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A Guide to Cat Flap and Dog Door Training

Already bought a pet door? Your pet is one step closer to freedom! Now, they just need to learn how to use their new door. We may not be dog trainers, but we're pretty well-versed in dog training 101. Here are the dos and don'ts for your dog and cat door training program!
Mikey using door - how to teach dog to use doggy door - dog door training

With time and patience, you can definitely teach an old dog new tricks. Below are some tips and training techniques that make teaching new behavior a breeze. We also will include some common mistakes to avoid so that your pet doesn't learn problem behavior.

Consistency is key

Generally, how to train a cat to use kitty doors or the dog to use a doggy door varies, but there is one golden rule: consistency. As the saying goes, “practice makes perfect," and this is especially true for obedience training. Training your pet does take time, but this counts as practice for them. Sticking to the same methods and doors will give your pet a better chance of learning fast. If you plan on having different types of pet doors or cat flaps in the house, choose just one to use during the training exercises.

Keep it cool, calm, and collected

Every pet learns differently, and in the event, your pet needs some extra time with their door, stay patient. Trying to rush the process can confuse your pet, and stall the process. It is best to exercise self-control and refrain from pushing or shoving your pet through the door. First, introduce them to the flap. You can push it open and close to show them how it works. Try to keep it open and encourage them to peer their head through so they know it is safe. If your pet is having trouble getting comfortable with their door, position yourself outside so they can come to you. Treats are also a great way to entice a walkthrough.

Mikey using non-electronic doggie door; try removing magnets for dog door training

Set a time limit

It is a good idea to set a time limit for training. We recommend it be 10 minutes at a time. The harder time your pet has might indicate more training sessions throughout the week or day.

Make sure the Flap is the Correct Size

There might be nothing more awkward than getting stuck somewhere you don’t fit. Before installing your item, dog owners need to make sure their pets will be able to fit through that opening. Watch how they go through and judge their comfort level. This is also where you might see the difference in training dogs to use the dog door versus the cats. Cats tend to be more timid and cautious. If they get stuck mid-way, they definitely cannot train to use it!

Adapt to the different Flaps

There are so many different model doors. Each door has its own flap that can be clear, heavily magnetized, or electronic. We have provided additional tips and tricks to get your pet comfortable with different flap types:

Mikey peeking through an Ideal small dog door

Clear Flaps: When the flap is in the down position, your pet might confuse it with a window. You can place a piece of masking tape on the flap to remind your pet they can go through it.

Magnetized flaps: Energy-efficient flaps can come with side or bottom magnets, sometimes both. This can cause the flap to increase in weight, making it harder to push. If you can, remove a magnet to let your pet get the hang of it. Otherwise, help push it open the first few times.

Electronic Flaps: These openings tend to be made of a hard material that is not flexible. When activated by a chip or collar key, a clicking noise will unlock the flap, particularly among the electronic cat doors. If this noise frightens your pet, it is best to positively reinforce the sound (this may not work if you have ever used clicker training to discourage bad behavior with your pet). You can encourage and praise your pet for going through despite the noise. You can also turn off the electronic part of the electronic doggie door until they fully understand how to pass through.

Common Actions to Avoid

Some repeated actions happen during training of any kind, from pet door training to crate training, to even house training. We mentioned giving treats and praises, but there is a time and a place for that. Overdoing some training methods can give you the opposite results and make it harder for your pet to learn basic commands.

Too Many Treats

Positive reinforcement is vital, but this type of encouragement can take away your pet’s motivation to train. Treats should be a surprise reward for following obedience commands. Starting off with them is fine, but work to move away from them. Instead, try rewarding your well-behaved dog with toys.

Emotional Overload

Whether it’s positive or negative, too much emotion can confuse and frustrate your pet. Negative feedback can cause your pet to associate the pet door with fear, which may require counter-conditioning to undo. Too much positive feedback can be distracting to learn. Your pet might get overly excited or hyper. Your pet has a better chance of staying focused and learning fast if their coach, pet owner, and other family members present themselves as a calm authority. Gentle praise and affection have a higher effect on learning capabilities.

Stay on Track

This refers to staying on track with time and your participation efforts. Consistent, step-by-step sessions are important, if you set aside 10 minutes a day, make that an everyday finish time. Working for different times every day can easily frustrate your pet and cause a loss of focus. In addition, you want to make sure you are not getting frustrated easily. Continue until there is a success, follow it with appraisal, then time-out the session.

These training tips and tricks apply to both cats and dogs! It takes two to train, stick with your pet until the end, and it will be worth it! We would love to hear your thoughts on how you got your pet to learn. Comment below to help others out too!

Recap: 

Know When To Quit. Training a new puppy, or an older dog requires finding the right balance between dedicating just enough time to training while still keeping sessions short enough as to not frustrate your canine companion. The best way to approach training sessions is to continue until you have a success, reward with praise, then quit. This will keep frustrations to a minimum (for both you and your pup!) and keeps dogs motivated and responsive. However, on the flip side, don’t end a training session too soon. It’s important for dogs to understand what you recognize as a success, so try to encourage positive behavior during training sessions. Positivity is always key!

Avoid Too Many Treats. Treats are a great way to encourage positive behavior and recognize your pup with rewards. However, don’t overlook the inherent value in praise and acknowledgment. Treats are an effective way to teach a new dog old tricks, but eventually, replace treats with other positive reinforcers such as toys or praise.  Unexpectedly rewarding your dog with treats will work to sharpen behavior, but constant treats will encourage your dog to lose focus and motivation.

Avoid Excessive Emotion. Using too much emotion (positive or negative) can be distracting and inhibit a dog’s ability to focus and learn. Negative feedback using force or anger is not conducive to training, and will significantly intimidate a dog, making training a destructive experience. Using positive feedback that is too over the top can also overexcite dogs, making them unfocused and hyper. Use calming energy when training a dog, and ensure that praise is loving and supportive without being over the top. Dogs will respond best to a calm authority who rewards positive behavior with gentle praise and affection.

Be Consistent.  Inconsistency is one of the biggest mistakes you can make in the training process. It’s important to define ground rules early on and stick to your guns. Variances in the training process will confuse and frustrate your pup, and reduce their ability to learn. Inconsistency also breaks trust, one of the most important factors in your relationship with your dog.

Be Reactive. Timing is often key for learning to be proactive in the training process. It requires a lot of patience and the ability to understand and anticipate your dog’s behavior. By foreseeing your dog’s next action, you can easily adjust your training to be most effective.

Pet Doors’ Tip: These training mistakes apply to both cats and dogs! Remember, when teaching your pet to use their new indoor cat door or dog door to stay away from these common training blunders. It’s best to make any experience with new pet doors perfectly positive!

Cynthia Herrera

Written by

Cynthia Herrera

The PetDoors.com Team is dedicated to providing the highest quality pet doors. As dog and cat lovers ourselves, we aim to write about the topics that matter the most to you and your furry friend. If you have any questions, please contact our customer service team. 🐶🐱

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