How to Train Your Older Dog to Use a Doggie Door

Easy
3-7 Days
General

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.

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.

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. 

The Helper Method

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Step
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.
Step
2
Go outside
While your friend remains inside with your dog, head outside with a toy or treats in hand.
Step
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.
Step
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!
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
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The Lure Method

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Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
3
Let your dog follow
Allow your dog to have at the treats or chase the toy through the doggie door.
Step
4
Reward for using the door
Any time your dog uses the door in the appropriate way, celebrate and reward her enthusiastically.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Recommend training method?

The Hands-On Method

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Step
1
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Kim
American Hairless Terrier
8 Years
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Question
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Kim
American Hairless Terrier
8 Years

My dogs have always been escorted outside to go potty since we did not have a doggie door. We recently installed one and they have no problem going in and out of the door but they won’t do it without instruction. For example they will bark at us to take them out; which is what they used to do to let us know it was time to go; instead of just going to the door and outside. When I go to the door and say go outside/go potty they will run out the door and wait on the other side for me to come out and either point to the dog run entrance or walk down to where we used to supervise them and wait for them to do their business. Essentially the same thing happens for getting them to go back inside... please tell me there is a way to fix this! It’s completely defeating the point of the doggie door!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
394 Dog owners recommended

Hello Kim, There are a few things that you can do to get the dogs to go potty on their own. First, when they ask to go outside have them go out through the doggie door rather than the opened door, then once they are outside, at first, you can follow them out by going through the open door yourself. If they will not go through the doggie door when you point to it, then try removing the flap while you are at home temporarily, so that they can see outside. You can also practice tossing treats through the doggie door to get them used to going through it to receive the treats on the other side. Once the dogs have gone through the doggie door to go outside, then take them to their usual spot but stay five feet further back from them than you usually do. Tell them to "Go Potty" every time you take them. Every two days stand another five feet back from the dogs, toward the house, and instruct them to "Go Potty" from there. Repeat this until you can eventually stand in the open door frame of your door while you send the dogs out to go potty on their own by telling them to "Go Potty". Do not let them back inside until they go if you are confident that they need to go potty. Once you are standing in the door frame, then two days later take two steps back into the house, and practice there for five days. When they will go through the doggie door and go potty with you standing inside the house with the door open, then gradually begin to close the door, one inch at a time, every day. Do this until you can tell them go potty from inside the house and they will go outside and go potty on their own, while the door remains closed. Watch them out the window for the first several times that they do this, to make sure that they are actually going potty. Do not let them back inside unless they have gone. Once they are used to going through the door and going outside to go potty on their own out of habit, then they should begin to go outside on their own when they need to go, especially if you remove the flap on the door while you are at home for a few days, so that they can see the yard outside while looking at the door. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Birch
Mix
9 Years
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Question
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Birch
Mix
9 Years

our dogs have always been good off leash and we have plenty of land to let them out to go to bathroom. Now, our jobs are taking us away from home for a bit longer so we have installed a doggie door and fenced backyard. They have mastered the doggie door, yippee! But I feel like they won't actually go outside on their own because they are so used to being asked if they want to go out and being let out or walked by us. Is there anyway to entice them to go out to potty while we aren't here?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
394 Dog owners recommended

Hello Abby, First, whenever you are home and taking them outside, have them go through the doggie door on their way out every time, even if you are about to follow them outside through the main door afterward. This will strengthen the association of the doggie door and going outside. Next, barricade off the area near the doggie door so that the dogs are staying within twenty feet of the doggie door right now. Do this so that the door will be easily accessed by the dogs and they will be more likely to use it to go outside. Once the dogs are doing well going outside while they are close to the door, gradually increase the size of their area so that they have to go a bit further to reach the door. Increase the amount of space they have overtime, until they have as much access to the rest of the house as they normally have. Only increase the size of the area if they are accident free though. If they have an accident, go back a step and make the area smaller again. You will have to get inventive to reward them for going outside. The only true way to reward them is to use technology to spy on them with a camera outside, and to use a remote treat dispensing device accessed over Wifi or cell data. That way you can use it to give them treats when they finish going potty outside. You would start by having this device give them a treat while you are present to show them that they will receive a treat after they pee or poop. Some companies make such treat dispenser or food dispensers. You will have to look for one that fits your purpose and will have to decide if you have too many critters in your yard who may break into it and steal treats themselves. Simply containing your dogs near the door while they are learning might be enough to properly motivate them to pee outside on their own though. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Paisley
Pom-a-Poo
3 Years
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Question
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Paisley
Pom-a-Poo
3 Years

