Why did the dog go through the pet door? That’s a no-brainer—to get to the other side, of course. The better, more useful question is, what if the dog doesn’t want to go through the pet door?
Pet doors are truly wonderful inventions. They give your dog the freedom to come and go as she pleases. And for you, they provide the freedom to go to happy hour without going home to let the dog out first. The best part is that you don’t have to be handy to set them up. Most pet doors, like the Dog Mate Dog Door, can be easily installed in any door, and the PetSafe Freedom Patio Pet Doors for Sliding Doors fits right into your sliding glass door, so no cutting is required. Some, like the Ideal Pet Products Ruff-Weather Pet Door, have energy efficient flaps that provide insulation.
While some dogs immediately understand the ins and outs of maneuvering through a pet door, others need a bit more training and encouragement. Here are some tips on how to train your dog to use the pet door and some techniques to help them through the first, most difficult step.
The First Step Is a Doozy
“Some dogs seem to have trouble taking the first step through the door,” says Ailigh Vanderbrush, dog care manager and trainer at the Nevada Humane Society. “Some will step partially in or out, but not all the way through.”
To help your dog walk through a pet door, position yourself and your dog on opposite sides of the door with you on the inside and your dog on the outside. Then encourage your dog to come in through the pet door with dog treats or targeted commands like, “Come!” Practice this dog training technique several times until your dog walks through the pet door successfully.
If your dog still won’t walk through the door, even after several attempts using their favorite treats, there may be other issues preventing safe passage. The door may make a strange noise that frightens your dog, or the step down from the pet door to the ground may too steep. Check to make sure your pet door is working properly by pushing your hand through to test it out, and thinking about it from your dog’s point of view.
“One of my dogs struggled with the pet door a bit until I realized that going was scary for him because there was a big step down,” Vanderbrush says. “So I put up a ramp.”
Electronic doors like the PetSafe Electronic SmartDoor are great because they open automatically when triggered by a key worn on your dog’s collar. Most models make a sound then activated, which can be jarring for some dogs. If the sound bothers your dog, turn off the electronic portion until she is comfortable walking through it. Then re-introduce the electronic portion gradually using positive reinforcements like treats and praise.
Avoid forcing your dog through the door, Vanderbrush says. This can increase the anxiety they associate with the door and cause them to resist using it even more. The keys to success are consistency, patience, praise and a lot of dog treats.
How to Train Your Puppy to Use the Pet Door
Make the pet door a part of your house training by using the same technique outlined above with your puppy on the outside of the door and you on the inside. Coax your puppy through the door with treats and give them plenty of praise.
Make training fun by playing peek-a-boo through the door or by squeezing a squeaky toy to get their attention. To housetrain your puppy, have them use the pet door to go back outside, then meet them there with a leash, says Vanderbrush. Take them to their designated potty spot and wait until they use the bathroom. Remove the leash and have them use the pet door to go back inside.
You can also place a puppy pad outside the pet door to help your puppy understand where they need to go. Gradually move the puppy pad away from the door to their designated spot. Practice several times, and before you know it, your puppy will be pet door pro.
So Who Invented the Pet Door?
There’s no doubt about the wonderful attributes of the pet door. But who actually came up with the idea is still a topic of debate. Some credit the ancient inhabitants of Cyprus and Egypt who made simple holes in their storage houses so feral cats could hunt the rodents that fed on the grain and flour. Geoffrey Chaucer described these “cat holes” in the “Canturbury Tales” during the late 14th century. But the most popular theory credits Sir Isaac Newton with inventing the pet door. According to an anonymous report published in 1893, Newton mistakenly made two holes in his home, a large hole for his adult cat and a smaller one for her kittens. The scientist discovered too late that only one hole was necessary. The kittens simply followed their mom through the larger one. Sadly, drywall wouldn’t be invented for another 20 years.