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How to Train Your Older Dog to Use a Doggie Door

How to Train Your Older Dog to Use a Doggie Door
Easy difficulty iconEasy
Time icon3-7 Days
General training category iconGeneral

Introduction

As dogs age, their habits can go through some changes whether we’re prepared for it or not. Some dogs sleep more often and eat less, while others may see a change in their activity level or ability to leap up onto furniture. No matter what changes the years may bring to your dog, they depend on you to help them navigate your home and their lives as best as you can to ensure they remain happy and healthy.

One specific change that some aging pups may experience is a shift in bathroom habits or the length of time they’re able to hold it before having to relieve themselves. In some cases, their schedule changes but yours doesn’t or can’t! In this scenario, an ideal tool to have is a doggie door that can give your dog access to the yard whenever he may need to go. They’re easy to install and can sometimes make your life--and your dog’s--a lot easier and more convenient when it comes time to use the bathroom.

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Defining Tasks

Of course, for an older dog who isn’t used to using a dog door to go outside, he may be hesitant and decide that he isn’t so sure about this strange opening with a flap. Sometimes the freedom to come and go as he pleases is strange and unfamiliar, but with a little bit of coaxing, your dog can use the door confidently without issue.

Try to take things slow and steady for a dog who is hesitant and try not to startle him with the swinging flap, as that can be an area of stress if he isn’t all that interested in getting hit in the face with it. Getting your dog used to the door may take a week or two of repeated use before he’s confident enough to venture out on his own.

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Getting Started

To begin, find the appropriately sized doggie door for your dog. When in doubt, go larger rather than smaller. A stuck dog will be an unhappy dog. Make sure that it’s installed in your door or wall properly to prevent it from breaking or coming off and hurting your dog.

Once that’s done, grab some treats to entice your dog or a favorite toy that can be used as a reward for using the door appropriately. You may also choose to set your dog’s food or water bowl outside for a little while to encourage him to go through the door himself. However, make sure you still take him outdoors several times during the day. 

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The Helper Method

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1

Find a friend or family member

Someone who lives with you is the best bet. Otherwise, invite a friend over who your dog is familiar with.

2

Go outside

While your friend remains inside with your dog, head outside with a toy or treats in hand.

3

Open the flap

This can be done by either removing the flap entirely or taping it open if it’s not the kind that can be removed. This will give your dog a better view of where you are.

4

Call your dog

With lots of enthusiasm, ask your dog to come out to you. Use a happy and excited tone of voice. Using the doggie door should be fun!

5

Reward

The moment your dog decides to step through the door, offer him treats and lots of praise. Play with him and his toy for a little while.

6

Reverse the process

Once you’re done outside, have your friend wait outside with your dog and return back indoors. Call your dog in the same way, but to come back inside. Reward as he comes to you.

7

Repeat

Over the next few days, try this exercise several times a day. Work your way up to lowering the flap so he can walk through without hesitation.

The Lure Method

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1

Lift the flap

Find a way to keep the flap open in order for your dog to have an unobstructed view of the lure.

2

Leave a lure

This can either be a trail of your dog’s favorite treats or a string attached to a favorite toy. Determine which is more likely to have her moving towards and through the door.

3

Let your dog follow

Allow your dog to have at the treats or chase the toy through the doggie door.

4

Reward for using the door

Any time your dog uses the door in the appropriate way, celebrate and reward her enthusiastically.

5

Lower the flap

Continue using the lure method but do so through a closed flap. Reward if your dog decides to go through the door even if there is some hesitation.

6

Phase out the lure

Over time, use the lure less. Place fewer treats down or set the toy just outside the door instead of having your dog follow it through the door. Work until your dog is going through the door without any lure at all.

The Hands-On Method

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Adjust your dog to the door

Sit yourself by the doggie door and encourage your dog to come sit with you. Offer treats if he sniffs at or is curious about the door.

2

Hold the flap open with one hand

Use this to show your dog what is on the other side of the door, whether you do this inside or outside.

3

Get hands underneath your dog

This works best with smaller or lighter dogs. Larger dogs may just need a gentle push from behind to go through the door.

4

Place your dog through the door

With the least amount of stress possible, place your dog on the other side of the door by either reaching through it yourself or gently pushing them through it.

5

Offer a big reward

Because this method is more about sudden exposure, a large reward can be required to acclimate your dog to going through the door. Offer great treats or a really nice toy to let your dog know that the door is a fun thing to go through.

