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Doggie Doors: Access to the Outside

By: Alex Lieber

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At one time or another, most dog owners have wondered what joys a doggie door would bring. Imagine sitting down to your breakfast or dinner without keeping an eye cocked at the door, in case he needs to answer nature's call. Or an end to the looks between you and your spouse/significant other, communicating the silent question: "Whose turn is it to take the dog out?"

Ah yes, there are many advantages to a pet door – if the right one is selected and installed properly, and you use it the right way. It goes without saying that a pet door should only lead out to a securely fenced yard, but this point is so important, we're going to say it anyway. The fence should be secure enough to prevent your dog from leaping over or digging under it. It should also be locked from the inside.

With that said, there's another important point to know about pet doors: it's no excuse to leave your pet alone for long periods. In fact, a pet door should be closed and locked when you're gone for many reasons:

  • Someone may still be able to get in the gate and steal your dog.

  • Your pet may discover an opening you've missed. By the time you get home and find he's gone, he could be miles away, lost.

  • An animal from outside may get into your home. Stray dogs, cats, raccoons (even snakes in some parts of the country) have gained entry through the pet door. However, technology has tried to solve this problem (see below).

  • Burglars may be able to wriggle through the opening, or gain enough access to use a tool to unlock the door from the inside. Although this is less likely with a small opening, don't forget that prying off the frame makes the opening bigger. With the metal frame off, a burglar may be able to enlarge the opening even more.

    Finally, your dog will still miss you like mad. These aren't points against installing pet doors, just aspects to consider on choosing and using them. On the plus side, your dog will be able to relieve himself at will (assuming he's housetrained), and he can amuse himself indoors or out when you're busy around the house

    Doors range in styles, features and of course cost. They run anywhere between $25 to almost $1,000. For larger breeds of dogs, expect to pay $120 to $200.

  • An inexpensive pet door ($15 to $65) should have a feature that self-locks after a pet comes back in the house. They are usually plastic frames with acrylic flaps. Different styles allow adjustments to the lock (in-only, out-only, open and locked).

  • A moderately priced pet door ($70 to $150) is usually made of aluminum with better insulation to keep out drafts. These may be designed for people with both small and larger pets.

  • Other models are designed for walls or even glass (price depends on size and model), which are more expensive. However, it may help conceal the fact you have a doggie door by placing it in an unusual location.

    Technology has ridden to help solve the problem of unwanted animal intruders. Electronic and electromagnetic doors, which only open in response to a "key" on your pet's collar, are now available. These doors are locked until your pet comes within a few inches of the door. The "key," attached to your pet's collar, sends a signal to unlatch the door. The pet can then walk through the door, which falls back into place and locks.

    The cost of these doors is surprisingly low – between $60 and $100 for certain models designed for small dogs. The cost goes up with the size of the door – larger breeds may cost several hundred to $1,000.

    Note: Remember to buy a door for the size of your dog as an adult to save money and labor. The opening width should be a little wider than the widest part of your pet, and the height should be measured from the top of the shoulders to the chest, just behind the front legs.

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