Behavioral problems

My Dog Keeps Scratching at the Door

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. October 14, 2021
My Dog Keeps Scratching at the Door

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Domestication has made it necessary for dogs to adapt to the ways of human existence. Living inside a house is one of the most important adaptations a wild animal can make. To navigate this new environment, they have to interact with various objects humans take for granted. Their understanding of doors is just one way dogs have showed their great intelligence, but not all dogs will use them in the same way. Scratching at the door is a common issue for many dogs, but the reasons behind this behavior can vary.

At AnimalWised, we explain why my dog keeps scratching at the door. Since we should never punish behavioral problems, understanding why dogs scratch at doors will help us to know how to redirect this behavior.

You may also be interested in: How To Stop My Dog Barking At The Door
  1. Context of door scratching in dogs
  2. Why dogs keep scratching at the door
  3. How to stop a dog scratching at the door

Context of door scratching in dogs

Before we understand why a dog keeps scratching at the door, we need to look at the context. One of the most important factors is whether this is a continued behavior or something they have only started to all of a sudden. If a dog has always scratched at the door, it means it is a learned behavior. If they are suddenly doing when they didn't before, it is more likely a response to a particular problem.

We also need to ask some questions about the dog's behavior. For example, does the dog scratch at only one door or any door they encounter? Does the dog keep scratching the door only when their guardians are not present? How often does the dog scratch at the door? Do they scratch the door only at certain times of the day or night?

Asking ourselves these questions will help us to know the dog's state of mind when they are scratching at a door. In turn, this will help us to prevent them from doing it in the future. In some cases, it can help us to greatly improve their well-being.

Why dogs keep scratching at the door

As with the vast majority of canine behavioral problems, there is no unique underlying cause. Rather, there are various reasons why a dog keeps scratching at the door. They include:

Health problems

With any behavioral problem, especially if it occurs all of a sudden, we need to first suspect a pathological problem. When a dog has a health problem, the symptoms can be both physiological and psychological. Since dogs have high pain thresholds, a problem can be significantly advanced before we notice any changes in their behavior.

A sick dog may scratch at the door to get our attention. Even if they are unaware of why they feel pain or illness, they may want to get our attention to help relieve it. We may not see any other obvious symptoms, but it may be important to take them to a veterinarian to rule out a physical health problem.

Separation anxiety

We may not see our dog scratch the door, but we know they have been doing it by the scratch marks. This is evidence the dog is missing us when we are not around. While any dog will miss their guardian if separated for extended periods of time, a healthy dog should be able to spend time apart without becoming anxious.

Separation anxiety in dogs is a behavioral disorder which occurs when a canine is physically separated from their guardian. High levels of stress and discomfort occur due to a feeling of insecurity. The dog thinks their guardian will not return and this anxiety can manifest in many ways. They may bark at the door, destroy objects in the home or scratch at the door until the guardian returns.

Not all dogs will behave this way and the causes of their anxiety vary. It does often happen in dogs which have experienced trauma, have poor socialization or do not receive proper education. We should not punish these dogs as the negative reinforcement will likely cause the behavior to continue rather than stopping it.

My Dog Keeps Scratching at the Door - Why dogs keep scratching at the door

Learned behavior

Dogs learn mainly by association. When a certain behavior elicits a given reaction, they are more likely to repeat it in the future. For this reason, it is important not to reinforce unwanted behavior.

If we open the door when a dog scratches it, we will tell them that if they keep scratching at the door, we will pay attention to them. This can be exacerbated in dogs with separation anxiety or those which simply desire more attention than others. They may simply want to be let inside, go to the garden or get a snack, but we need to discourage the behavior rather than encourage it.

Stress or lack of stimulation

Every dog needs a certain amount of cognitive and physical stimulation to remain healthy, although how much will depend on the individual. Depending on their age, breed, temperament and other factors, a dog will become stressed if they are not provided with sufficient stimulation. This can lead to behaviors designed to attract attention, including scratching at doors.

Other stress factors can result in the same behavioral problem. When a home is too noisy, their routine is interrupted or anything causes them agitation, we can witness various signs of stress in dogs. Scratching at the door repetitively is just one of them. With stress, a dog may keep scratching at the door because they have manifested a stereotypy, i.e. a repetitive action with no obvious purpose derived from stress feelings.

How to stop a dog scratching at the door

When a dog keeps scratching at the door, it not only causes damage to the home, it means our dog has a problem which needs to be rectified. Once we rule out an organic pathology, we will need to identify the psychological reason why the dog scratches doors. Ideally, we should do this with the help of a canine educator or ethologist.

If we suspect our dog is suffering from separation anxiety, we recommend videoing the dog during our absence. These recordings can provide a wealth of information, either for ourselves or the professional we hire to help us. It both helps to confirm separation anxiety and provide keys to establishing a plan to prevent it.

A problem behavior resulting from poor education will need to be rectified by improving their learning. We need to stop reinforcing this behavior by opening the door when they scratch at it. We need to ignore them when they are scratching and only pay them attention when they are performing a more appropriate action. We also need to reinforce basic dog commands. This way we can command them to stop and provide positive reinforcement when they do so. In doing so, the dog will learn that scratching doesn't get them what they want.

Finally, it is important we meet our responsibility of care. We need to ensure we provide our dog with mental stimulation, opportunity for physical exercise, environmental enrichment and any other positive engagement they need. As stated above, different dogs will require different levels of attention. For this reason, some dogs will need caregivers who can give them what they need. For example, if you work away from home a lot, some dogs will not be able to cope having so much time on their own.

There are physical ways we can also provide them with cognitive stimulation. Toys, accessories and intelligence games are great ways to encourage mental well-being in dogs when we are not at home. Once we do return, provide them with affection, attention an physical exercise. Do not neglect walks and encourage interaction with other dogs in the form of healthy socialization.

If you want some helpful information on stimulating your dogs, check out our video below on the 8 best toys for dogs:

If you want to read similar articles to My Dog Keeps Scratching at the Door, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.

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My Dog Keeps Scratching at the Door