Dog Door Training: 4 Reasons I Hate Them and 1 Reason I Love Them
If I had a nickel for every time someone with a doggy door came to me because they were having puppy potty training issues… well, I think I would be a millionaire sitting in my pool writing this.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way for me! But, as often happens after umpteen million questions regarding one subject it dawns on me that perhaps it is time to write an article to help people.
So, here is a guide on how to train your dog to use the doggy door, as well as a few reasons why I am not a fan of the great doggy door. And don’t worry – at the end I will tell you the one reason I like them if used responsibly!
While some dogs immediately understand the ins and outs of maneuvering through a pet door, others need a bit more training and encouragement. Here are some tips on how to train your dog to use the pet door and some techniques to help them through the first, most difficult step.
The First Step is a Doozy
Some dogs seem to have trouble taking the first step through the door. Some will step partially in or out, but not all the way through.
To help your dog walk through a pet door, position yourself and your dog on opposite sides of the door with you on the inside and your dog on the outside. Then encourage your dog to come in through the pet door with dog treats or targeted commands like, “Come!” Practice this dog training technique several times until your dog walks through the pet door successfully.
If your dog still won’t walk through the door, even after several attempts using their favorite treats, there may be other issues preventing safe passage.
The door may make a strange noise that frightens your dog, or the step down from the pet door to the ground may be too steep.
Check to make sure your pet door is working properly by pushing your hand through to test it out, and thinking about it from your dog’s point of view.
One of my dogs struggled with the pet door a bit until I realized that going was scary for him because there was a big step down. So I put up a ramp.
Electronic doors like the PetSafe Electronic SmartDoor are great because they open automatically when triggered by a key worn on your dog’s collar. Most models make a sound then activated, which can be jarring for some dogs. If the sound bothers your dog, turn off the electronic portion until she is comfortable walking through it. Then re-introduce the electronic portion gradually using positive reinforcement like treats and praise. Hale Pet Doors are also generally a really great option if you want a more traditional doggy door.
Avoid forcing your dog through the door. This can increase the anxiety they associate with the door and cause them to resist using it even more. The keys to success are consistency, patience, praise and a lot of dog treats so that your dog will open the door itself.
History of the Pet Door
There’s no doubt about some of the wonderful attributes of the pet door.
But who actually came up with the idea is still a topic of debate. Some credit the ancient inhabitants of Cyprus and Egypt who made simple holes in their storage houses so feral cats could hunt the rodents that fed on the grain and flour. Geoffrey Chaucer described these “cat holes” in the “Canterbury Tales” during the late 14th century.
But the most popular theory credits Sir Isaac Newton with inventing the pet door.
According to an anonymous report published in 1893, Newton mistakenly made two holes in his home, a large hole for his adult cat and a smaller one for her kittens. The scientist discovered too late that only one hole was necessary. The kittens simply followed their mom through the larger one. Sadly, drywall wouldn’t be invented for another 20 years.
Dog Door Training
Most pets are eager to explore the outside, and once they realize they have the option to go in and out as they please, they will jump on the opportunity. Teaching the pet generally takes somewhere between five seconds and five days.
Whether you have an adult dog, or a new puppy, teaching him how to use a doggy door will be done the same way.
When you install your dog door, make sure you measure the "rise" of your dog (the measurement from the floor to the lowest part of your dog's chest or stomach). This measurement tells you where to place the "bottom" of your dog door.
The bottom of your dog door should be an inch lower than the "rise" of your dog.
If you have a puppy you will need to install the dog door one inch from the ground; and you will need to reinstall it at higher intervals as your puppy grows.
Another option is to take an educated guess as to how tall your dog will eventually be, install the dog door at the appropriate height, and construct a "puppy-ramp" so your puppy can reach the dog door and go through it comfortably.
Once the frame of the doggy door is installed in a wall or door, leave the dog door off at first. Have someone stay inside with your dog while you go outside. Call your dog through the "hole" (door frame without the doggy door). When he goes through and comes to you, praise him lavishly and give him a treat. Now have the person inside the house call him through the "hole."
When he gets to them, they should praise it and offer a treat as well. Do this at least 3 times and no more than a dozen. After this, your dog will know there is a hole in the wall or the door especially for him.
