Training Your Dog to Use a Dog Door – Housetraining Basics

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Having a dog door makes housebreaking easy… if your dog will use it, that is! Some dogs just naturally take to using the dog door, but others are clueless or even fearful of the dog door. If your dog needs a little help learning to use the dog door, there are several methods you can use to teach him to go in and out comfortably.

Before you choose a method for teaching your dog to use his dog door, here are a few tips that will help with his training:

  • If you’re installing your doggie door in a door, you may find it helpful to start out by leaving your puppy in his confinement area with the door open at first. You can start this part of the training even before the dog door is installed. This way, he’ll get used to enjoying indoor/outdoor access and he’ll be more motivated to go in and out the dog door once you start leaving the human door closed.
  • When training your dog to go through his dog door, be especially careful not to let the flap hit him in the early part of training. If this has happened or if your dog is fearful or seems very worried about using his doggy door, you may find it helpful to use duct tape to tape the flap of his dog door all the way up for the first several days so he gets used to going in and out without being scared by the flap. Of course, you should only tape the flap to your door or door frame if you’re sure the tape won’t damage the finish. Once your dog’s comfortably using the dog door with the flap taped up, try Method 1 or Method 2 to slowly acclimate him to using the dog door with the flap down.
  • When training your dog to use his doggie door, you may need to step outside to call him through the door. Remember that your puppy’s’s not allowed to be unsupervised in the house, so if you go outside to call your dog out through the dog door, you should have another person inside the house to supervise him so he can’t have an accident while he’s in the house.

Method 1 – Calling Your Dog
Good if your dog loves interacting with people

Before starting your training, assess whether your puppy would be more motivated to come in through the dog door or go out through it. If your dog loves being inside the house, you should start this training with him outside. If he’s the kind of guy who’s always excited to get a chance to get outside, start with him inside the house. If you’re not sure which he prefers, he can start this exercise either inside or outside. You can do this exercise on your own or you can do it with one person on each side of the dog door, one calls your dog in, then the other calls him out.

With your puppy on one side of the dog door and you on the other, lift the flap of the dog door all the way up and call him, using an excited voice and lots of animation. Reward any attempt to come toward or through the door with lots of verbal encouragement. When he makes it the whole way through, pet him, praise him and play with him… make a huge fuss over him! Then, leaving him where he is, go to the other side of the door, lift the flap and repeat the same exercise. Do a few repetitions going each way then take a break. This training can be stressful and exciting for your dog, so you should do short sessions to avoid burning him out.

After your dog has had a break, repeat the exercise. If he’s coming through with no hesitation, repeat the exercise holding the flap up only halfway. Your puppy may be troubled by feeling the flap touching him, so you’ll need to use lots of verbal encouragement to convince him that’s no big deal. Continue to go crazy with the praise, play and treats after he comes through.

Once he’s going through with the flap halfway up, continue doing short sessions with him, gradually lifting the flap up less and less, until you’re to the point where he’s pushing through the door on his own.

Once he knows that he can come through the door, try to get him to do it without you calling him. The best way to do this is to leave him on one side of the door and do something fun on the other side of the door… play with the kids or with your other dog or run around the yard hooting and hollering like you’re having a great time. If your dog comes out to join you, you’ll know he’s getting the idea. Repeat this for a few sessions, and you’ll soon find that your dog’s using his dog door on his own.

Method 2 – Luring Your Dog with Treats
Good if your dog’s the type who will do anything for a snack

For this training, you should have some extra yummy treats with a strong scent… something like hot dogs, jerky treats or freeze-dried liver. Let your puppy see you get the treats out and try to get him excited about the treats by holding them tightly in your hand and letting him sniff and lick the treats without actually giving him one.

Before starting your training, assess whether your dog would be more motivated to come in through the dog door or go out through it. If your puppy loves being inside the house, you should start this training with him outside. If he’s the kind of guy who’s always excited to get a chance to get outside, start with him inside the house. If you’re not sure which he prefers, he can start this exercise either inside or outside.

With your dog on one side of the dog door and you on the other, lift the flap of the dog door all the way up and call him, using an excited voice and lots of animation. Wave the treats so he can see them on the other side of the dog door. Reward any attempt to come toward or through the door with lots of verbal encouragement, but don’t let him have the treat until he makes it the whole way through. When he comes all the way through, pet him, praise him and and let him have some treats! Then, leaving him where he is, go to the other side of the door, lift the flap and repeat the same exercise. Do a few repetitions going each way then take a break. This training can be stressful and exciting for your puppy, so you should do short sessions to avoid burning him out.

