Dog doors are particularly helpful for puppies when being housetrained, as the dog will be able to go outside when he needs to go to the toilet. He’ll never have to wait for you to notice that he needs to go outside, and it gives the owner peace of mind, knowing that they don’t have to rush home to let the dog out.
Before You Start: Setting Up a Safe Outdoor AreaThe outside area that the dog has access to from the dog door should not allow him to be able to escape at all, or present any other serious problem. The dog door can lead out into a yard, or an outdoor patio or even an enclosed dog run. If there are any concerns about your dog being able to escape, the outside area should be fixed up before allowing the dog outside. It should be noted that some dogs only need a small space, such as a small hole through a fence, to be able to get through and escape.
Going Through the Dog Door The first step in housetraining your dog with the doggie door is teaching him to go through the door. (See: Teaching your Dog to use the Dog Door.) Once the dog is comfortable with that, you can begin training him. If your dog has no idea that he is meant to go to the toilet outside, he won’t naturally do the right thing, so he needs to be taught to go through the dog door each time he needs to go out. The best way to encourage him is to take him out through the door each time you go to the yard. Also make sure he only has access to a very small indoor area when he is left alone. (The next section will explain how to set up your dog’s indoor area.)If you have multiple doors in the house that lead to the yard, it can be tempting to take your dog out through the nearest door. This may cause confusion to the dog, and when you’re not home he may still expect to get through those other doors. If he gets into the habit of always following the same path to the dog door, he’ll learn a lot quicker that he can go outside on his own.
Setting Up Your Dog’s Indoor Area The best way to get your dog to want to go to the toilet outside, is to give him access to only a small area when he is home alone. Ideally, this area should just be large enough to fit his dog bed and his food and water bowls. Dogs have an aversion to going to the toilet near where they eat, so this should encourage him to go outside.If your dog door is in a bathroom, laundry room or other small room in your house, enclosing him in that room by closing the door or using a puppy gate will probably be sufficient. If he still has a bit too much space, even in this small room, you can use a puppy gate or exercise pen to block his access to part of the room.If your dog door is in a larger room, you will need to use an exercise pen, which is a multi-panel gate that can be assembled to create enclosed areas of different shapes and sizes, to make an enclosure of the proper size just inside the dog door. Typically, the best way of doing this is using as many of the panels as you need to create a square that uses the wall or door with the dog door in it as one of the sides or you can make a semi-circle with the exercise pen just inside the dog door. You will need to secure the pen to the wall or door so your dog doesn’t just push his way around the pen and run wild in your house.With smaller, less active dogs, putting some heavy objects against the sides and ends of the pen will do the trick. With larger or more active dogs, you may need to head to the hardware store to buy some eye hooks to put into the wall or baseboard. You can then secure the gate to the wall using zip-ties for a permanent solution and snaps (like the snap on your dog’s leash) for a quick-open solution. Many exercise pens have a panel with a walk-through gate that you can open and close, which is a convenient feature to have if you can get it. If your gate doesn’t have that feature, be sure that at least one side of the gate is secured using snaps so you can open and close it easily if you want to have him out in the house or put him back in his pen.
When you find that your dog has reliably kept this small confinement area clean, you may want to start expanding his space gradually. If your dog is over 6 months old, you can trust him with more space after he’s been clean in the small confinement area for about a month. If he is under 6 months old, we recommend keeping him in the small confinement area until he reaches at least 6 months, then gradually adding more space.
While you’re training your dog to use his dog door to go in and out, you should still follow the basic rules of housebreaking when he’s not in his confinement area. If ever you see your dog looking like he’s trying to get away from you or get to his dog door, walk him over to the door and give him a chance to go out. Leaving the puppy gate down or one end of your exercise pen open while he’s out in the house with you will allow you to get him out the door more quickly. In the later phase of training, when your dog has more free access to the house, be sure you leave the gate or exercise pen open so he can get to the dog door! If the gate is closed and he can’t get out, he loses the opportunity to do the right thing and will almost surely have an accident.