by Bailey Coldwell
On initial thought, dog doors can seem very appealing. There are some aspects of a dog door that you are going to want to be mindful of. This post will go into depth about what to take into consideration when contemplating a dog door and how to help set the dog up for success while using one.
The pros of using a dog door might include:
Convenience for us because we don’t have to bring the dog outside as frequently.
The dog is able to hang out and play outside on their terms.
Owners might be able to leave for longer periods of time if the environment is safe.
A dog door can provide more mental and physical stimulation for the dog.
The cons of using a dog door might include:
The dog is not learning how to hold their bladder. This can result in potty accidents when they are in locations without a dog door.
We likely aren’t giving the dog a “go potty” cue, which will make it hard for your dog to know when it is okay to potty.
We are not as easily going to be able to mark and reward when our dogs potty outside.
If you want your dog to potty in a specific area in the yard, giving unsupervised time outside is going to make this difficult to enforce.
Our dogs will likely learn that they can be outside for an extended period of time before pottying. I like for my dogs to potty within 1-2 minutes when outside, so that they know that pottying is the first thing they should do when outside.
Behavioral issues outside. When we have a new puppy, they are going to experiment with the world. They are going to eat things, dig, and do other behaviors outside that we don’t want.
Recall issues might arise. When we get a new puppy, we want to have a lot of chances to practice recall. Too much freedom outside can negatively impact this.
If your dog is outside unattended, they might start barking at sounds and triggers. If we aren’t there to interrupt them and to teach them what to do instead, it will likely become a habit.
With small dogs, especially puppies, there have been horror stories of predators and birds of prey being able to capture the puppies.
Critters like bugs and rodents might wander inside.
Depending on your location, someone is more likely to be able to steal a puppy.
It can be harder to determine if your puppy is feeling ill, because we aren’t monitoring their pottying routine as frequently.
Okay so, let’s say that you want to use a dog door and help set the puppy up for success. Here are my tips:
Wait to give the puppy access to the outdoors unattended until the puppy is closer to maturity; usually between 1.5-2 years of age. You will want to have pretty good trust in your dog.
First, work on potty training as you normally would without a dog door. Bring the puppy outside often, give a cue, and give a reward. You can still have your puppy go through the dog door, but you just don’t want to give too much freedom until the puppy has earned it. A puppy isn’t always going to put in the effort to go potty outside, if they think it is also okay to potty inside.
You will want to make sure that the dog is potty trained before giving unsupervised access to the door. Do this by interrupting or preventing the accidents so that the dog learns it is “weird” to potty inside.
Work on making the dog door positive by introducing it at their pace. If they are fearful, slow down. Start by lifting the flap up for them.
Have a successful recall. This is important. We want to know that our puppy knows it is “the law” to come back to us.
Make sure your yard is safe. We don’t want predators and people to have an option to get in. If your puppy/dog is a size that a bird could get them, it is best to just not have your puppy outside unattended. Dogs are smart. Make sure there is no way that they can dig under the fence or climb over the fence. If dogs are unsupervised, it is best to keep collars/harnesses off to prevent them from getting caught on something.
Be mindful that if your dog can get out the dog door, cats and small children will also be able to.
Start with a small amount of time unsupervised and work your way up.
As soon as you start to notice unwanted behaviors like digging, lack of recall, barking, eating things, etc., you are going to want to take freedom away to prevent the behavior from becoming a habit.
It is still helpful to sometimes have your dog potty on cue and on leash, for situations where you don’t have the dog door option.
It is also helpful to sometimes take the dog door option away and keep a close eye on the dog. Watch for subtle signs that the dog needs to potty (like walking to the door) and then bring them out. It is good for the dog to learn that even if they don’t have immediate access to going outside, we still don’t want them pottying inside.
Understand that unsupervised time outside is simply more of a risk than when we are outside with our dogs or they are outside and we are nearby.
I hope that this helps you determine if a dog door is a good option for you with your older puppy/adult dog. Feel free to chat with one of us trainers in more depth about dog doors if you have further questions.