Paisley knows how to use the dog door and does so successfully most of the time. But some days I come home and find a spot of pee or a poop inside. Why would she do this when 95% of the time she uses the door successfully. I have a fence that I put around the door on the inside of the house when I have found a soiled spot and she must be placed in that for the next few days if I leave the house. This gives her a small inside spot with her bed and water and access to the door, but keeps her from having full run of the house. I am about to make this her permanent placement when I leave since she keeps making mistakes. What am I doing wrong? What else can I do to make sure she uses the door 100% of the time?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
394 Dog owners recommended

Hello Laura, First, make sure that you clean up any new or old accident spots with a cleaner that contains enzymes. Only enzymes break down the pee or poop molecularly to fully remove the smell. Any remaining smell will encourage the dog to go potty in that same spot again, increasing accidents and causing confusion. Look for the word enzyme or enzymatic somewhere on the pet cleaner bottle. Not all pet cleaners contain it so be sure to read the bottle carefully. Once you have dealt with any scent issues, when you are home and she goes outside to go potty, I suggest following her outside, telling her to "Go Potty", and after she goes, give her three to four treats, one treat at a time. This will help her want to go potty outside more than inside again. Finally, if you are doing the above but she is still having accidents, she might have too much access to the house. For a small dog getting from one end of the house to outside can be a big deal. Imagine the inconvenience of walking half an acre to an out-house outside versus going to a bathroom in your home. When she is too far from the door she may simply be choosing to have an accident because the door is too far considering her size. If that is going on I suggest blocking off access to part of the house. You can either keep her close to the door like you mentioned or simply block off some of the other rooms, stairs to other levels of the house, or contain her to one room near the door if that's an option with your home's layout. Try to keep her close enough to the door that she can always see it and is no further than thirty or so feet from it. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Toby
miniature dachshund
7 Months
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Question
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Toby
miniature dachshund
7 Months

Our 7 month old miniature doxie is very confused and inconsistent with the doggie door. We waited until he was potty trained to introduce the doggie door, which is just a few feet to the right of the sliding glass door that we have always taken him out to do potty. I don't believe he was ever afraid of it- the first time he encountered it, we used treats to lure him through and he had no problem whatsoever. He has a grand time running in and out of it if someone is on either side with a treat. When I say, "let's go potty!", he knows that I walk out the slider now, and he is to go out the doggie door. What's weird is that he sometimes does it and sometimes not. Sometimes, he'll run out the doggie door, but not come back in. It's almost like he's waiting for an invitation. If we call him to come back inside (or to come outside), he often will, but sometimes he simply won't. He WANTS to come in/out- he pokes his nose at the door, and wants to come in (or go out) but doesn't. None of this behavior seems to have a pattern and while it does seem like it's getting harder and harder to lure him in or out of it, that didn't start suddenly; it's just sporadic. Now, it seems like the more we try, the more reluctant he is. Today, I've started feeding him his meals out there. He will zoom out for the meal, but then can't seem to come back in. If I go out there, but don't call him or pay any attention (hoping he'll simply follow me like he does everywhere else), he just looks out the doggie door, wanting to come out and join me, but somehow not able. The doggie door in question is actually a cat door. It’s small and round and clear, and since it’s set into a glass window (that goes down to the floor), he has 100% visibility. He’s only about 8-9 pounds and is actually smaller (but longer, lol!) than many cats, so I don’t think it’s too small for him. It’s very perplexing.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
394 Dog owners recommended

Hello Tracy, Without being there to watch him and see the exact door I cannot say for sure what is going on. It sounds like the issue happens only when he stops to think about the door. When he is excited he goes through the door quickly because he is thinking about a person or reward. When he is not excited he thinks about it too much and something about it worries him. If you can, I suggest taking the flap/slider off of it for a while when it is safe to do so without other animals, bad weather, or an empty house being an issue. Leave fun surprises on either side of the door for him to discover. Inside you can leave treats (make sure this doesn't attract unwanted animal guests - leave food when you can keep an eye out). Outside leave favorite toys or a new bone for him to discover, or food if you can keep an eye on it. With the flap missing from the dog door, spend time outside with the family without him, so that he wants to come outside too and initiates going through the door on his own to join you. Do the reverse and also do something fun inside while he is outside. Practice all of this with the flap off of the door for a while until his confidence improves and he isn't over thinking going through the door anymore. Once he seems totally relaxed about it, put the flap back on and practice the same things again. Also, pay attention to any possible discomfort he might have going through the door, any poor visibility to the other side that could look like empty space or a drop off to him, or a slick floor. If the area might look unsteady to him or the floor is slippery there, try placing a non-skid mat that is easy for him to see, on the other side of the dog door where he has the most trouble (probably inside the house). Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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