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Having a dog door seems like it would make life so much easier. These secured entrances are built into existing doors and allow dogs to let themselves in and out of the house without you needing to do so yourself. It gives those with a fenced-in yard quick access to relieve themselves—but using one is not likely as intuitive for our dogs as we think.

For most dogs, the idea of a dog door with its moving flap will be foreign and something they need to learn how to use. You should never push your dog to use the dog door or scold and punish your dog for not using it. Instead, you need to work at your dog’s pace and help them to make positive associations with the dog door.

Select The Correct Size

Before teaching your dog to navigate a dog door safely, it’s essential to make sure the dog door you purchase and install is a safe and appropriate size for your dog. This can be especially tricky if you have multiple dogs of different sizes in your home. In this case, you’ll want to base your dog door on the size of your largest dog for their safety and comfort. A dog door that is too small could be frightening or even dangerous for a dog if they were to get stuck going in or out of the dog door.

Labrador retriever laying down outdoors on a leash.
mdmilliman/Getty Images Plus

Teaching Your Dog to Use the Dog Door

Step 1: First show your dog the dog door and pair the sight of the door with treats and praise. With your hand, move the flap back and forth and again praise your dog to show them this is not a scary thing.

Step 2: Encourage your dog to explore the dog door flap. Praise and reward any engagement with the flap such as sniffing at it, pawing at it, or pushing it with their nose. At this stage, we want to make sure your dog isn’t nervous about the flap and begins to understand that they can control the movement of the flap.

Step 3: Once your dog is comfortable with the presence and movement of the flap it’s time to teach your dog to go through the dog door. To start we want to teach our dog to go through with the flap. Hold the flap open or, depending on your door design, lock it in the open position. Then get on the other side of the door outside and use toys and treats to encourage your dog to come through the dog door. When your dog comes through, again give them lots of praise and reward.

Step 4: When your dog is comfortably going back and forth through the dog door with the flap open it’s time to introduce your dog to push through the flap. To start to get to the other side of the door, hold the flap partially open and use treats and toys to encourage your dog to come through.

Step 5: When your dog is confidently hopping through the dog door as you hold the flap partially open, then it’s time to start to lower the flap further each time your dog is going through, so they are having to push the flap more and more each time. Continue to use lots of praise, treats, and toys to encourage your dog to go through the dog door.

Step 6: Continue to lower the flap of the dog door each time you practice until your dog is pushing through the flap of the dog to go in and out of the dog door independently. Ensure that your dog is very comfortable and confident moving back and forth through the dog door before leaving them unattended. You want to try to prevent your dog from getting scared and stuck on one side—especially the outside—of the dog door.

English Cocker Spaniel sitting on a rug near the door.
belchonock/Getty Images Plus

Safety Considerations

If you are going to give your dog access to a dog door, especially when you aren’t home or able to supervise them, it’s a good idea to make sure your yard has been appropriately dog-proofed. Your dog door should only open into a dog run or fenced area of your yard that is securely enclosed.

Additionally, make sure that your dog can’t go over your fence and that the fencing is secured in such a way that your dog is unable to dig under it. There also needs to be access to fresh cool water when outside and a sheltered place to lay in case they don’t go back through the dog door into your house on hotter days.

Keep in mind that when outside, especially unsupervised dogs are very vulnerable to the elements, conflict with wildlife such as coyotes, raccoons, and birds of prey, as well as harassment from people who may walk past your yard. Even if your dog knows how to use a dog door, they should be safely inside the home when you are away.

Related article: Service Dogs 101—Everything You Need to Know
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