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Q&A: Why Is My Dog Scratching Up the Cabinets During Meals?

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Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.

What can you do to encourage a picky dog to eat and stop them from acting out?

What can you do to encourage a picky dog to eat and stop them from acting out?

How Do I Stop My Dog From Scratching the Cabinets?

"We have a 6YO female Morkie, Maggie. About a year ago, she developed a habit of scratching on the bottoms of doors and cabinets when we eat our meals or when she is hungry. But when we give her her dry dog food, she rarely eats it immediately. She’ll scratch again and again until she decides to eat her food. Most of the time, she won’t eat it until we add broth, gravy or hot water to it (which we don’t mind doing, if she’ll eat it!). During these scratching episodes, as you can imagine, she gets lots of negative attention from us, because we don’t want her doing it!

She’s ruining the wood on the doors and cabinets with her scratching. Any thoughts on how to break her from this bad habit?" —Joni

What to Do If Your Dog Acts Out During Meals

Your Morkie sounds like a smart little dog that has things figured out! It sounds like there are several problems here.

Anorexia and Picky Eating

The first is anorexia because she is a picky eater. There are a lot of good suggestions for dogs that are picky eaters, including leaving the kibble down only 15 minutes and then removing it if the dog has not eaten, but please watch her carefully and do not let her go too long without eating since she is such a tiny dog.

Here is a long list of other things you can try to get your finicky dog to eat.

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Time Outs to Fix Bad Behavior

The second problem, and the most serious, is the behavior of scratching up the doors and cabinets. There are several options, the first of which is "time out". Dogs are social animals, so they naturally want to hang around with their people at all times, including when they are eating. If every time Maggie starts scratching the cabinets you pick her up and take her to a separate room (or crate in another room), she is going to learn quickly that the results of her actions are social isolation.

She only needs to be kept away from you for 5 minutes or so, and dogs that respond to this training usually do so within a few days. You might need to move her into "time out" five or six times the first day, and if you do, please realize that is normal.

Distractions During Meals

Does your dog have a Kong-type toy? If not, I recommend getting one! You can keep one of these fillable toys in the freezer with frozen peanut butter and give it to her every time you sit down to a meal. Hopefully, she will spend a lot of time trying to get the peanut butter out and will ignore you while eating.

Designated "Digging" Areas

If you are in an apartment, your dog may also want to dig and she does not have an outlet. Digging is a normal behavior for dogs, and when this is a problem (digging up the garden, for example) I often suggest the dog be given an alternative digging area, like a sandbox with toys and treats buried for the dog to discover.


Exercise is also a great way to lessen the digging instinct. Even Morkies like Maggie need to be walked two to three times a day.

This article is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from your veterinarian. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2022 Dr Mark

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