Door darting is a potentially dangerous behavior for a cat. For a kitty who lives indoors exclusively, escaping through the door to the outside can result in instant tragedy. Even for a cat who is allowed access to the outside, being able to just zip out the front door whenever it’s opened can have very bad consequences.
The Allure of Door Darting
From the cat’s point of view, door darting is the one opportunity to escape to where all the excitement is located. When the front door is opened, a whole bunch of enticing scents enter the house. For an indoor/outdoor cat, being able to be in charge of his own in-and-out schedule is very appealing. The door is open and there’s nothing to do indoors so kitty uses that as his chance to head outside for some bird or chipmunk hunting.
Types of Door Darters
Some cats are very obvious and insistent about their plan to bolt out the door. They sit and wait for any opportunity – whether it’s a visitor entering or leaving, the cat parent entering with an armload of groceries or a child heading off to school. The obvious door darter makes his intentions known and although you do everything you can to block his access, he knows there will be one time when you’re not paying attention and he can zip out behind you.
Then there are the covert door darters and they can be the most dangerous because cat parents often don’t realize kitty is even missing. He hides somewhere in the room, ready to slip out without anyone noticing. It isn’t until dinner time that you may become alarmed because kitty isn’t meowing in the kitchen the way he always does when you pop open the cat food can.
Door Darting is Deadly
Cats who aren’t used to being outdoors are at serious risk of being hit by cars, attacked by other animals, becoming lost, ingesting poison, among many other dangers. Regardless of whether your cat darts out the door and usually just sits on the front porch or stays in the front yard, he is in danger. Door darting is a behavior that needs to be corrected.
Retraining a Door Darter
First, stop giving kitty any attention at the door. It’s probably very typical for you to bend down and greet your cat as soon as you open the door. Chances are, kitty is right there waiting for you as soon as he hears your key in the lock. You now have to make the door a place where you completely ignore your cat. All meet-and-greets need to take place away from the entrance.
Set up an official hello-and-goodbye spot on the other side of the room. This can be a cat tree, window perch, chair, any place where your kitty would enjoy sitting. Start by training your cat to go to that spot. You can call his name and then reward her with a treat when he goes there. If your cat likes to be petted, call him to that spot and pet him as soon as he lands there. If you do clicker training, you can click and reward him for going to that spot. Do all your greeting and saying goodbye there and then leave. Make sure that any treats you offer at the cat tree, window perch or whatever location you’ve chosen, is so tasty it’s irresistible. When it comes to choosing between the darting out the door and munching on a special treat, there should be no doubt in kitty’s mind that the treat is the better choice.
When you come in the door at the end of the day, don’t look at your cat or greet him until you walk over to that official hello-and-goodbye spot. That’s where you can lavish him with attention. Keep treats nearby in a container (or even keep some in your pocket) so you can reward him when he goes to that spot.
Another option to try is to offer puzzle feeders before you head out the door. A puzzle feeder will provide your cat with entertainment while getting a food reward for his efforts. Divide up his daily meal portion so you set out a couple of puzzle feeders before you head off to work in the morning.
Die-Hard Door Darters
If your cat refuses to cooperate when it comes to going to a specific location and insists on trying to bolt as soon as you open the door, then it’s time for some deterrents to help him see that nothing good happens at the front door. Carry a water spray bottle and when you’re on the outside, about to open the door, just open it crack. If you see that your cat is right by the door, then bend down and give a quick spritz of water at his chest area. Don’t squirt him in the face. Once you spray, shut the door. Don’t walk in the house because you don’t want your cat associating you with that deterrent behavior. You want him to think it’s the door that’s acting so unfriendly. You may need to keep the water spray bottle just outside the door so you and other family members can use it as needed during the retraining process.
Need More Information?
For more specifics on retraining a door darter and for other information on cat behavior problems, refer to any of Pam’s books, including the most recent release, Think Like a Cat. If you’re experiencing a cat behavior problem and would like a consultation with cat behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett, CCBC, contact our office.
Pam Johnson-Bennett is the star of Psycho Kitty airing on Discovery UK. She is author of seven best-selling books on cat behavior including Think Like a Cat: how to raise a well-adjusted cat – not a sour puss. Think Like a Cat has become known as the cat bible. Pam is considered a pioneer in the field of cat behavior consulting. In addition to her television series and public speaking engagements, Pam owns Cat Behavior Associates, a private veterinarian-referred behavior company in Nashville, TN. Cat Behavior Associates offers private cat behavior appointments on a limited basis. Pam Johnson-Bennett is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant.