How to Train a Dog to Use a Pet Door

Train a Dog to Use a Pet Door
Train a Dog to Use a Pet Door (Image: Tishin Donkersley,M.A.)

The dog door is in place, and now all Scruffy has to do is go through it. "Come on Scruffy," you say, "Go Scruffy, look Scruffy, outside, goooo outside, Scruffy." Your dog, inquisitive but hesitant about this new contraption, seems to resist passing under the plastic flap to go outside. Do not become discouraged, these useful tips gathered by professional dog trainers and loving pet owners can help you teach a young or old pup how to use a pet door.

Things You'll Need

  • Treats
  • 2 people
  • Daily training time
  • Patience

Get the good treats! If diet permits, pick up some scrumptious meat- or chicken-flavored treats from a local pet store. You want your pet focused on obtaining more treats instead of the act of going through the pet door.

Use one or two people. This training is ideal with two people, but if there is only one, here is how to start. Close all other doors leading to the outside. Choose whether to start the dog from the inside or outside then you go to the opposite. Lift up the plastic flap and begin to coax your dog to walk through the door. You may need to tease him with a treat just inside the entrance to get him to approach the door. As he tastes the yummy treat and wants another, gradually guide him through the door with additional treats and praise. A big hesitation and adjustment for dogs is the sensation of the plastic flap up against their face or slapping them on the back or tail when they exit. If you are using two people, have one person on each side of the door and continue to coax, reward and praise your dog for each passage.

Use positive reinforcement. Make sure to offer positive praise and reinforcement for all effort. Do not be surprised if your dog isn't sold on the idea at first. Some dogs might get it right away, but others need time and patience. Try not let your frustration overcome the training process.

Give a gentle nudge. If your dog needs some reassurance that the door is not scary or harmful, you might need to introduce the door to her together. Taking your dog over to the door using treats or encouragement might be the gentle push he/she needs to gain comfort. Another method is to place treats on the opposite side and gently guide the dog through the door enough for her to see the treats. Having them experience the door first hand with your assistance and praise may help them gain confidence. However, do not force your dog through the door, if may have a reverse effect.

Tips & Warnings

  • For more personalized instruction, you can hire a personal pet trainer or behaviorist who will come to your home and help your dog with specific issues. Check the resources below for certified instructors. You can also check with local groomers who might have connections with dog trainers in your area. It's best to get a reference for trainers.
  • If there is a significant height difference from the drop of the opening, you might need to make a tiny step or ramp to allow for easier access. This is especially helpful for older dogs with ailing hips.
  • Forcing an animal into a behavior might have a reverse effect and make the animal fearful to even engage in the desired behavior. Remember, it takes time and patience.

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