the yard, or go out and play with him instead of expecting him to entertain himself. If he’s hot or cold, bring him inside your temperature-controlled home. If he’s stressed or anxious (whether due to scary noises, separation distress, or anything else) minimize exposure to his stressor(s) while you do behavior modification to ease his distress – and accept that he may never be a dog you can just leave outside on his own.

Teach an Alternative Behavior

Regardless of your dog’s motivation for wanting the door to be opened, it’s easy to teach him a new way to ask you for this service, such as ringing some jingly bells or pressing a touch-activated noise-making button. Just remember that door-scratching works for him because he’s learned that you come quickly because you don’t want your door scratched. You’ll need to respond just as quickly to the button or bells!

First, teach your dog how to activate the sound device by shaping him to touch it with a nose or paw. Every time he manages to trigger its noise, mark the event (with the click of a clicker or a verbal marker, such as the word “Yes!” and give him a treat. Then add a verbal cue. For example, you could say, “Door?” and encourage him to activate the noise. When he is successful at ringing the bell or pressing the button, mark (“Yes!”), open the door, and give him a couple treats outside (or inside – whatever is the opposite of where you started). Gradually, you can stop delivering treats for this behavior; getting the door-opening service is his reward!

For detailed instructions on how to teach your dog to ring a bell or press a button, see “Stop Your Dog’s Demanding Behavior,” WDJ August 2017.

Manage Door Scratching

As with all behavioral issues, management will be key to your success in dealing with this behavior. While you’re teaching your dog that a bell or button is the better communication tool, you’ll need to protect your door(s) so you don’t have to come running if he starts to scratch. Here are some management tools:

  • Dog scratch door protector: There are various commercial products you can use to protect your door from your dog’s claws – everything from protective tape to vinyl covers to hard plastic shields, depending on the intensity of your dog’s scratching.
  • Exercise pen: You can set up a temporary exercise pen around your door(s) to block your dog’s access to the door while he learns to express himself in a more acceptable way.
  • Avoid the trigger: You could simply choose not to leave your dog on the other side of doors while you are training him to use a more acceptable means of communication and/or helping resolve his anxiety about being left alone.

In many cases, a dog’s scratching behavior is modifiable. However, if your dog’s isolation or separation anxiety is significant, you may need to accept that you’ll always stay with him in the yard.

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Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, grew up in a family that was blessed with lots of animal companions: dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, goats, and more, and has maintained that model ever since. She spent the first 20 years of her professional life working at the Marin Humane Society in Marin County, California, for most of that time as a humane officer and director of operations. She continually studied the art and science of dog training and behavior during that time, and in 1996, left MHS to start her own training and behavior business, Peaceable Paws. Pat has earned a number of titles from various training organizations, including Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA) and Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA). She also founded Peaceable Paws Academies for teaching and credentialing dog training and behavior professionals, who can earn "Pat Miller Certified Trainer" certifications. She and her husband Paul and an ever-changing number of dogs, horses, and other animal companions live on their 80-acre farm in Fairplay, Maryland.