Dear AKC: I seem to have misplaced the handbook on training "Li'l Taco" how to go through the little doggie door. I've been pushing him through, opening it enough for him to finally jump through, and letting him watch my other Chihuahua go through it with ease. He is quite stubborn. Any suggestions? -- Taco's Doorman
Dear Doorman: It sounds like Li'l Taco needs some direction from you for him to understand what this potentially scary door is all about. Most likely the puppy doesn't understand what is expected of him that he is supposed to push the door open to go out. Currently you are forcing him to do something that is confusing, not fun and with no reward.
Let's break down his training into a few small steps and turn it into a fun and rewarding game. First, find a family member or friend to help. Then remove the doggie door flap or tape it into the open position if it isn't detachable. Have your helper sit with Li'l Taco inside the house while you sit right outside the open doggie door. Bring lots of meaty treats with you, small bits of ham or hot dog work wonders.
Call your dog's name from the outside and see how he responds. Because he can see you, he might run right through the door and into your lap. If so, praise lavishly with several treats. Reverse the process with your friend. Try this a few times and then don't do any more training that day. Leave the door open and see if the puppy will follow the other dog out on his own, if he does, great.
Repeat as Necessary
On day two, repeat the exercise first with the flap open and then try the same exercise with the flap down. Have your friend on the inside to assist by poking the flap with his finger enough to show the puppy that he can see outside (and you) if he pushes it. Call your dog, if he doesn't come immediately have the friend push the flap open until the puppy can see you. Then when the puppy is going through the door, slowly let the flap come down over his back while he goes through. The idea here is two-fold, getting the puppy used to the feel and sound of the flap and to teach him he needs to open the door to get outside. Some people report success by replacing the flap with light materials such as cloth or cardboard in order to get the dog used to the heavy flap. It shouldn't take your dog long before he figures it out. Also, do this exercise right before it is time for his usual potty break. That way he will also start to associate going through the doggie dog to do his business outside.