How to Train Your Small Dog to Use a Doggy Door

Easy
1-7 Days
General

Introduction

A doggy door can add a great deal of convenience to your life. It will save you from having to get up every time your pup needs to go outside to use the potty, as well as allow her to go in and out to stay warm, cool or dry during inclement weather.  

In addition, a doggy door will give your dog the luxury of being able to go out to the yard on her own. This can make leaving her home while you are at work much easier because you will have the peace of mind that she can enjoy some fresh air during the day.

This is especially true for small dogs since they tend to have smaller bladders and need to potty more often than their larger cousins. Read on to find out how easy it is to train your small dog to use a doggy door.

Defining Tasks

Most dogs will learn to use a doggy door on their own within a single training session. The exception are those who have fear or anxiety about either the doggy door itself or of being away from their people. In both cases, patience and consistency will give you the results you are looking for within a week. 

Of course, you will want to make sure that your yard is safe and secure before letting your small dog outside without supervision. Check the fence line regularly for signs of digging under or other potential weak spots that could result in an escape. 

Remember that small dogs can be vulnerable to predators such as hawks, alligators and foxes. If you live in a rural area where such predators may be common, it may not be a great idea for your little dog to spend time outside unsupervised. In addition, rural areas are fraught with the possibility that unwanted guests may decide to use the door to get in your house! Racoons are notorious for learning to use doggy doors to access the tasty goodies in your kitchen! 

Getting Started

Before you get started with training, make sure you have a few things ready to go:

Appropriate Door: You want to make sure you are using the right sized doggy door, especially when working with a small dog. The larger flaps of big doors can be difficult for your little guy to push open. If you have a multiple dog household with a larger dog, try removing the magnet clips from the flap for the first few weeks so that your smaller dog can get used to the flap. 

Identify Fear: If your dog seems to have some anxiety about the door, make sure that you do not use the 'Push' method since it could make his fear worse. Bring plenty of patience to your training sessions and use the 'Fearful Dog' method for best results. 

Make it Fun: Try to approach training time like it is a fun game that you and your dog are playing together. This will help keep them motivated, and remind you not to spoil the game with impatience. Keep sessions brief, and stop the game before your dog is bored or frustrated. 

The Fearful Dog Method

ribbon-method-3
Most Recommended
2 Votes
Step
1
Patience
If you have a dog that seems to be fearful of the doggy door, then it is important that you bring some patience to the training process. If you get frustrated, it will add to her stress about the doggy door, making the problem worse.
Step
2
Getting close
Start with the flap completely off of the door. Every time your dog gets close to the door, say “Yes!” followed by a reward. Practice on both sides of the door until she is voluntarily getting next to the door and waiting for her treat.
Step
3
Other side
Move to the opposite side of the door and call her close to the door. Say “Yes!” when she gets close, and pass a treat through the door to her. Repeat 5-10 times.
Step
4
Head through
With the treat in your hand, hold it a few inches on your side of the doggy door, encouraging her to put her head through to get it. When she does, say “Yes!” and let her have the treat. Be patient and just wait until she does it. Repeat 10-20 times, slowly extending the distance you are holding the treat from the door until she steps through.
Step
5
Step through
Once your small dog is stepping through the door for a treat, wait until she is all the way through before marking and rewarding the behavior. Continue repeating until she is confidently moving through the door on her own. Repeat 20-30 times to really get her confidence up.
Step
6
Replace the flap
Add the flap to the doggy door. Hold it partially to fully open, encouraging her to come through the door using the treat as a lure. If necessary, go back to taking her head alone through the door for a reward. Start to raise the criteria like you did with the open door while you slowly help less and less with the flap.
Step
7
Increase distance
Once your little dog has some experience using the doggy door on her own with you right on the other side, start to increase the distance you stand from the door until you are a few feet away and she continues to confidently use the door.
Step
8
Doggy door only
For a few weeks, stop your small dog from using the people door. Leave her on the other side and call her through the doggy door, continuing to reward her with food or praise when she uses the door. Soon she will be using it confidently on her own.
Recommend training method?

The Push Method

ribbon-method-2
Effective
1 Vote
Step
1
Gentle push
This method will require 2 people to work best. Start with the flap off of the door. With one person on either side with some treats in hand, gently push your dog through the door. As soon as he is on the other side, say “Yes!” and give him a treat.
Step
2
Call through
The person on the other side can call the dog through to their side. If he does not go through on his own, a gentle push can be used again. Continue to say “Yes!” with each successful use of the doggy door, followed by a treat. Repeat 5-10 times.
Step
3
Help less
Start to help less and less until he is using the door on his own when called by the person on the other side.
Step
4
Replace the flap
Put the flap back on the door. At first you may need to push the flap open before he will go through, but help as little as necessary. Each time, help less and less until he is going through the door on his own. Repeat 5-10 times.
Step
5
Add distance
Each person should start adding some distance from the door with each repetition. Continue calling the dog through and marking and rewarding each successful enter or exit. Continue repeating until he is confidently using the door on his own.
Step
6
Doggy door only
Stop allowing your dog to use the regular door for a few weeks. This will encourage him to use the doggy door in order to go out to potty. In addition, you can put his dinner on the other side of the door to encourage him to use the door on his own.
Recommend training method?

