On Dog Doors

There are big advantages to having a dog door from your home into your safely fenced yard, but there are potential disadvantages too. The choice needs to be made in accordance with your own situation and priorities. I also have a plan for renters and others who don't want to cut a hole in their existing door.

On Dog Doors

by Pam Green, © 2009

There are big advantages to having a dog door from your home into your safely fenced yard, but there are potential disadvantages too. The choice needs to be made in accordance with your own situation and priorities. Most of the disadvantages I discuss are those pointed out to me by various adopters, all of whom I thank for their valuable advise.


"Dog door means never having to say you're sorry"

The obvious and essential advantage of having a dog door from your home into your safely fenced yard is that it allows your dog to take himself outdoors to urinate or defecate whenever he needs to do so and then return into the comfort of your house. Thus the dog door is a huge advantage to house-breaking, both for initial establishment of the house-clean habit and for the maintainence of the habit..

The dog door greatly facilitates initial house-breaking. In my experience in fostering rescued dogs of all ages and all kinds of prior experience, I have found that over 95% of dogs will become house-clean very quickly and with little effort from me when a dog door is available once they have learned the location of the dog door and how to go through it.

I used to carefuly teach each new foster dog how to get in and out, either (a) by having another person on the other side of the door and passing a leash back and forth between us to guide the dog through. and rewarding with praise , petting, and treats, or (b) in the absence of a helper, by taking myself from one side of the door to the other and guiding or calling the dog through, et cetera. But I found that in most cases my own dogs were better teachers than I was. So now I usually just take myself to the other side and call my own dogs through, which usually inspires the new dog to follow. Sometimes for a less confident dog, I will temporarily secure the flap up out of the way for a day or several days, then return it to normal position. As to why the new dog chooses to urinate and defecate outdoors rather than indoors when given this choice, I would guess that those who have previously been backyard dogs already assume that outdoors is the right toilet. I'd assume also that seeing and smelling my own dogs pee and poop in the yard is a pretty good trigger for the new dog to do likewise. In any case, over the last 20 years, there have only been 2 or 3 dogs out of over a hundred for whom I have had to resort to the standard house-breaking regime of close confinement and periodic supervised outdoor potty breaks.

The dog door greatly assures maintainence of the house-broken habit. For the already house-broken dog, the dog door means not having to get the attention of a person and getting that person to open the door so the dog can go out then later open it again for the dog's return. It means that the dog never has an accident because the person was not paying attention or was away from home for too long , exceeding the dog's ability to "hold it". The dog never has to say he's sorry for having messed indoors and the person never has to say he's sorry for getting home so late. Of course you still might have the rare accident resulting from a dog being ill and having a sudden diarehha or a dog becoming incontinent.

The other advantages of the dog being able to come into the house at will are many. The house is usually a more comfortable and safer temperature for the dog during hot or cold weather. The house is an emotionally secure place for most dogs. Most dogs when given a choice like to be outside for only a minor part of the day and will be indoors the rest of the time. Dogs who are left outdoors all day while people are away at work tend to get bored and lonely and to compensate by activities like digging or barking or fence-running or fence-fighting with a neighbor dog. Dogs left outdoors are more likely to become escape artists, but dogs allowed house access are usually content and secure.

A further advantage is that the dog door lets your dog go outside to bark at potential intruders and scare them off before they can enter the house. However this also lets the dog go out to bark at the mail delivery person, the UPS delivery person, etc. So this is both advantage and disadvantage.


disadvantages vary with owner's circumstances and priorities<
these are legitimate concerns for some owners

You may not want to give your dog access to the entire house. This is a legitimate concern. Perhaps the dog is still a puppy and likely to chew dangerous or valuable objects. But a dog door only has to give the dog access to that one room into which it enters, and that room can be made "puppy proof" by removal of everything dangerous or destructable from the dog's reach. The rest of the house can be put off limits by closed doors or by use of stretch gates. For dogs who jump over stretch gates, hang a second stretch gate above the ground level one.

You may not want to give your cat access to the outdoors. This is a legitimate concern, as once outdoors a cat is subject to many risks. The counter-measures you might take would be to confine the cat to a portion of the house that does not include the dog door when you are not home and to disable the dog door when you are home (commercially made doors have a sliding cover panel that makes the door impassible) so the cat can have free range of the house. There are also dog doors and cat doors that allow passage only to an animal that is wearing a gizmo (I think it is a magnet) on the collar, but this would not prevent a smart cat from scooting out as the gizmo wearing dog goes in or out. There are also some fence modifications that are supposed to prevent a cat from getting over a fence. See also the kennel run idea described below under local wildlife. The cat would not be able to go beyond the kennel run.

You may not want to give a young child unsupervised access to your yard. This is a legitimate concern because of the risk of a depraved human being kidnapping the child. I am indebted to one of my early adopters for raising this issue. They were an older couple who listened politely to my dog door advocacy and then said with great politeness "that's not a good idea for us because our 5 year old grand-daughter is with us 5 days a week and we don't want her out in the yard alone." I felt like hitting myself over the head with a rolled up newspaper. Of course the safety of your child / grandchild is vastly more important than the cleanliness of your carpets !

You may not want local wildlife coming into your home. This is a legitimate concern. A lot of people have told me that in their neighborhood there are wandering cats who will enter homes via a dog door and many more have said the same of raccoons. Even using the gizmo opperated form of dog door won't prevent raccoons, as they are more than smart enough to scoot through as your dog passes through. There have been occasional reports of other wildlife entering through dog doors. Now the one counter-move I can think of would be to have the dog door lead into a kennel run , with a top on the run and a gate from run to the rest of your yard. The kennel run is enough space for a potty yard, but nothing can get from the rest of the outdoors into your home.

