Let Your Doggy Do Its Own Thing: Install a Dog Door

by Michael Franco
Golden retriever peering out of a  dog door

Dog Door Installation at a Glance

  • Step 1: Measure height and girth of dog
  • Step 2: Measure dog door opening versus main door
  • Step 3: Outline dog door opening on main door
  • Step 4: Cut out dog door opening
  • Step 5: Install dog door frame

Dogs are our furry, four-legged family members, and sharing our living space with them is truly one of the things that, proverbially, makes a house a home. But let's face it: Sometimes it can be a real hassle when Fido needs to go out in the pouring rain at midnight. Wouldn't it be great if your Very Good Boy could just let himself out when he needs to go, and then back in again when he’s done doing his thing? That's the convenience a dog door can bring to your life — and, in many cases, you can install your own in an afternoon.

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Read on to learn all about dog doors and how to go about installing one.

Types of Dog Doors

When you think of a dog door, images of a simple plastic flap might come to mind. While those doors do still exist, there are a variety of options to choose from nowadays. Some doors are electronic, and will open and close as long as your pet is wearing a collar containing a microchip to activate it. These doors have the benefit of closing fully when not in use, so weather and unwanted animal visitors remain on the outside. If you have a sliding glass door that could work as a good location for a dog door, there are options that fit directly in the track, making installation relatively simple. Still other doors can be installed in a screen door, directly through an exterior wall or fit into a window.

But far and away, the most popular dog door is, in fact, the flap style installed in an exterior door. When shopping for this style of door, you may want to look for options that are energy efficient thanks to the use of multiple flaps and insulation. Just be aware that more flaps might make getting used to the door a bigger challenge for skittish dogs.

Choosing the Right Size

Before shopping for your pet door, you'll want to size up your best friend. To determine your dog's height, measure from the top of the shoulder blades to the floor. Also measure its width across the chest (or the widest part of its body). Add 2 inches to both measurements to determine the minimum size for your dog door.

When determining the size of the dog door, be aware that you need to keep at least 3 inches around its edge in order to maintain the main door's integrity. Also, this may seem obvious, but a reminder never hurts: Make sure that, wherever you’re placing your dog door, that it opens to a safe and secure outdoor area.

DIY or Call for Help?

There are several factors to think about as you're considering whether to install a dog door on your own. The first, of course, is your comfort with home improvement projects. This one requires a bit of precision cutting, so if you're not handy with a saw, you might want to call in a pro.

Also, the type of door you'll be starting with may guide your decision. If you have a solid wood door, then cutting the installation hole through it can be accomplished relatively easily with a drill and a jigsaw. If, however, your door is made from metal or fiberglass, you're going to have a harder time cutting through it and you'll need a reciprocating saw or circular saw fitted with a diamond blade. If that seems daunting, again, you may want to call for help. A dog door can be installed in just a couple of hours by a pro, so the additional cost may ultimately seem minor compared with the peace of mind it brings.

Get Going

Once you've purchased your dog door, you may want to take your main door off its hinges and lay it across a couple of saw horses in order to create a nice horizontal work surface. The job is attainable leaving the door in place, but you might find it easier to work once it is taken down.

Outline Your Opening

Lots of dog doors come with a template to make marking and sawing easy. If that's the case, lay your template down in the space where you'll want the hatch installed and affix it with painters tape. If your door doesn't have a template, simply lay the indoor section of the dog door down and trace the section that will recess into the hole you'll cut.

Cut Your Hole

Next, drill a large hole in one of the corners of the shape you've traced. Insert your jigsaw blade into the hole and cut along your lines until you've removed the square or rectangle into which the dog door will install.

Insert Your Frame

With the hole made, place the interior frame of the dog door on the inside of the main door and pre-drill the holes where your screws will go. Then, hold the exterior frame against the door and join the two using the screws provided.

Are Dog Doors Safe?

With all dog doors, it's important to remember that you're basically making a hole from the outside of your home to the inside. If you're installing one of the doors that fits into the track of a sliding glass door, you’ll be compromising the safety of that system because the section that holds the dog door can be more easily kicked in than a solid glass door. If that’s the case, you may only want to install this type of dog door provided the sliding door opens to a secure location, such as a backyard with a locked fence.

In terms of doggy doors installed in standard exterior doors, there’s much less of a worry. Unless you have an extra-large door through which an extra-small burglar can enter, you should be OK. One thing to watch for, though, is just how close the top of the dog door is to your main door's lock. If an intruder could reach up and turn a latch to gain entry, then you'll want to replace the lock with a deadbolt that operates only with a key from the inside (and keep the key nearby, but out of reach from exploring hands).

In general, the benefits of a dog door exceed the potential drawbacks. You'll be bothered less by the demands of your dog and your dog will have more independence to come and go as it pleases. While it might take some coaxing (with treats) to get your dog used to use the door in the first place, eventually, it’ll learn that it's an escape hatch into a world full of grass to sniff and squirrels to chase.

Installing a dog door is a project most homeowners can accomplish on their own, or that contractors can complete in just a couple of hours. But not all home projects — such as plumbing or appliance failures — are handled so easily. That's where you may consider being prepared with a plan from HomeServe. Once you have a plan in place and a covered issue arises, you can simply call the 24/7 repair hotline. A local, licensed and highly trained contractor will be sent out to you to get the job done to your satisfaction.