My Cat Scratches and Growls When Someone Comes to the Door

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, shares desensitizing techniques for a cat who's aggressive to certain stimuli.

Posted: October 15, 2010, 3 a.m. EDT

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Q: My sons sent me flowers and when the delivery woman knocked loudly on the door and I answered, my 3-year-old cat Azriel attacked my leg. She clawed in so deeply that I am still pouring hydrogen peroxide on it and wondering if I need to go to the emergency room. 

Azriel hates for anyone to come to the door. (This applies to UPS, USPS, my boyfriend, friends and religious people.) If someone knocks before I can remove her from the area, she hisses, growls and sometimes attacks me. Everyone calls her a psycho cat and wonders why I keep her. She really can be lovable but right now I am having trouble remembering it. I have tried plug-in scents to calm her and a spray bottle for the behavior, but I can't control people knocking on the front door. 

A: You can’t control who knocks on your door, but you can desensitize and counter-condition Azriel to door-knocking so that she doesn’t react with aggression every time you both have visitors.

Desensitizing and counter-conditioning is done by both gradually desensitizing Azriel to the knocking and pairing the sound with something Azriel loves.

Identify what activities or food Azriel loves and gather the relevant treats, toys or grooming tools. Some cats love treats, others enjoy being groomed and some are delighted by play.

Record someone knocking on your door. Confine Azriel to a room far from the front door while you make the recording so that she can’t be triggered by the sound.

Once you have gathered the tools and made the recording, place the recorder next to the front door and begin the process. Engage Azriel in her favorite activity and while she is enjoying it, turn the recorder on to a low volume. Play it only for a couple of seconds and then turn off the recorder. If Azriel has not shown any stressed or aggressive responses, repeat the same exercise a few minutes later. If she displays signs of aggression or anxiety, wait a few hours, repeat the exercise but with a lower volume and a shorter duration.

After Azriel stops showing an aggressive or stressed response to the current volume level, slightly increase it and repeat the exercise. Repeat the exercise at random times during the day, gradually increasing the sound and durations levels until they approximate real life. Be patient. Increase the criteria only when Azriel is comfortable with the current levels. 

Azriel is ready for the next phase only after she stops responding aggressively or anxiously to the recording. Ask a friend to come to the front door and softly knock. As before, increase the number and sound level of the knocks only after Azriel stops responding irritably to the knocking. If she does, ask your friend to knock lighter so that the sound isn’t as loud and intense. Only increase the intensity of the knocks when Azriel is not reacting fractiously to them.

The desensitizing and counter-conditioning process is gradual. Some cats quickly establish a new association with the trigger, others take a few weeks or months until a new, positive association is formed.

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My Cat Scratches and Growls When Someone Comes to the Door

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Reader Comments

OJU    KO, UT

10/23/2010 4:43:09 AM

OI

Holly12    Stouffville, ON

10/19/2010 12:07:04 PM

Thanks for posting!

Bill & Lorraine    Manhattan, NY

10/18/2010 7:41:19 PM

Interesting

Clara    St. Paul, MN

10/18/2010 1:26:41 PM

Interesting article.

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