Most dogs can learn to use a dog door within minutes of installation. A few bits of hot dog or several toys make the training fun; but some dogs find a doggie door frightening. I was motivated to write this article after attempting to train a very timid rescue dog to use a pet door for three weeks with very little results. I scoured the internet for information on training a shy dog to use a pet door, but the same doggie door training advice seemed to be repeated over and over again, so I had to come up with my own method. Below is my list of the small training steps that eventually worked to produce a dog that confidently ran in and out of her dog door.

Taking the time to teach your dog to use a pet door will give your pet confidence and reduce or eliminate indoor accidents.

Like many timid dogs, Annie's issue with the dog door was both an issue of being "trapped" inside the door when the flap was on top of her and the popping noise of the door's magnets snapping the door closed. She wouldn't press her nose against it to move the flap- let alone go completely through- for any reason!

These steps should be spread out over several days (or for extremely anxious dogs, a week or more). Many dogs will be able to skip steps, while others may need to repeat earlier steps. Because this training requires leaving the doggie door open or partially open, it is best to do it when mild weather is expected for a few days. If you have problems with a step, got back to the previous step until the dog is totally confident, and then try to ease them into the next step more slowly- creating an in-between step if possible.


4 Steps to Teach a Sensitive Dog to Confidently use a Doggie Door:

   

1. Teach Dog to Go Through an Uncovered Pet Door

Completely remove the flap covering the door. In the case of the Petsafe Doors, which are not removable, use heavy packing tape to tape the flap completely up out of the way. Make sure the opening is 100% open and the dog can see outside. Bait the dog through the door with treats, toys, or affection until he or she runs through it with no problems.
      Still too scary? Two suggestions.
            1. Using really high quality stinky treats like cheese or meat, sit on the opposite side of the door, and coax her to just put her head through.
             or
            2. Leave the dog outside, set food inside, and wait, very patiently, for the dog to get the courage up to come through the door. When it does finally come through, praise, praise, praise and make a big, happy deal about it! (in whatever way your dog enjoys- most dogs love a "party" of clapping, "good boy!!", and cookies- but for some shy dogs the best reward is a great snack and quiet scratching)
IMPORTANT NOTE: After your dog takes their first timid steps through the pet door, DO NOT send them right back outside to do it again! You don't want to accidentally teach them that using it will get them sent outside. Each time they give it a try, give them a break, and wait 5-10 minutes before taking the dog back outside.

   

2. Creating a Soft & Silent Partial Door

With the flap still detached or out of the way, and the dog willingly going through the unobstructed opening, hang an old dishtowel or hand towel so that it covers ¼ or ½ of the pet door opening. Work with the dog entering and exiting the door with the opening partially covered. You may have to use the two methods described above to show her the covered door is still useable. Gradually move the dishtowel down until it covers more and more of the door. When your dog is entering and exiting the petdoor completely covered by the cloth you are ready to move on.

   

3. Cover Doggie Door with a Cardboard Flap

(If your dog is doing great this this point, you may try skipping this step) Step three involves a covering firmer than the cloth in step two and is more like the actual flap of your dog door. This flap will ideally be identical to the experience of going through the normal dog door but will lack the snapping or popping sound of the closing mechanism. Whatever you use- plastic or flimsy cardboard- cut to size so that the covering can swing back and forth through the door and attach covering to the dog door so that it is covering ¼ or ½ of the pet door opening. Gradually lower. When your pet is completely comfortable entering and exiting through the silent doggie door cover, then continue to step four.

   

4. Modified Flap

Reattach (or, in the case of the petsafe, untape) the dog door flap. And coax your dog through. If you are having problems, tape the flap so that the bottom half or even just a corner is lifted and shows daylight. Your pet, used to this method, should readily go through and after a day or two of the partial taping should be ready to use the standard dog door flap in the normal way.

Congratulations! You should have a pet that is happily using a dog door now. Now that your dog has a pet door he or she can use, it will give your dog a sense of confidence and freedom from having to worry about being left outside or stuck inside.

 

Did this method work for you? Tell us about it! We'd love to hear your thoughts.

 


This doggie door training method works!
User Feedback and Suggested Variations:


Our new family member was scared of the doggie door. After a lot of false starts, I found your tips, and they worked perfectly! Instead of a dish-cloth I used a gallon ziplock bag with a little bit of water in it to simulate the actual feel of the door. Started it out at half door height, and gradually moved it down over two days until almost the whole opening was covered. Frida is now perfectly happy with the real door! Thanks so much for this article!

Danny L
4/10/2013


I just wanted to say thank you for you advice!

My pit mix girl is so timid, and I have had the flap open for days.. She still wouldn't use the flap.. But the towel idea worked fast and great!! And now we are moving towards using the flap! Thank you so much for the advice!

- David


My Rescue Dogue de Bordeaux wouldn't use the dog flap on her kennel. I was at my wits end as she was sleeping outside all night rather than use it. I tried a tea towel as suggested, for three months and this weekend put the flap down. Absolutely no problem she is using it! Thank you so much for the hint.

Liz
12/9/2012


Hello, Your article on training a dog to use the doggie door has been soooo helpful. I too have a slightly shy dog and for the life of me I couldn't get him to use the doggie door. Your article fixed that straight up!

Now I might shop around for a trendy collar!

Thanks a million -Sarah


Thanks for your advice on teaching timid dogs to use doggie doors. I just installed the door and I'm just up to the taping the petsafe door to stay open. I'm hoping your steps work and I'll let you know.

Thanks again for your site advice!! - Ken


Did this method work for you? Tell us about it! We'd love to hear your thoughts.