Leave the doggy door off the cut opening for one full day. Encourage him to use his opening by not letting him use the "real" doors. Instead, you use the real door and say to your dog, "Go to your door!" pointing in the direction of his dog door. You may need the help of someone inside to "help" the dog find his new door. After a half a dozen times, your dog should like this new game!
If you have a very young puppy, do not expect them to learn "Go to your door" for many weeks or months; still give them the command in a happy voice, and have someone inside show them where their door is every time. It sometimes helps if you are outside (after going through a real door) and someone else helps your dog or puppy find the doggie door as you call him from outside.
On the second day, install the doggy door. Now, you will need to repeat the same exercise as when you first sent your dog through the "hole." But this time, the person on the same side of the door as the dog will need to "push" the dog door open for him. Each time the dog goes through the door, push the doggy door less and less for him. It is important that the dog gets used to the feel of the dog door on the back of his head so once your dog has begun going through the door, let go of the pet door so he feels it on his head and body as he goes through the door.
Eventually, the dog will need to push the dog door by himself and dogs are usually hesitant to do this at first. He will probably put his nose down by the bottom of the doggy door and wait for it to move (after all, it has up to now). At this point, push the doggy door slightly so that your dog can see it is a movable object. Let the door bounce back to the closed position.
The best way I can explain it is that you are "poking" the doggy door using short, quick pokes. This gives the dog a glimpse of an opening and encourages him to poke the door himself. At this stage, some dogs begin going through the door with ease, others become quite excited, but still haven't figured out that they can push the door open.
If your dog will not push the door open by himself yet, remove the doggy door and install a piece of carpet onto the opening. You want the carpet to have a least a 1/4" to 1/2" opening on the sides and bottom. The dog should feel more comfortable pushing the carpet on its own. After 2-3 days, install the dog door again. With plenty of enthusiastic encouragement and praise, your dog should be able to push the doggy door now with no problem.
Make the pet door a part of your house training by using the same technique outlined above with your puppy on the outside of the door and you on the inside. Coax your puppy through the door with treats and give them plenty of praise.
Make training fun by playing peek-a-boo through the door or by squeezing a squeaky toy to get their attention. To housetrain your puppy, have them use the pet door to go back outside, then meet them there with a leash. Take them to their designated potty spot and wait until they use the bathroom. Remove the leash and have them use the pet door to go back inside.
You can also place a toy outside the pet door to help your puppy understand where they need to go. Gradually move the toy away from the door to their designated spot. Practice several times, and before you know it, your puppy will be pet door pro.
Using the pet door comes naturally to most dogs and cats, even if they are reluctant to use a traditional rubber flap door. They can see outside through the clear panel and the panel swings open easily.
If the pet doesn’t take to the door, try propping one of the panels open and coaxing the pet through with a treat. When it comes to cats, it generally works well to put something they want on the other side of the door.
For the electronic door, it usually works well to put a treat on the bottom lip of the pet door. The dog or cat approaches to get the treat, and the collar key triggers the door to open. It doesn’t take long for the pets to figure out that the door will open when they come close.
Some pets need longer than others. It is important to stay patient and calm, and give praise once they do come through. When the get the hang of it, they’ll be happy to run in and out without having to wait for a human to get the door.
Reasons Why I Don’t Like Doggy Doors
#1. Doggy Doors Impair Dog Potty Training
People are under a severe misunderstanding that if they put in a doggy door, they won’t have to worry about their puppy having accidents.
Unfortunately, most of the time, actual potty training doesn’t go into this process. Let me tell you that puppies don’t come out of the womb knowing that they should pee and poop only in grass.
In fact, some breeders whelp litters on kennel or concrete basement floors and so these puppies are used to hard, slick surfaces to go potty. So, in these cases, some puppies will go outside to play and come inside to potty.
Also, it is important to note, that without actual potty training these dogs and puppies get used to going potty wherever they are and whenever they feel like they need to potty.
I suppose we can liken this to babies and diapers, they just pee or poop when the mood hits, except most puppies (provided they are old enough) can learn to hold it; just like young children learning to potty train.
They potty outside, they potty inside and the truth is they don’t know any different if time is not put into actual potty training.
If people want to use a doggy door, I recommend sealing it up completely until the dog understands and is fully potty trained. It is a lot easier to teach a dog to utilize a doggy door to go outside than it is to do both this and potty training at the same time.