The Lure Method

ribbon-method-1
Least Recommended
2 Votes
Step
1
Set up
Start by removing the flap of the doggy door. This will make it extra easy for your small dog to take those first steps through the opening.
Step
2
Lure her head through
With your dog outside, close the door and call her back inside through the doggy door. Use the tasty treat to encourage her to come through the door. When she puts her head through the door, say “Yes!” and give her the treat. Repeat 5-10 times.
Step
3
Lure through
Waiting patiently, use the lure to get her to step through the door. As soon as she steps through the door, say “Yes!” and giver her the treat. Repeat 5-10 times.
Step
4
Fade the lure
Hold your hand without the treat to lure her in or out of the doggy door, calling her through. Be patient and when she comes through the door, say “Yes!” and reach into your bag for a treat. Immediately start abbreviating your luring movements until you are standing on the other side of the door and she is coming through for her reward on her own. Repeat 5-10 times.
Step
5
Toss the treat
With your dog on the same side of the door as you, toss a treat through the door while she watches. As she goes through the door, say “Yes!” and let her get the treat. If she immediately comes back through to your side on her own, mark and reward again. Repeat 5-10 times.
Step
6
Replace the flap
Put the flap on the doggy door. At first you may need to partially or fully push the flap open to help her know it is okay to breech the flap. Continue to mark and reward each successful pass, slowly giving her less help until she can use the door on her own.
Recommend training method?
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Written by Sharon Elber

Published: 01/19/2018, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Abby
Mixed Beagle and Coon Hound
3 Years
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Question
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Abby
Mixed Beagle and Coon Hound
3 Years

We recently adopted a female Beagle/Coonhound mix. She was previously rescued as a stray (about 7 weeks ago) in Birmingham, AL and then almost immediately shipped up to Delaware to the SPCA. They microchipped her, spayed her and made sure her immunizations were all up-to-date. She was then adopted by a couple who thought she would be a good companion for the man's mother but proved to be too much for the mom to handle. So they offered her up for adoption again and we responded.

We now find that she is extremely frightened of just about anything! The least little movement or sound sends her running or trying to find a place to hide. The only time she will approach us is if we are sitting down and then she wants to climb up into our lap or snuggle right next to us.

She was obviously someone's pet at one point in time but became either abandoned or lost from them and was apparently out on her own in a big, scary, noisy world! She knows the word "No," "sit," "shake," etc., and appears to have been house-trained (at least at one point in time) but also seems to have lost the consciousness that she needs to go outside to do her business (peeing, mostly, as she has not yet pooped in our house).

She is crate-trained and we are attempting to train her to a doggy door (which, of course, is VERY frightening to her). She also has a very nervous "piddle" habit whenever she gets excited to see you and/or scared with no where to go.

She seems to have now developed the habit that she will simply squat to pee whenever/wherever the urge comes on her. We have tried to "catch" her but because she is so scared of everything, she does not respond to our attempts to get her to go outside regularly -- we literally have to pick her up or drag her (which we don't like to do because it scares her even more) to put her outside. Once she is outside (we have a fenced-in back yard), she doesn't always want to come back inside -- even to get her food. Again, we have to try to get her to come to us so we can either push her back through the open door or pick her up and carry her inside.

We are willing to be patient but just wonder how long it may take her to feel safe here and know that this is her home and we are going to take care of her.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello, Its hard to say in these cases how long it will take. Typically you will see a lot of improvement in your relationship with pup by a month in if your interactions with pup are something pup sees as safe. For the other behaviors, many of them won't ever improve on their own without some proactive training, like the potty training and even some of the fear. With the proper training, potty training often takes between 3-5 months with consistency. I definitely agree with crate training pup. Once you can use that for potty training that will probably be the easiest way to ensure pup stays accident free without having to do things like suddenly interrupt pup. You will likely start to see a lot more progress with the potty training a couple weeks into being able to use the crate even. I wouldn't expect full reliability for a few months though, including trusting pup to always go through the doggie door on their own without needing you to walk them up to it and remind them. Things like fearfulness can take anywhere between 2 weeks and 2 years to address, depending on how severe the fear is, whether it's related to trauma or simply a lack of exposure, pup's temperament and how naturally adaptable they are, how you train, and your general attitude and body language around pup. With proactive training and a dog who's fear is not genetically ingrained, often you will see a lot of improvement in six months. In about a month of pup being in your home you will probably have a better idea of how much of the fear is due to needing to settle into your home and the stress of the change and related to more long standing things that need addressing behaviorally. Check out trainers like Kikopup on youtube for visuals of her work counter conditioning fearful and reactive dogs. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Gracie
Bichpoo
12 Months
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Question
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Gracie
Bichpoo
12 Months

