Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
My black Maine Coon, Newt, is 5 1/2 years old and normally an inside cat. But living with family he’s been jetting to the doors to get out! I don’t like him going outside for obvious reasons, and he’s also been catching lizards to play with them and then eating them. This scares me! Do you have any suggestions for to what I can do to deter him from getting outside? He normally comes back in, but I still don’t like him going out. Thank you!
Siouxsie: Door darting is a very dangerous behavior, Lisa, so we’re glad you’ve asked for some advice on how to get Newt’s compulsion under control.
Thomas: You need to take a two-prong approach to stopping door-darting behavior: positively reinforcing him when he stays away from the door and making inside more interesting so that he doesn’t feel the need to go outside.
Kissy: Of course, we’re sure he’s neutered. If he’s not, you need to do that right away! Tomcats on the prowl will escape by any means necessary. And do you think they care anything about how we feel? Noooo! it’s just “wham, bam, thank you ma’am!” And who ends up taking care of a litter of hungry kittens, scrounging on the streets for any last scrap of food …
Siouxsie: Oh, shut up! I’ve heard enough of your sob stories!
Thomas: Siouxsie, be nice. Kissy’s about to have an operation and the pain medication is making her weepy.
Kissy: *sniffle* And I have to wear this horrible cone on my head …
Siouxsie: Anyway, back to Lisa’s question. There are a couple of things you need to do to stop the run for the door. First of all, nobody should ever give Newt attention near the door. That’s probably going to be a tough one, because a lot of humans will say hi and pet us as soon as they walk inside — but you have to do it.
Thomas: If Newt has a favorite hangout spot on the opposite side of the room, train him to sit there and wait for you. If he’s a food-motivated guy, get him a treat he reallllly loves. Say goodbye while he’s sitting in his favorite spot and then feed him the treat. Once he’s eating it, go out the door.
Kissy: A clever cat might even enjoy clicker training. Cat behaviorist Marilyn Krieger wrote Naughty No More, a great book on the subject, and one topic she addresses is clicker training to stop door darting! Naughty No More is available in paperback, Kindle, and Nook formats.
Siouxsie: And we think Newt probably is a clever cat — which is one of the reasons he wants to run for the door. He may be bored by his surroundings and want to get some intellectual stimulation.
Thomas: You can provide him with that stimulation by using tools like rolling food treat balls and automatic toys for when you’re not home. When you are at home, be sure to provide him with at least two 10- to 15- minute interactive play sessions.
Kissy: I love playing with the feather wand! It’s my favorite, and I sure hope Mama plays with me lots once I’m recovered from my operation. *purrrr*
Thomas: You can also make Newt’s environment more stimulating by giving him a cat tree, window perches, shelves, and other special places just for him.
Kissy: Until your training regimen is fully in effect, we’d recommend having a couple of cat toys by the door (in a place he can’t reach, of course), which you can toss across the room before you go out the door.
Siouxsie: Another stopgap measure — which we’d only recommend if Newt turns out to be so hardcore that you can’t get him to stop running for the door — is the Squirt and Shut method.
Thomas: Fill a spray bottle with water and leave it just outside the door. Before you come in, open the door just a crack. If you see him waiting to bolt, squirt him in the chest and close the door. Don’t come in after you squirt him. The idea here is that you want Newt to start thinking that the door is causing this unpleasantness, not you.
Kissy: We’re not fans of negative reinforcement in general, but door darting is dangerous enough that desperate times may call for desperate measures.
Siouxsie: In order to train Newt to stop running for the door, everyone in the house has to be on board with this program and everyone has to use the techniques we’ve recommended.
Thomas: Even one slip-up will start most cats thinking that it’s only a matter of time until they get their way, which will undermine all the training you’ve done up to that point.
Kissy: Good luck, Lisa, and we hope that with a program of retraining, Newt will soon give up his door-darting habit. Please let us know how things turn out.