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Top 3 Reasons Why Your Pet Isn't Using Your Pet Door

dog using a dog door after receiving proper training

A pet door can be the perfect solution for busy pet owners and active pets. When pets are able to let themselves out, a range of issues are solved. The result is more independence for both the pet and the owner. Some of the benefits of pet doors include:

  1. No longer having to schedule and plan around letting the pet out
  2. No more sudden wake-ups in the middle of the night
  3. Fewer messes to clean up in the home
  4. More freedom and more exercise for pets

While all these benefits are great, door training for dogs comes easily to some pets but is a little harder for others. Pet door problems and lack of use can happen for a variety of reasons. Make sure that you choose the right pet door for you and your pet. Here are some of the most common problems people run into:

Your Pet is Afraid of It

Teaching a timid dog to use the dog door is a little tricky. Some animals simply fear the unfamiliar, even if it ultimately improves their quality of life. A new pet door can be confusing to your pet and cause them to shy away or avoid it. If they aren't used to going outdoors without you, they may hesitate to do so on their own.

You can minimize the fear response by praising them whenever they go near the door. Use lots of positive reinforcement, and avoid making using the pet door a stressful experience. Teaching a dog the doggie door isn't a scary or threatening addition is crucial for encouraging them through. Check out our post on training your pet to use a pet door for tips, advice, and recommendations.

Wondering how to train a cat to use a pet door? The process is very similar to dogs. Remember to be patient, and give lots of positive rewards when they walkthrough. Timid cats might benefit from a couple treats on the other end as an incentive.

Wondering how to doggy door train a dog and cat at the same time? For some doors, you can remove a couple of magnets to make them easier to push through. This can help train cats who will be sharing a larger dog door with your pup.

A dog struggling to use a dog door that is not the right size

The Door Is Too Small

If you miscalculate the ideal pet door size for your pet, the result may be a door your pet cannot fit through or one that is just too snug for your pet to feel comfortable using. If this is a case, you might follow steps on how to teach a dog to use a doggy door to a T and still run into issues.

When buying a pet door, make sure to accurately measure your pet's width and height, and then buy a door that's a bit larger in each direction. Allow your pets some breathing room; if the fit is too snug, they're more likely to be hesitant about using it.

See our tips on measuring your pet in order to get the correct sizing for your pet door. In the end, getting the right size door will save you money and time.

Improper Training

Pets that weren't properly trained to use a pet door may develop negative associations that result in pet door problems. Improper dog door training makes it very difficult for you and your dog in the long run, so putting in the time to train the dog to use dog door is crucial.

The ideal way to train your pet to use a pet door involves these basic steps and ideas:

  • Go outside and encourage the pet to come through the door and join you.
  • Use positive reinforcement; give your pets a treat and lots of attention when they use the door successfully.
  • Use short training sessions of 10 to 15 minutes per day; don't overwhelm them.
  • If they resist using the door, prop the door flap open during training or remove it completely at first to show your pet the outside or what is on the other side of the door.
  • If you will be installing multiple pet doors, buy and install the same type of door in all locations to promote consistency. This will help your pet recognize all your pet doors and not have to differentiate.
A dog leaving through an in-wall Endura Flap pet door.

So how do you train a dog to use a doggy door?

Generally, pets are so happy to be able to go outside that training is a breeze. However, a timid dog doesn't know what a dog door flap is at first, so they will need to be shown how it works. Here are some tips on how to make sure your pet can go through their door easily and safely.

House training a dog to use the pet door is kinda like how you might potty train a new puppy! Repetition and positive reinforcement. Get to training your furry family member to use their very own door!

Right Size Matters

There is nothing more dreadful as getting stuck somewhere you don't want to be. For your pooch, getting stuck in the pet door could ruin their pet door experience permanently.

In order to make sure your pet will properly fit, take necessary precautions when ordering and installing your pet door. Make sure you have read the product description, and that your choice in dog or cat doors fits with the breed of your pet. Make sure to get a small doggy door for a small dog, and a big door for a big, adult dog.

See our measurement guide for tips on choosing the right size.

Dog Training Sessions 

  •  Limit training sessions to 10 minutes. If your pet does not succeed the first time then schedule higher intervals of sessions throughout the week. Try not to overdo the number of sessions in a day, two well spaced out in one day should be the maximum.

  • Hold the flap open all the way at first; then less and less so they gradually get the idea of pushing against it to get to the treat (food is an excellent motivator for most dogs).
  • Patience is a virtue: Practice makes perfect, and for some pets it takes a lot of practice before they get used to using it. Be patient, do not push or shove them through the door. The first step is to slowly introduce them to the doggie door. Call your pet over to the pet door and slowly open and close the flap so the pet knows what the pet door does. While you hold it open let your pet peer through the hole and let it realize that it leads outdoors.
  • If your pet does not venture through the hole, try coaxing them through with a treat or toy at the other end. Also, try not letting your pet use the real door for further training enforcement. Don’t scold your pet if they do not take to the door right away, it will only lead your pet to have negative emotions about the pet door. Positive reinforcement is key!
A cat entering a home through a white door flap