After your dog has had a break, repeat the exercise. If he’s coming through with no hesitation, repeat the exercise holding the flap up only halfway. Your dog may be troubled by feeling the flap touching him, so you’ll need to use lots of verbal encouragement to convince him that’s no big deal. Continue to go crazy with the praise and play after he comes through.

Once he’s going through with the flap halfway up, continue doing short sessions with him, gradually lifting the flap up less and less, until you’re to the point where he’s pushing through the door on his own.

Once he knows that he can come through the door, try to get him to do it without you calling him and offering him treats. You can do this by leaving him on one side of the door and scattering some treats on the ground on the other side of the door or you can do something fun on the other side of the door… play with the kids or with your other dog or run around the yard hooting and hollering like you’re having a great time. If your puppy comes out on his own, you’ll know he’s getting the idea. Repeat this for a few sessions, and you’ll soon find that your dog’s using his dog door on his own.

Method 3 – Putting Your Dog Through the Door
Good if your dog’s a small to medium sized dog who isn’t fearful

This is a straightforward, easy method that’s only appropriate for dogs who aren’t sensitive or fearful about the dog door. Just pick your dog up and gently push him through the door. Praise him enthusiastically when he is through so he knows you are pleased. Repeat this a few times over several brief sessions. If your dog doesn’t seem troubled or stressed by being pushed through, continue your training by holding your puppy around his ribcage with his face about an inch away from the dog door flap. Most likely, if you’ve sufficiently practiced pushing him through, he’ll push his way through the flap. When he does, fuss over him and tell him what a good boy he is!

Once your dog’s pushing his way through when you hold him near the door, try going to the other side of the door to call him through. When he comes through, praise him, play with him or give him some treats. After practicing this step for several sessions, you should find that your dog’s comfortably using the dog door without needing any encouragement from you.

If Your Dog Knows How To Go Through the Dog Door, but Doesn’t Want To!

Once your puppy learns that the dog door gives him the freedom to go in and out at will, he’ll probably just love it and start using it appropriately. In rare cases, you might find you have a dog who doesn’t want to go outside on his own and won’t use the door even once he knows how. Needing to go potty won’t be reason enough for him to leave you or go out of the house on his own. If you find that to be the case, you’ll need to find a way to make going out through the dog door appealing to your dog.

For most dogs with this problem, putting their water bowl outside is an easy fix. If you do this, your dog will start going out when he wants a drink, and, over time, he’ll start sniffing around, hanging out and realizing it’s not so bad out there! During the initial phase of this training, your dog’s only water bowl should be the one outside. Of course, you need to make sure your dog is getting sufficient water, so remember to take him out periodically to get water until you know you can count on him to take himself outside every time he needs a drink.

If the water isn’t an interesting enough lure to get your dog outside, feeding him outside can be helpful. Let him watch you prepare his food, then leave your puppy inside and take his food just outside the dog door. Put it down and come back inside. If this is going to work, you should find that your puppy goes outside on his own within 30 minutes. If he doesn’t, time to move on to Plan C!

The next thing you’ll try if your dog doesn’t want to use his doggy door is playing hide and go seek with some treats out in the yard. Get some yummy, strongly scented treats and show them to your puppy. Try to get him worked up and excited to get the treats. Then have someone hold him or tie him back while you "hide" the treats in the grass or landscaping (the first few days you can just let him see where the treats are hidden). Once the treats are "hidden", take your dog back into the house and leave him inside while you go out in the yard and wait for him to come out. If you wait too long, you can go back and tease him and call him through the door. In either case, once he comes out run around the yard with him and act like you are looking for treats too! Make it lots of fun. In a couple of days he should be coming out without any tempting and you can stop helping him to hunt. He should get very good at finding the treats using just his nose.

Once he is really into the game, set it up without him watching you hide the treats by leaving him inside the house with the dog door closed or in a crate. Before you go out to hide the treats, show him that you have the treats and tell him that you are going out to hide them by getting excited and calling him as you go. Once the treats are hidden, come back in the house and let your dog out of his crate or open the dog door. Stay in the house and let your puppy decide on his own that he wants to go hunting!

Moving On

Once your dog is going through the doggy door on his own, move on to Using a Doggie Door to Housebreak Your Dog or Puppy for your housebreaking training.

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