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Teach Your Pup to Use a Doggy Door for Housebreaking

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Breed Selection Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

If you skipped ahead to this article, please go back and read the previous article on Housebreaking Basics.  Important stuff there!

doggy doorCAUTION:  Unless you live way out in the country away from any neighbors, don't give your pup access to a doggy door if you work during the day and he's a barker! Honestly, some owners are that selfish and inconsiderate. I would be the first one on the phone to the police, animal control, or the local homeowners association.

Ideal set-up for a doggy door

In my house, we have a mudroom off the kitchen. In the mudroom is a doggy door leading outside to a small fenced "potty yard" which is separate from our main yard.

mudroom with doggy doorWhy is it desirable for the potty yard to be small  and separated from the main yard?  Because if a pup can go through the doggy door into a single big yard, he will want to run and play and explore rather than focus on "pottying".

It's also dangerous to leave a dog loose in a large yard with no one there to supervise him. This is how so many pups escape, or get stolen, or swallow something they shouldn't.

But as long as you're home to supervise, having a doggy door into a small potty yard can be very convenient.

Personally, we housebreak our dogs using the crate method, but afterwards we teach them to use the doggy door so they can take themselves out to potty.

Yes, we teach them to use the doggy door after  they are housebroken.

You can also teach a NON-housebroken pup how to use a doggy door. But it's much easier to teach the door after  he has already learned that outdoors  is the place to go to the bathroom.

In this article, I'll show you how to do it both ways.

But first...

At night, your pup should not be allowed to use the doggy door into his potty yard. He should sleep all night in his crate. You do NOT want him outdoors at night when a dog can get into all kinds of trouble – he might bark, escape, bark, get bitten by a rabid raccoon or bat, bark, etc. Family dogs belong indoors at night, where it's safe, secure, and quiet.

In fact, I recommend securely closing  the doggy door at night. These doors come with a metal or plastic panel that slides down over the flap and blocks it from nighttime critters like cats, coons, and skunks. Be sure to put the cover on the INSIDE, not the outside. That way, if you forget it's on when you let your dog out of his crate in the morning, he can SEE that it's on. and won't smash face first into an outside cover.


Teaching an already-housebroken pup to use a doggy door

First, remove the heavy vinyl flap from the doggy door (or tie the flap up out of the way) so your pup has free access through the hole into his potty yard. The flap can be put back later, after your pup has learned how this hole-in-the-wall works.

If he is reluctant to go through the hole at first, you can stand inside the house with him while your spouse stands outside in the potty yard, crouched near the open hole. The two of you will take turns waving treats through the hole and calling the dog so that he runs through it successfully and gets rewarded each time.

Once he has the hang of the open hole, you may want to hang a light towel or cloth over the opening for a day or two, as a gradual transition toward the heavier vinyl flap. Use treats to teach him that he can push through the cloth and that he only has to poke his nose through it or under it in order to scramble through.

doggy doorEventually you'll move on to the heavier flap. Though it looks daunting at first, rest assured that even my 5-pound rescue Chihuahua can move it.

Periodically throughout the day, at times when you would normally take your pup out for a potty break, ask, "Do you need to go OUT? Go OUT. Go OUT." Use hand motions to encourage him to go toward the doggy door.

But you don't want to send him out there alone, else you won't be there to reward him. So go outside yourself (don't try to squeeze through the doggy door, lol!) and make your way into his potty yard. He may notice your arrival and rush through to greet you, which deserves a treat. Or you may need to encourage him to come through, but once he does, that deserves a treat, too.

Then encourage him to "Find a spot" or "Go potty." Choose a place to stand where you can observe your pup, but don't interact with him any further. Don't even make eye contact with him. Let him go about his business, which hopefully will include going to the bathroom.

The reason you're out there is to reward him  if he goes. Make a big deal out it: "Yay! Good boy!" Give him a treat. Then take him into your main yard and play with him, or take him for an enjoyable walk. In this way, he learns that he must go to the bathroom – even a token drop or two – before playtime.

doggy door coverProblem?

"Yes!" you say. "He keeps running back inside the house!"

Ah, that's easily stopped. Most doggy doors come with a metal or plastic cover that attaches and detaches quickly over the flap. Once your pup has come outside, if he tries to play doordash games, you can slide the cover down to prevent him from going back in. Just be sure you remove it as soon as the pup has done his business... BEFORE you take him out into the main yard for playtime or a walk. Otherwise you might forget the cover is on... and that can be very dangerous... keep reading to learn why!

Cover Caution:  The cover can be attached either on the inside or outside of the doggy door. Make sure you only ever put it on the same side as the dog, so he can SEE  it!

Why is this important? Well, imagine what would happen if your pup needed to pee and he tries running through the flap... except that SOMEONE accidentally left the cover on the outside and now your dog has a concussion and PTSD and his housebreaking is set waayy back.

By the way, you can also install a cover or roof over the potty yard, which keeps rain and snow out. For hard-to-housebreak breeds, a covered potty yard might prove to be a must.

Teaching a NON-housebroken pup to use a doggy door

In the previous section, I explained how to coax a housebroken dog to use the doggy door. That section assumed a pup who already understood the concept of housebreaking (i.e. that he's supposed to go to the bathroom outdoors).

It's trickier to teach both housebreaking and the doggy door at the same time. For most pups, it's certainly do-able, but it can take longer.

First, wrap an exercise pen (ex-pen) around the doggy door such that your pup can be confined to the pen with constant access to the small potty yard via the doggy door. During the day, this is where he should stay whenever you're not directly interacting with him.

To teach your pup to go through the doggy door, follow the directions in the previous section of this article.


Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

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