Doggy Doors: The Ins and Outs of Pet Portals

doggy door

Getting tired of getting up to let your pet outside and then back in? Installing a doggy door for your pooch is a great way to cut down on those trips and give your faithful pal some independence in the process. But picking the right pet door, getting it properly installed and then teaching your pet to use it are all important steps on your way to DIY doggy duty.  Here’s where to start.

Where do I install a pet door?

doggy door


The answer to this question mostly depends on the size of your pet. Pet doors for small to medium size dogs or cats are often installed in a back door. Obviously, this isn’t going to work if your dog is a Saint Bernard or Great Dane! Pet doors for larger dogs are usually installed in an exterior wall. This is true if you have a regular storm door, also.

You’ll definitely want the pet door to open into an area where your pet will be safe. Some cat owners prefer to keep their pets safe in an enclosed ‘catio‘ where they can enjoy the outdoors without its inherent dangers. A pet door will allow your cat to go back and forth between the house and her outside cat pen whenever she likes. In this case, the pet door may even be installed upstairs!

One place you should never install a pet door is the door between your house and garage. Not only would a pet door violate safety codes but a pet should never have unsupervised access to a garage. It’s full of toxins like antifreeze, petroleum products, and garden chemicals. Your pet is also at risk from moving vehicles, exhaust fumes, and the overhead garage door.

How do I install a pet door?

doggy door

There are so many variables here that you should always consult the installation instructions that came with your particular pet door. However, there are considerations that all doors have in common.

You’re creating a hole into your home, so you’ll need to take some precautions to keep weather, moisture, and intruders out! For example, foam weather stripping and caulk are a must and you’ll also want to make sure the sill of the pet door is high enough to keep out the runoff from heavy rains.  Security also key to make sure you can keep out those Saint Bernard sized burglars!

Doggy doors can be installed in a door, through the wall, or even with a sliding glass door.  This video provides a good overview of the most common installation.

How do I pick the best door?

Size is the biggest consideration here. Obviously, you’ll want a door that your largest pet fits through comfortably. Having to squeeze through an opening that’s barely big enough is enough to discourage many dogs. Measure your pet across his widest part (this is usually across the shoulders). Then measure the depth of his barrel (from the top of his shoulders to the bottom of his chest).  Then, add 2″ to the width and 3″ to the depth measurement to determine the minimum size of flap the pet door should have.

There are special concerns you may need to address depending on the age, health, or size of your pet and the location of the door.  For example, for wall doors, smaller pets need extra height to allow them to step completely into the tunnel, which is easier for larger pets with a bigger gait.  Keep in mind that the outside landing may be lower than the inside floor,  Setting the door slightly lower in the opening can help make that step more comfortable for your dog.

What is the best style of doggy door to get?

doggy door

The answer to that question depends on where you’re planning to install it, the type of pets that will use it, the climate in your area, and if you have stray cats or wildlife nearby that you want to keep out.  Here’s 5 general types:

  • Door in a Door: A pet door in a door is the most common type. It’s generally the easiest to install, too.
  • Wall Door:  A pet door in the wall can give your pet access to an area of the house where there isn’t a door available. This is a great solution for puppies or elderly pets since it allows you to limit any chewing or messes to the laundry room or a similar easy to clean area.
  • Custom Door: Custom pet doors can be built into a wall or existing door, adding to the architectural style of your home.
  • Sliding Glass Door Panels There are even special pet doors available for sliding doors! They typically have a panel above the pet door to fill in the empty space. If you choose this option, make sure you can secure the pet door in place and place a stout dowel rod in the track behind the door so it can’t be pushed open.
  • Electronic Pet Doors:  These doors open automatically when your pet approaches thanks to a remote sensor worn on the pet’s collar.  Electronic doors offer the best combination of convenience and security, since the door can’t be opened without the sensor.

How do I get my pet to use the doggy door?

doggy door

For most pets, teaching them to use the door isn’t terribly difficult, but does take patience.  First, tape the flap up out of the way and coax your pet through the opening with a treat or his favorite toy.  Lower the flap in increments of an inch or two  as you repeat the process, and limit pet door training time 0 or 15 minutes at a time.

If your pet seems wary of the flap, try putting a dab of peanut butter or a smear of nice, fishy cat food on it. Licking something yummy off it makes that flap seem a lot less scary!

What about safety and security?

Although its uncommon, burglars can sneak in through pet doors.  To minimize the risk of unwanted entry,  install the smallest door your pet can comfortably use.  Try to locate it out of reach of door handles, too, or a burglar could simply reach through and let himself in!

You may also want a doggy door that can be locked at night or when you aren’t at home. If the locking panel is plastic, replace it with a steel or wood panel cut to the same dimensions. Of course, locking it eliminates some of the benefits of having a pet door.

Another option is a pet door sensor that only opens when it receives a signal from your pet’s collar. This has the added benefit of keeping out unwelcome ‘guests’ like stray cats, squirrels, raccoons, or even the neighborhood skunk!

Enjoy the rewards

Pet doors offer benefits to both you and your pooch.  Beyond saving us endless trips back and forth to the door, pets can enjoy freedom of the backyard when you’re not at home, avoid “accidents” and even avoid boredom-related destructive behaviors — making doggy doors a good choice when duty calls!

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