Hello, My Lucy is a 5 year old border collie. She is very well trained. How do I train her to go through a doggie door? ~Carley
A doggy door, while convenient for us humans, can be pretty alien to dogs. They need to learn not only how it works but how to be confident about using it. Once you get started in the training process, it can become quite easy for the dog to catch on. You have to start simply to set her up for success and she will develop the use of it as a reliable behavior.
Start by removing the flap. Either tape it open or take it off completely. It helps to have another person, but you can do this alone if you need to. Use small, easily eaten treats that Lucy loves. This can be small bits of cheese, pieces of hot dogs, or her favorite treat.
With Lucy on the inside, and the doggy door flap open, ask a friend to stand on the outside of the door. Make sure you both have a handful of treats. The person outside should stand maybe a foot away from the door, and attempt to call Lucy through. If she is hesitant, your helper can lure her through using a treat in a closed fist. When she gets her first paw through the door, let her have the treat. This is helping her gain confidence in the door and associating it with positive emotions because of being rewarded.
As Lucy becomes more comfortable stepping 1 or 2 paws through the door, increase the difficulty by asking her to step half her body through. The moment she does it, praise and reward with a treat! She might walk straight through after, or pull backwards. If she walks on through, give her a treat and begin working with her coming inside the same way, starting with just 1 or 2 paws going through. If she pulls backwards, just ask her to come halfway through again before getting a reward.
Keep these sessions under 5 to 10 minutes long and always end it on a positive note. It can be a surprise “jackpot” of a few treats or even play. You can, however, have up to 4 or even 5 sessions in a day if you have the time and she does not grow bored.
In the next session, you will start with asking her to come halfway through the door, but after that first reward ask her to continue to walk on through. Reward her with a jackpot of treats when she does, and reverse it by asking her to go through the door again to go back inside. As a border collie, Lucy will most likely catch on to this very quickly, and you will be able to add in the door flap.
When you add in the door flap, using the lure technique may work best at first. With Lucy on the inside, place your hand in a fist with a treat inside. Put it just inside the flap so she will be able to see and smell it. Attempt to lure her to step her first 2 feet and head through the flap this way. When she does, remember that the flap resting on her may feel weird and scary to her. She may shy away and back up. Be patient and just try again unless you succeed.
Just as before, once she is comfortable with stepping through with just her front feet, ask her to walk halfway through the door. When she does, make a big deal out of it with praise as well as treats. She’ll learn this is a great thing to have the flap touching her!
She may step through or back out. If she steps on through the door, praise her some more, and attempt to get her to go through the door again to go back inside using the same hand-in-the-door technique.
In your next session, start with asking her to come through the door without putting your hand through at all. When she does, make a huge fuss as if she just did the best thing ever. Practice with it many times. Incorporate play by tossing a ball or favorite toy through the door and she must go through to fetch it. When going for walks, ask her to stay inside til you are out the door and ask her to come through the doggy door to get her leash on. Incorporating these little things will continue her love for using the doggy door and she will develop a habit of using it on her own to go outside.