Have a Timid Dog? Train them to use the Pet Door

How do I train my timid terrier to use the dog door?

Timid dogs may need extra training to use a pet door

Timid dogs may need extra training to use a pet door

Some dogs have no problem using the dog door the minute they realize it’s a way for them to go outside and get back into the house. Other dogs take a bit of convincing that this contraption holds a positive experience for them.

The most important thing is to make the experience a positive one. NEVER force – by pushing or pulling – your dog to go through the dog door. If your dog is afraid to come near the door, you can make it a comfortable and desirable place by sitting on the floor or a short stool near the door and calling the dog to you with a treat or favorite toy.

Once your dog feels the area near the dog door is a safe place, you can start to introduce the idea of going through the door. If you have a Hale Pet Door, you can order the optional training flaps that are slit vertically and have no strikes to stick to the magnets on the frame, so your dog doesn’t have to push on the solid flap. You can also securely fasten up the flaps (with blue painter’s tape to avoid wall damage), so they’re completely open or remove the flaps. Put the dog’s toy or a treat on the frame, so your dog will put his head partway through the opening to retrieve the reward. Continue doing so until your pup is willingly leaving his head through the opening. Don’t ask for anything more if he’s pulling his head back quickly or moving away from the door to finish his treat or play with his toy. Just continue playing with your dog at the pet door until he’s relaxed and feeling safe. Keep your sessions short and sweet with lots of love and praise.

After he starts to willingly go through the door with the flaps open, gradually let the flaps touch his back gently to desensitize him to the flaps touching his back as he goes through. Go slow; you don’t want him to be scared by the flaps. Keep your attitude and the whole experience positive.

Here are some other tactics to try and things to consider:

  • If your dog has a “doggie friend” who is used to using a pet door, invite the pooch over so your pup can see another canine use the dog door. This experience can encourage your dog to use the door if he follows his friend outdoors to play. Keep the experience positive so your pup will want to use the pet door.
  • Make sure the pet door is the right size for your dog. If you have a short-legged dog and he has to jump up to get through the pet door, he may get caught on the frame and get scared. Also consider the drop on the outside of the door as it may be lower to the ground outside. If so, you may need to make the landing area higher with a wooden box or bricks or a Hale Pet Door Ramp to help your dog feel safe as he goes through the door to the outside.
  • Adjust your attitude. Keep it friendly and smile. Don’t take it personally if your dog doesn’t want to use this great new thing you’ve bought him. If he doesn’t want to use the door, it’s because he’s scared of it for some good reason in his dog brain.
  • Remember that learning doesn’t happen in fearful situations. First your pup needs to feel safe and comfortable before he can learn to use the dog door.
  • If your dog will occasionally use the dog door when there’s an incentive, such as squirrels chattering in the yard, but asks you to let him out and back in most of the time – it may be that he has you trained as his human doorman. The only way to break this pattern is to ignore his requests until he uses the dog door regularly. Use a cue such as, “Doggy door,” in an upbeat voice when your dog uses his door to encourage him to go through the pet door. Think of ways to motivate your dog to want to use the dog door – go outside while your dog is inside and call him out to play or get a treat. Then do the same while the dog is outside.

A pet door can make both you and your dog’s life easier and more convenient. Your dog will be healthier when he can answer nature’s call when necessary instead of only when you’re home.

8 thoughts on “Have a Timid Dog? Train them to use the Pet Door

  1. Jon says:

    My shih tzu has been using his pet door for years now, it is the best invention out there for small dogs, especially in winter lol.

  2. Andrew Holdsworth says:

    Hi, I’ve struck a dilemma. My 5 month old Black Labrador loved her doggie door and whizzed in and out like Schumacher. A few weeks ago she must have got stuck or a fright or something and now she wont use it. Even if I leave it open, she timidly ducks through it if I coerce her with treats, but very reluctantly. It’s been a couple of weeks now, and regular training to use the door is failing. What do you recommend I try? Shall I leave it open all the time so she gets used to the opening being safe and then close it?

    • halepetdoor says:

      I had the same thing happen with my dog. I had a single flap with 2 parts, so going out was a smaller opening. When he was small he could get through it with no problem, but as he grew the passage got too small. He must have gotten hung up and scared and refused to use it at all.

      If you’re sure the pet door is big enough for your Lab — she should have an inch clearance at the top and sides — then leaving the flap open for a while should let her overcome her fear. However since she’s still growing, you might have to consider getting a bigger dog door.

      Because Hale Pet Door has 11 sizes, we have a sizing chart to help you choose the right size for your dog when she’s grown.

      If you have questions, please call us at 800-646-4773


  3. Maranda says:

    I am trying to teach two of my dogs and they go through very easily with the flaps open, but they won’t go through it when the flaps are down. My doggie door has two flaps on it. I have tried lots but nothing seems to be working. Both of my dogs are scared of everything so they are having troubles. One of them is 8 and one is 2.

    • halepetdoor says:

      Hi Maranda,
      You didn’t mention what brand of pet door you have, but if it’s a Hale Pet Door, you can order a training flap. The training flap has no strikes to catch the magnets and hold it closed, and it is slit so the dogs can go through easily.

      As you know with timid dogs, it’s paramount to build confidence slowly with new situations. If we can help, please call us at 800-646-4773


    • halepetdoor says:

      Hi Maranda,

      You might try fastening the flaps open (tape) for a few hours then make a game of gently lowering one flap onto the dog’s back as he goes through. When he’s comfortable with that and will push one flap do the same with the other.

      This make take a few minutes or a few hours. Get a stool to sit on so you’re comfortable and some treats and play the “dog door” game. I would start with my braver dog and let the other watch.

      Dogs learn best from other dogs, so if you have a friend’s brave dog that your dogs like to play with, you can play the “dog door” game with that dog and yours will eventually join in.

      We humans get very focused on the outcome, and it sometimes scares our sensitive pets, so get comfortable and plan to sit and play with your dogs until they “win” the “dog door” game.

      I hope this helps.


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