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We have an 18-month old Papillon. He is generally well behaved and learns things quickly. The problem is that about 8-months ago, another cat was bullying our cat to the point where he was afraid to leave the house, and on 3 or 4 occasions, we let our dog out the back door to chase this cat out of our garden. He barked at it and it ran away, and it no longer visits our garden.

But since then, he gets very excited if we go near the back door. If we go outside (which we do often - our washing machine is in an outhouse) he rushes out of the door, barks and jumps up at the wall (where a cat could climb in the garden), and then runs round to a tree, climbs a little up that (it forks about a foot off the ground) and barks some more. After he's done that for a minute or so, he has one more bark at the wall, is satisfied and comes back in.

He's got gradually more obsessed about this. If he is upstairs and hears one of us step near the door, he comes tearing down the stairs at full pelt, sometimes yelping as if in pain if he thinks he might not make it. As soon as we get home from a walk he rushes to the back door and looks up at us expectantly, sometimes barking to let us know he wants to go out on his little routine.

We've tried ignoring it, but we still have to go outside most days and he always wants to come and do his thing. If we shut him away from the door and go out he whimpers and yelps and generally gets rather distressed. We also tried indulging him and taking him out on a "security patrol" when he wants to, thinking that normalising it might take the excitement away. Neither thing has calmed him down.

There is a cat flap in the door which he uses without any fuss when he wants to go outside for any other reason (e.g. he needs the toilet in the night, or he just wants a quiet wander round the garden), but he doesn't choose to use it when he wants to go and bark at the wall and up the tree - that seems to specifically need us to be involved.

Any advice on how we can wean him off this obsession?

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  • Welcome at pets.SE! What do you do to "entertain" your dog? How are the walks with him shaped? Maybe he is simple a little bit bored and really enjoys this entertaining door-cat-defense-acts :) Apr 8 at 15:41
  • If this could be the case, then have a look into this question, to get ideas :) Alternatives to walking a dog Apr 8 at 15:43
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    Well he has a couple of walks a day, one 45 minute circuit, then in the afternoon we go to the park so that he can play fetch, or play with his friends, for 20 minutes or so (any longer and he gets too tired to walk home). We also do agility once a week and play tug with his toys a few times a day. There's always someone around, and he gets a lot of attention. But there's no doubt that he thoroughly enjoys his security detail, it's just a little much!
    – Guy G
    Apr 8 at 17:06
  • I am not a dog expert :) I learned here, that dogs have two types of activities. One for the bodies energy and one for the mental energy. You described a lots of body-energy-activities. I imagine a dog, who is tired enough to think twice, if it should start a chase through door and garden :) Apr 8 at 17:21

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This sounds like the onset of OCD - obsessive compulsive behavior.

My best guess is that something about chasing away the cat felt so good to your dog (maybe comparable with a drug high) that he's seeking the same feeling now. That would explain why he can use the dog flap as normal, but whenever someone opens the door, it's completely different for him.

The more often your dog does this obsessive behavior, the more ingrained it gets in his brain. Like in an addict, the reward center of his brain adapts to the repeated stimuli and he'll crave this behavior more and more. He might even lose interest in other activities because they don't trigger his reward center as much as the obsessive behavior.

I strongly advice you to seek the help of a local dog trainer. Not the puppy school type, but a real trainer who comes to your home, analyzes the behavior and gives you instructions on how to deal with them. These trainers are usually much more experienced and can read small changes in the dogs body language that you might not even know about.

In the mean time, you should divert his attention away from the door. I think it would be easiest to have 2 people involved in this. Every time person A has to go out the door, person B will follow them to the door with a very special dog treat. This treat must have a strong smell, your dog must love it, and he'll only ever get it when someone goes through the door. When he comes running to the door, hold the treat so close to his nose that he cannot ignore it, but don't let him eat it yet. Lead him away from the door while person A opens the door and goes through. At the same moment (when the door is opened), give the treat to your dog. The idea is to give him a reward that is as strong as the one seeks from barking at the wall, but more healthy for him.

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