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Teaching your dog or cat to use a pet door is fairly straightforward. Some may take longer than others but with all pets be patient, follow a few simple steps and they'll happily be letting themselves in and out. 

Remember these key points:

  • Never force your pet through the hole
  • Do not put your cat’s food and water right next to the flap as this will lure in other strange cats which can cause a great deal of stress for your cat
  • Always have a “flap closed” sign up if the flap is unavailable
  • Take the training slowly and do it at your pet’s pace. Some pets learn faster than others, but be patient!

Step One:

Leave the door completely open, with the flap propped up or removed. Allow the cat or dog to explore this by enticing him through the hole with a toy or some food treats.  Once your pet has learnt that the hole = outside, and is using it quite happily, you can move to the next step.

Step Two:

Leave the flap propped up, but put a thin sheet of paper across the opening to simulate the flap part. Start by cutting this piece of paper so it only covers a tiny part of the actual opening, to get them used to the idea of going through with something over their heads. Then make it bigger (very gradually) as they get more confident.  

Encourage the cats or dogs to follow the toy or the food through the paper flap. When they are 100% comfortable with the full-sized piece of paper, increase the difficulty level by going back one step and putting a cardboard sheet over the hole (once again cut smaller) so they get used to the idea of pushing something that offers resistance that you gradually make bigger until it’s the same size as the flap. 

Once your cat or dog is using this with ease, progress to the last stage.

Step Three:

Lower the flap, stick the cardboard onto it so it looks and smells familiar. Using lots of treats, praise and play, coax your cat or dog through from both outside and inside the house.  

If you’re going to be closing the flap for any particular reason, put up a very distinct visual marker such as, a Tupperware lid stuck on with prestik, or something similar – next to the flap.  

Your cat or dog needs to be warned that the hole is not available or else they may try to go through it and fail, which could lead to them not wanting to use it any more.

Take this off once the flap is available for them to use again.  

Karin Pienaar
Animal behaviour guru, Karin Pienaar, has been working in the field of animal behaviour and behaviour therapy in South Africa since 1997. She completed her Diploma in Animal Behaviour in the UK, through the Centre of Applied Pet Ethology (COAPE) and is a qualified Practitioner member of the COAPE Association of Pet Behaviourists & Trainers (CAPBT) in the UK and South Africa.
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