You may worry about a burglar coming into your home through the dog door. This is a legitimate concern. Of course if your dog is very small, a human adult or teen cannot get through the small sized dog door. If your dog is quite large, eg Bouvier, then yes indeed a human of moderate size could crawl through. In fact I've done so on a couple of occasions when I accidentally locked myself out of my house. However it is somewhat questionable whether a burglar is really going to want to take the risk of being on hands and knees half-way through a dog door and in that condition be confronted by the large dog for whose benefit the door exists. Now the kennel run suggestion in the above wildlife section is also a burglar preventative, especially if the gate from run to rest of your yard is kept locked when you are not home or at night.

You might worry about someone stealing your dog or throwing poisoned food over the fence, etc. This is a legitimate concern. My only suggestion would be the kennel run suggestion above, with the gate to the yard locked.

You might be concerned that your dog, especially a small dog or puppy, might be victim to a large bird of prey or a cougar or other predator. This could be a legitimate concern if you live in an area where such predators are expected (or if you don't know whether they might be present).. Again, the kennel run idea could be an answer.

You might be concerned that a dog who is physically disabled or mentally confused might go out and not be able to come back in. This is a legitimate concern. I've been in this position for temporary periods with a several dogs. In very hot or cold or rainy weather a dog whose physical condition is such that he sometimes needs help to get up on his feet from a lying down position or who may need support when walking really is in danger of getting himself "stuck" outdoors and suffering heat stroke or hypothermia. Likelwise a dog who is having an episode of Old Dog Vestibular Syndrome may not be able to navigate himeslf back indoors. A dog who has a seizure disorder, such as epilepsy, possibly shouldn't be outdoors unsupervised. When I have had such a dog , I put up a barricade to keep that dog indoors, ie to keep the dog from reaching the dog door. The other dogs are on the other side of the barricade and thus can use the dog door normally. If my handicapped dog has a pee or poop incident in the house, I don't much care, because the safety of the dog is so much more important.


That's all I could think of at the moment, but I'm sure someone somewhere will have some other concern. Whatever your concern, remember that it is your choice as to your priorities for risks. You know your situation and its risks better than I do. In my view the safety of your dog, your other pets, and your children certainly far outweighs the potential for occasional pee or poop in the house. If your carpets are museum quality, hang them on the walls instead of laying them on the floor.

for renters
(for anyone who doesn't want to cut a hole in their door)

Maybe you don't want to cut a hole into your door to install a dog door. Maybe you rent, so don't have the right to cut the landlord's door. Or maybe you aren't really sure you want to have a dog door. Or maybe the door to your yard is a sliding glass door. Don't give up. There are solutions.

solution for sliding glass doors

This is actually an easy case. There are panels that install into your sliding glass door, ie between the sliding part and the frame that it latches to. These panels include the dog door. They come in various sizes. Two varieties, one of which is meant to install and un-install quickly and easily for people who are likely to want to swap it in and out from time to time. These panels are sold at major pet emporiums like PetCo and PetsMart and also at some of the home improvement or building supply stores such as Home Depot. Do a few phone calls to find out which stores in your area have these in stock and to compare prices.

If you ever move to another house, it's easy to un-install the glass panel and take it with you to your new home.

solution for those who don't want to cut a hole in their door

For renters or others who don't want to cut the existing door, there is a simple solution. Get another door, an inexpensive solid core door, that fits the same width and that you have cut to the same length. Take off the existing door you don't want to cut a hole in and store that door safely away, eg in the rafters of your garage. Put in the new replacement door, into which you have installed the dog door. If you ever change your mind about having a dog door or if you are a renter and moving out, just swap the original door back into place and either discard the replacement door containing your dog door or take it with you to your next abode.

(Note : if you have never "hung" a door before, you might want help from a friend who knows how to do it or you might even hire a professional to do it. Or if you are lucky you might find a "pre-hung" door and its surrounding supports that would fit inside the frame of the door you are replacing. I "hung" my own door but didn't do the greatest job of it.)

For renters, of course before you do this you will need to ask your landlord if that is agreeable. Of course you already should have permission to have a dog or dogs written into your rental agreement. I really cannot imagine a landlord refusing to let you do this door swap, because after all the result will be to reduce to minimum the risk that the dog would ever pee or poop on the landlord's floors. I can imagine that a landlord might want their own handyperson to be the one to actually do the door swap and also swap their door locks into the replacement door, thus being sure the job is done right, and if so the landlord would probably want you to pay a fee for this as well as for the swap back when you leave.

Alternatively, it is also possible to install a dog door into an outside wall, installing it in between studs. This gives you a wide choice of locations for the dog door. You may well want to hire a handyperson to do this job for you as it takes some skill. For renters, this is not an option as a landlord is unlikely to give permission unless you are on a multi-year lease. But for home-owners, it might be a good choice.

where weather is severe

For those who live where winter weather is severe, especially with high wind, you may have concerns about gusts blowing through or around the dog door flap. You probably would need to have the dog door go into an enclosed area which has a second dog door to the outdoors , located at right angles to the one into the house and oriented away from the prevailing winds. Most homes in this kind of location have either a "storm porch" or a "mud room" that can serve as the intermediate area.

Commerically made dog doors actually have pretty good sealing between flap and frame, so this may not be an issue.


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 7/18/09 revised 9/27/2015
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