I recently installed a plexidor doggy door that has two doors with opening down the middle... and you push through and they split. My challenge is Gracie wants to paw at the doors and they bounce back and tap her on the nose... how do I train her to push through with her nose/head vs pawing/punching at the doors? I have tried treats, toys, and etc... any suggestions or is it too soon to be concerned? It’s been 3.5 days.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sharon, I suggest practicing two things. First, hold the flap//panel/door piece up above her, starting with just one flap/door piece at a time ( while 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 you 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. Once pup is to this step, hold both flaps if you can and let her practice having to go through both. You can add in a cue at this point, like "Outside" which can be used later to get her to go through the door to outside. Practice that until she will go through with no hesitations. Keep the normal doggie door as it is, with the flap off until then, so she can get used to going through that empty hole too. 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, until she is comfortable with that...Don't add in the element of going outside and changing locations just yet. When pup can go through the doggie door with the flaps/panels 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. If she needs an in between step between panel door on vs. off, use a clear plastic bag over the doggie door opening, just to get pup used to having to push through something with less resistance than the actual panels, before adding the panels back on. You can try waiting pup out as long as she is curious and not afraid, and give it 1-2 weeks, or start the above right now rather than wait. If pup isn't figuring it out in another week I would definitely do the above, or if pup is getting at all nervous about the dog door, go ahead and start the above and don't wait. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Clowie
Sheltie
6 Years
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Clowie
Sheltie
6 Years

I recently rescued a cat and had to get an electronic dog door in order to keep the cat inside. My dog will only use the door when I tell her to go potty. She won’t use it when I’m not home and is now having accidents in the house. She always used the regular door with no problem. How do I get her to use it on her own?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello Lori, First , I recommend building confidence with the new door. Practice sending pup through the door over and over again and give a treat each time pup goes through. Do this for at least a week several times each day. Second, whenever you tell pup to go potty outside, and they go through the doggie door and go potty, reward pup with a treat after they go potty. Third, while you are away, set up an exercise pen or block off the area, so that pup is staying by the door while you are gone, and will be less likely to soil the smaller space (make sure there are no mats or rugs in that space also), and will be by the doggie door to help them remember to go - do this until pup is consistently using it again while you are away. When pup is doing well for at least 2-4 weeks with the smaller area, gradually make the area bigger progressively. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Oakley
Sheepadoodle
4 Years
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Question
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Oakley
Sheepadoodle
4 Years

He wont go through the dog door and seems to be scared if him hitting him in the face. We have tried calling him, bribing him, and letting him wait it out, but nothing is working!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello Delaney, If you have a doggie door I suggest taking the flap off of it and practicing having him go through the hole without the flap on it - reward him whenever he goes through the doggie door hole. At the same time, practice the following. Hold the flap up (not attached to the doggie door, just by itself) and encourage him to go under it using a favorite food reward like chicken. Practice him going under the flap until he is good at it. Next lower the flap a bit so that he will brush up against it when going through and reward when he goes through - but the way is mostly open. As he improves, very gradually lower you hand holding the flap so that he 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 he is completely comfortable with the current height. Eventually, the flap should be almost to the floor so that he has to go through it while you hold it, as if it's a doggie door. Practice that until he will go through with no hesitations. Keep the normal doggie door as it is, with the flap off until then. When he 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, until he is comfortable with that...Don't add in the element of going outside and changing locations 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 him, with one person on either side of the door. One to encourage him to go through and the other waiting outside with treats to reward his success. He 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 him go through the doggie door with the light weight clear plastic until he is comfortable, then put the real flap back - which is heavier so a bit more challenging. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Bella
PomPug mix
3 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Bella
PomPug mix
3 Years

We have a double flap door. We also have a little Chih Terri mix 11yr doggie no issues, loves it. Only our little Bella sadly has an issue with the door. We removed 1 flap after trying, coaxing and then gentle pushing for days with Bella = NOPE! Now there are NO flaps, she is freely going in and out and happily so. How long do we leave flaps off / what steps do we take next from here? An advanced THANK YOU for your helpful reply. PS: We gave / give her an abundant amount of praise n treat.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sharon, I suggest practicing two things. First, hold the flap up (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 you 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. 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, until she is comfortable with that...Don't add in the element of going outside and changing locations 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. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

What worked for me is when Oakley was holding the door open and getting him used to going in and out, then when he would touch the door I would give treats and praise, the whole works and then i would just call him in and he would come halfway and then the other half with some praise and bribing. Then after doing that about 20 times, he would come in when I called him. Now he loves doing it and he will randomly go out the back door to sit on the deck or even look around.

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Success
Oakley
Sheepadoodle
4 Years

He finally got his little nose through the door with lots of bribery, and then he finally just got it and now he randomly just goes out the back door to look around

2 years, 1 month ago
Success
Roxy
Papillon
2 Years

Taking the bottom magnet off was what did it for Roxy. Perhaps it was too heavy or the clicking noise bothered her when it reconnected. She also seemed afraid of it after it was installed.

2 years, 9 months ago
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