How to Install a Pet Door

A homemade pet door will make getting your dog or other pet from inside to outside much simpler and more convenient.

Backyard Pet Door

A pet door can give your pets freedom while making your life a little bit easier at the same time.

Photo by Tracy Walsh

Content Tools

By rediscovering the everyday tasks that were the hallmarks of American life centuries ago, we are able to take more control over the resources we need. Chris Peterson and Philip Schmidt provide 30 projects that can help you get started with these everyday tasks and begin to lead a more self-reliant lifestyle in Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency. This excerpt, which provides instructions for installing a pet door for your home, is from Section 2, “Homestead Amenities.”

Buy this book from the GRIT store: Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency.

Pet doors are available in a variety of styles, colors, materials, and mechanisms. Install one and your dog can go outside whenever he wishes with nary a lift of a finger from you. But don’t even consider installing a dog door to the outdoors if you don’t have a securely fenced-in yard. To avoid the potential for someone opening the gate in your yard and unintentionally letting your dog loose, locked gates are also a must.

One of your biggest decisions when faced with the plethora of dog door styles will be choosing between the electronic and the manual dog door. If cost is a factor, you’re going to lean toward the manual; if security is your greatest concern, then your best bet is the electronic door.

The electronic door is made of hard plastic or Plexiglas, and it responds to an infrared signal from a key attached to the dog’s collar. It can emit a hum when activated, which is disconcerting to some dogs at first. When shopping for an electronic dog door, pay attention to the specs; some electronic doors open in only one direction.

Some dogs will go through the door right away without a problem, but most need to have some level of introduction or training. It’s important that you introduce your dog to this contraption slowly and cheerfully. If you know a friendly dog who already uses a dog door, invite him over; dogs do learn from each other. Barring a friendly canine teacher, there are some simple techniques that with enough patience are bound to work.

Before you install the flap, take the one item that is most irresistible to your dog and go to the other side of the door. Slowly wave the goody just under your dog’s nose and lure him toward you through the door. Give your dog the come command in a cheerful and encouraging manner.

Once your dog is stepping through the dog door like it’s no big deal, install the flap. Go to the side of the door opposite your dog, pull the flap toward you just a bit, and lure your dog as you did when the door was wide open. Do this a few times so your dog gets used to the feel of the flap against his body, then just call your dog to go through the door, flap and all. Any time you hit a snag, go back to the last point your dog behaved reliably, and train slowly from there.

Tools and Materials

• Measuring tape
• Torpedo level
• Drill and bits
• Jigsaw
• Screwdriver
• Pliers
• Hacksaw
• Pet door
• Masking tape
• Caulk

1. Measure the largest animal that will be using your door and purchase a pet door that is a little larger. Measure a dog’s breadth across the shoulders and depth between shoulder and bottom of rib cage. Center the template that comes with the pet door on the lower middle of the human door. The ideal height of a dog door top is about 2 inches above the standing dog’s shoulders. For structural reasons, the cutout should not fall below 3 inches from the bottom of the human door. Center the template with a measuring tape. Level with a torpedo level, tape in place, and draw cutout lines and bolt hole locations. Remove the template.

2. Drill the prescribed bolt holes. Next, drill starter holes just inside the corners of the cutout rectangle for the jigsaw blade. If the door is metal, pound a dimple into the surface at each hole location with a nail, and then drill through with progressively larger bits until you can fit your saw blade through. Cut along the side and bottom cutout lines with a jigsaw. Cut the top side last. Tape the cutout in the door as you go to support it, and to keep it from splintering or tearing.

3. If the pet door straddles a rail and a recessed panel or panels, you’ll need to even out the opening so the door has a flat installation surface. Measure the depth of the panel relative to the rails with a ruler and a board held across the rails of the door. Rip-cut strips of blocking to this thickness out of 3/4-inch-thick stock. Measure and cut the blocking to length to fill low panel areas and glue pieces of blocking around the opening. Put blocking on each side of the opening for pet doors with both an interior and an exterior trim kit.

4. Insert inside and outside door components and bolt it together through the bolt holes. Trim the bolts and attach the flap according to manufacturer’s instructions. The exact installation requirements will vary. If needed, tape the pet door flap up until your pet becomes accustomed to using the door.

More Practical Projects for Your Homestead

Building Your Own Backyard Fire Pit
Constructing a Firewood Shelter


This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency, by Chris Peterson and Philip Schmidt, and published by Cool Springs Press, 2014. Buy this book from our store: Practical Projects for Self Sufficiency.