Attempting to escape every time you open the door — “door darting” — is a dangerous habit, not just for your cat, who may find himself outdoors and unfamiliar with the risks of his new environment, but for you as well. If your arms are filled with groceries — or maybe a 50-pound bag of cat litter — and you trip over your feline friend as he’s scurrying out the door, you could be in for a severe injury. Here are some tips for helping a door-darter to break the habit.
1. Spay or neuter
If your cat isn’t already spayed or neutered, do that right now. Cats in heat or tomcats who catch a whiff of a lady-cat ready for a romantic encounter will run for the door every chance they get.
2. Set up a greeting spot
Do not greet your cat as soon as you come in the door. Instead, start saying your hellos and goodbyes on the opposite side of the room from the door. If he doesn’t already have a nice perching spot there, make or buy one for him. Few cats can resist the allure of an awesome cat tower in a sunny window. Train him to greet you there by giving him treats.
3. Create a distraction
Before you leave, say goodbye to your cat and give him an absolutely irresistible treat. Your cat will probably be much more interested in eating his yummies than in running out the door. If your cat insists on following you to the door, keep a stash of cat toys in a place that’s easy for you to reach but hard for him to access. Toss the toy across the room as you leave.
4. Entertain him
Your cat may be running out the door because he’s bored. Provide him with some intellectual stimulation like rolling treat balls or self-activated toys. Be sure he has plenty of vertical space so he can survey his domain from different angles.
5. The last resort: Squirt and shut
If your cat is super-hardcore and he doesn’t respond to any of your positive reinforcement techniques, you may have to resort to the Squirt and Shut method. Keep a spray bottle filled with water near your door. Every time you’re about to enter your house, open the door a crack. If you see your cat waiting for you, squirt him in the chest area — not the face — and shut the door. You don’t want to come in as soon as you’ve sprayed him because you want him to learn to associate unpleasant things with the door, not with you.
In order to help your cat break the door-darting habit, you and everyone in your household must apply these tools every time anyone enters and leaves the home. If even one person falters, your cat won’t learn the lesson that he’s not to go to the door.
Have you successfully retrained a cat that runs for the door? If so, please comment about what techniques worked for you.