How to teach your cat to use their door:

Typically, most cat doors with a flap will not be made of flexible vinyl. Instead, it is hard acrylic. Training a cat will be a little different than how to train the dog to use a pet door and to help familiarize your cat to their new door, you can follow these points:

  • Introduce your cat to the product by putting your hand through so they know how it works
  • Some cat doors will make a noise when they open/close, this can scare skittish cats, we recommend manually shutting it slowly so your cat can get used to the noise
  • Use favorite treats or favorite toy to lure them through- while keeping the flap open so they know how easy it is
  • Reward your kitty with praise (and maybe another treat) when they make a pass-through
  • When your cat is more comfortable, start lowering the flap on them as they step through
  • When training pet door should be at a comfortable height- meaning raise the door enough so it resembles how high it will be once installed

Remember, training can take a considerable amount of time; there is no standard practice as every pet is unique. Try to make this training fun!


Magnet Adjustments

  • If your pet door has a moveable threshold at the bottom where it seals, then taping down that threshold will significantly reduce the magnet strength and make the flap easier to push. Dog owners find this valuable when they have small dogs sharing with big dogs.
  • Try removing the magnet for a while so the flap is easier to push. The Endura Flap® based pet doors allow for all magnets to be removed to facilitate training if needed as do all Hale Pet Doors. You may be able to remove the magnets from other flaps also though you may end up damaging the flap in so doing. In the case of the Endura, the threshold may be removed altogether by pulling straight up. Doing this will reduce the magnet strength even more than simply taping the threshold down and will also increase the size of the tempting opening that we think will encourage the pet at the bottom of the flap. Once the threshold is removed, the bottom of the "cover strips" (plastic strips installed in the frame just opposite the edges of the flap) is accessible and you can grip there and pull out to reveal the magnets hidden in the frame sides. If you remove the magnets from the frame sides and the threshold, then there's nothing but the hanging weight of the flap for the pet to push against. See Endura troubleshooting videos for more help.
    In the case of Hale Pet Door products, the magnets are installed in the frame and may be pried out with a flat-bladed screwdriver. They can be left out and put back one or two at a time as the pet becomes more accustomed to using their pet door.
  • If you have a pet door with non-removable magnets, putting some painters tape over the magnets can also decrease the magnet attraction strengths temporarily.
A large black dog going outside through an Endura Flap pet door.

Flap Adjustments 

  • Remove the flap altogether temporarily while the pet gets used to the idea of coming and going in that particular location. Or tape the flap up out of the way.
  • Clear flaps may confuse pets as they might view it as a window. Magnetic and weighted flaps have added weight which may be difficult for your pet to lift or push through. While electronic flaps often make a small noise when the flap is activated, which may frighten your pet.
    1. Putting a piece of masking tape on the clear flap to distinguish it from a window and reinforce to your pet its use as a door.
    2. Weighted and magnetic doors problems can be fixed by gently assisting your pet to push the door open or by removing the magnet until your pet gets used to the door.
    3. The best way to remedy a scared pet when it comes to electronic pet doors is to positively reinforce the sound of the door in your pet’s mind. This can include praising your pet when they come near the pet door during its activation noise. If this method does not soothe your pet, try turning off the electronic portion of the door and have your pet use it manually while it’s getting acquainted to the door.

Other Tips 

  • Consistency is key. The last and most crucial technique in training your pet to use a pet door is to stay consistent. Stay consistent in your training methods and in your choice of pet doors. If you choose to have more than one pet door in your home, picking the same door or similar style doors will help your pet against confusion.
  • Electronic pet doors all make a sound when they activate that can spook a pet. Try disabling the electronics for a week or so while he becomes accustomed to the flap if the sound bothers him at first.
  • If you have multiple pets you're lucky. The first to learn will demonstrate for the others. Their very own dog trainer!
  • When you first use a locking cover or when you first lock the flap shut, introduce the pet to it slowly rather than to let him learn 'the hard way' by running into it.

A pet door can bring enjoyment and independence to both you and your pet. We hope this helped you learn how to teach a dog to go through a dog door! Avoid pet door problems by following the basic tips provided above and visit PetDoors.com for more information.

Nick Pullano

Written by

Nick Pullano

2 comments

  • My 1 year old miniature poodle will go through the doggie door during the day on her own when she wants to play outside. She’ll even SOMETIMES use it to do her business, but if we are not home, she will NOT go out there on her own. We always come home to mess in the house. She also won’t go through the door at night unless I’m with her. For some reason she thinks she’s not supposed to pee unless I’m standing there watching her. She holds it until she just can’t hold it anymore, then instead of running outside on her own she goes on the floor! It’s driving us crazy! She does use the door when she wants to run and play, but I can’t get it through her head that she can go potty without me watching her!

    Misty
  • My 16 week old puppy loves to RUN in and out the doggie door. She does it all day long. However, she will not use it to go out and do her business! She (sometimes) goes to the patio door or I have to remember to take her out.
    Can you give me some suggestions?

    Thanks.

    P.s. she is a Lhasa Apso

    Donna Hubach

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