Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
Why does my adorable adopted male grey and white cat always run out the door as soon as it opens? He is very vocal at night. He doesn’t stay out long, and he finds his way home. He has his neuter appointment this Saturday. After he is “fixed,” will that calm him down and keep him inside?
Siouxsie: Well, Eva, we have to confess that “door dashing” is a very popular feline hobby, especially for those of us who have had the chance to be outside cats before.
Thomas: In your cat’s case, his hormones are probably contributing to the door charging. Once he’s been neutered, he will calm down a bit. However, it’ll take a few weeks for the levels of sex hormones to decrease enough to see a significant behavior change.
Dahlia: You didn’t mention how old your cat is, but if he’s still less than a year old, it’s not as likely that the habit of charging outdoors will stick. However, if he’s older, the door-dashing may be a pretty well-ingrained habit.
Siouxsie: Since charging the door and running outside can be a very dangerous — not just for him, but for any people who happen to be standing in his way with an armload of groceries — it’s a good idea to train your cat out of the behavior.
Thomas: The first thing you’ll need to do is make sure you never greet or pet your cat at the door. If you call your kitty the minute you walk in, he might start to wait there. Instead, walk over to a spot a few feet inside your house and make that the place where you say hello to your cat. Ignore him until you get to that spot.
Dahlia: If you keep on doing that, he’ll start waiting for you at that place farther from the door.
Siouxsie: Keep in mind that cats can be very persistent — especially older cats with more deeply ingrained habits. If you greet your cat inside every day for a month and then you “slip” and say hello to him at the door, he’ll start waiting there again.
Thomas: To keep your cat from running outside as you leave, say goodbye to him in a specific spot like his favorite spot on the couch or his cat tree. Give him a treat-filled toy so he has something to do as you walk out the door.
Dahlia: Another trick is to toss a toy away from the door as you go. Ping-pong balls or ball-like treats that have jingle bells inside them are pretty much irresistible to cats. I have to confess I just get so delighted when Mama throws my jingle-ball toy. I chase it all over the floor!
Siouxsie: If these techniques fail and your cat is still dashing for the door, have someone stand outside the door and open it just a little. Not enough for the cat to squeeze through, but enough so that the cat will come to the door.
Thomas: If your cat does come to the door, have the person try squirting him with water or using a can of compressed air (the type you get at office supply stores to clean the gunk out of your computer keyboard).
Dahlia: Don’t squirt or send air right into his face! You want to aim for the chest or the front legs. You’re trying to startle him, not terrorize him.
Siouxsie: It’s important that the cat not see the person. You want him to think that the door, not a human being, is responsible for this.
Thomas: These are tried-and-true techniques we learned from feline behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett, who has done a lot of work training cats out of very unattractive behaviors.
Dahlia: If you want to get some of the books Pam has written, visit our Amazon.com store, where we’ve put together a collection of the best cat books — from behavior help to children’s books to fantasy fiction. And if you purchase books through our store, you’ll help to defray the costs involved in hosting this site.