#2. Doggy Doors Can Facilitate Bringing Dirty Creepy Things Into Your House
Ah, the good ol’ doggy door! Not only does it allow your dog to go outside anytime he desires; it also allows him to bring the great outdoors INDOORS!
If it rains and your backyard is a swamp, muddy paws and muddy bodies have full run of the house! I have a dog that LOVES to splash and lay in a good mud puddle on a hot day.
Let me be the first to tell you that I don’t want her on my sofa and on my bed, much less wandering across my floor. When I let her out and she does this, I can wipe her feet or hose her off or bathe her prior to house access.
If your dog finds and kills a mouse, or has the good fortune (for him) of finding a dead critter in your yard (or poop, or pine cones, or well… you fill in the blank) that too can be stuffed in your bed, in your sofa or just splayed out on your floor.
Dogs will be dogs, and dogs can be smelly people! No, thank you.
#3. Doggy Doors Allow Your Things to Go Outside
This is also a BIG one I hear about!
Like your laptop? Leave it out on the table? It may end up taking a little travel around your yard!
Michael Kors purse or bag lying about? Hope you don’t mind finding it outside.
Even if it is not shredded beyond recognition, chances are having expensive things take a stroll through your backyard is a distinct possibility. I have even seen pictures of things that I could never imagine getting out of a doggy door, out in someone’s backyard!
If you leave your dog out (hence the doggy door) you can’t lock everything down… I have seen couch pillows drug out big doggy doors! Again, no thank you!
#4. Doggy Doors Allow Wildlife to Visit You
I remember dog sitting for a dear friend of mine.
We went through the regular “how to” of the pet sitting for her house and she described how I needed to “lock” the doggy door before I went to bed. I couldn’t quite figure out why since the dogs were safely and happily in sleeping crates at night. Then she described how a raccoon had been caught “red handed” in the dog dish one night and the fun that happened after his discovery, trying to then get him OUT of the house.
If your dog can get in, so can other animals. And, as you can imagine, starving wild animals can be quite scary when they are challenged. It’s likely that they come in because they can actively smell the food. Most of us are asleep when wild animals peruse our homes and garbage. A door is a door to a hungry critter. And, some wild animals carry Rabies. Not to mention a wild animal coming into your garage and home can seriously hurt your dog.
Not all visits happen at night, too!
And the One Reason I Like Them?
If… and I mean IF you potty train your dog, and train your dog, and trust your dog and work long hours they can be a life saver. Adult dogs can go long periods of time without having to go outside. After all, most of us don’t have doggy doors and our dogs do just fine.
But some jobs require 12+ hours, and for those people who (hopefully only occasionally) work those hours, a pet door can allow them to own a dog. I know it is not ideal to be gone that long, but sometimes life is hard for us humans too.
Some Quick Tips
I DO use a doggy door, or should I say “kitty door” that leads into the room where I house the cat litter box! And, for that, a doggy door has been AMAZING!
Teaching your pet to use a pet door is usually a quick and easy process. Most cats and dogs learn to use a dog door immediately, although some take several days. Do not push the pet through the door. Start by propping open a panel and coaxing the pet through with a treat.
The following tips will make learning easy:
Put something your pet really wants on the other side of the door. This could be a favorite toy, or an extra delicious treat. Dogs like things with interesting smells, and most dogs will want to investigate a piece of smelly cheese.
Prop the door open and call for your pet. Praise any progress. It’s important to be patient and maintain a good mood. Babying the pet proves the door is something out of the ordinary and should be feared. Forcing the pet through has the same effect.
If you have a door larger than small, so it has two panels, start with keeping both panels propped open, and when your pet goes through the hole willingly, close one panel, to show that they will swing open.
Give more praise.
The Bottom Line
In reality, how useful or counterproductive a pet door can be isn’t universal. It depends upon your situation, your dog’s personality, and how well that your dog is trained. If your dog doesn’t like your pet door and you haven’t trained it to use it, well, then it’s just an access point that other animals can use to get into your house.
If you have a dog that likes to get messy, having a way for it to come and go as it pleases probably isn’t the greatest idea.
However, if you trust your dog, and, if it’s trained well, then pet doors can be amazing for allowing your dog to come and go as it needs to while you’re working long hours at work.
Do you have any additional questions? Concerns? Feel free to comment below!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.