Can I Teach My Cat Not to Dash Out the Door?

Cat looking at door
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Q. My cat tries to dash out the door every time it opens. He used to be an outdoor cat, but we've decided that it’s no longer safe to let him roam. How can I teach him to be comfortable staying in the house?  

A. Keeping your cat indoors can increase his life span, help protect him from infectious diseases and parasites, and shelter him from a gamut of other outdoor hazards, including predators, cars, toxins and the risk of being lost or stolen. With proper planning and some simple training, you can prevent door dashing and provide a stimulating inside environment for your cat.

Replace Dashing with Perching

One of the easiest ways to stop door dashing is to train your cat to station on a perch. Start by teaching him to follow a target, such as a wooden spoon, with his nose. Hold the target out in front of his nose and mark any movement at all toward the target with a verbal “good” or a click; immediately reward with a treat or toy. Work toward getting your cat to touch his nose to the end of the target.

Over time, move the target further distances and over small obstacles, such as a cat bed or the couch. Eventually, the target stick can be brought up to the perching area for your cat to follow. Some cats will automatically come to your hand if you move your fingers around, tapping the surface of the perch while using an excited voice, but you can also use a feather toy to lure your cat onto the perch if needed.    

Once your cat is on the perch, reward him for laying down or sitting. Step a small distance away and if he stays in place, reward him on the perch. If he jumps off the perch, move a shorter distance next time. Remember to keep all training sessions short to keep your feline interested. 

Practice Perching on Command

Once your cat readily follows the target to his station and stays in place, add a word such as “place” one to two seconds before you present the target. Adding the verbal command teaches your cat to go to his perch solely in response to the word. Fade your target by presenting it further away from the perch or by making it smaller. Once your cat performs the behavior entirely in response to the verbal command, gradually move yourself further away from the perch when you give the cue. Practice until your cat responds, even when you are standing next to the door.

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