6

Call your dog back through

Now that you’ve placed him through the first time, see if he’ll come back the other way on his own. Use a happy tone of voice or more rewards to entice him back through.

7

Practice

Do this as often as necessary until your dog develops the ability to go in and out of the door with ease. Use less rewards over time to limit dependence on them.

By TJ Trevino

Published: 01/05/2018, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Brooklyn

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Boxer

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8 Years

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Question

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Got a large size doggie door, how do I get them to use it with no stress on them or myself

June 24, 2021

Brooklyn's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Traci, I suggest practicing two things. First, hold the flap up (not attached to the doggie door, just by itself) and encourage one dog at a time to go under it using a favorite food reward like chicken. Practice her going under the flap until she is good at it. Next lower the flap a bit so that she will brush up against it when going through and reward when she goes through - but the way is mostly open. As she improves, very gradually lower your hand holding the flap so that she has to brush against it more and more to go under your hand holding it, to reach the treat on the other side. This will be gradual. Don't lower the flap any lower until she is completely comfortable with the current height. Eventually, the flap should be almost to the floor so that she has to go through it while you hold it, as if it's a doggie door. Practice that until she will go through with no hesitations. Keep the normal doggie door as it is, with the flap off until then, and encourage her to go through that without the flap as well. You can open the door and stand on the other side of the door with treats to get pup to come through that hole to get them. When she can go through the hand-held flap with no issues, you can attach the flap back to the doggie door, open the door, and practice the same exercise inside the house going through the doggie door with the door open, over and over again with the flap on, until she is comfortable with that...Don't add in the element of going outside to go potty just yet. When pup can go through the doggie door with the flap on with no issues with the door open, then close the door and have two people practice with her, with one person on either side of the door. One to encourage her to go through and the other waiting outside with treats to reward her success. She may need an in between step, between going through the flap while you hold it and putting it back on the door. If so, use something clear but extremely light weight, like a ziploc bag that's been modified and attached to the top of the doggie door - like a lightweight doggie door flap. Practice having her go through the doggie door with the light weight clear plastic until she is comfortable, then put the real flap back - which is heavier so a bit more challenging. Expect to have to "take" pup potty for a while still though, meaning you lead her to the doggie door and encourage her to go outside to use the bathroom, and even go through the human part of the door after she does to accompany her outside. It will take probably 1-2 months of you "taking" pup potty before they will likely start to just go outside through the doggie door on their own when they need to go potty. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

June 25, 2021

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Sadie

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Lasa hopso

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9 Years

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I inherated Sadie recently. When my father passed away, she stopped using the doggy door and my mom didn't help the situation by putting pads down. I've had her for a week and am trying to re-train her to use the doggy door. She still goes to the slider and I have to pick her up and put her in front of the doggie door. She will go through it, but goes to the other slider to be let in. I am hi I g her treats when she goes out the door and comes back in. Any advice

March 26, 2021

Sadie's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Cydney, I suggest taking the flap off the doggie door and practicing having her go through the hole without the flap on it - reward her whenever she goes through the doggie door hole. At the same time, practice the following. Hold the flap up that you removed (not attached to the doggie door, just by itself) and encourage her to go under it using a favorite food reward like chicken. Practice her going under the flap until she is good at it. Next lower the flap a bit so that she will brush up against it when going through and reward when she goes through - but the way is mostly open. As she improves, very gradually lower your hand holding the flap so that she has to brush against it more and more to go under your hand holding it, to reach the treat on the other side. This will be gradual. Don't lower the flap anymore until she is completely comfortable with the current height. Eventually, the flap should be almost to the floor so that she has to go through it while you hold it, as if it's a doggie door. Practice that until she will go through with no hesitations. Keep the normal doggie door as it is, with the flap off until then, rewarding with treats whenever she goes through it to outside, and whenever you take pup potty, having her go through the doggie door to get outside, then you meeting her out there. It will take pup sometime to learn the location of the door to get inside and outside. When she can go through the hand-held flap with no issues, you can attach the flap back to the doggie door, open the door, and practice the same exercise, going through the doggie door over and over again. If pup really struggles to want to go through the doggie door, have two people practice with her, with one person on either side of the door. One to encourage her to go through and the other waiting outside with treats to reward her success. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

March 26, 2021


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