I am an animal behaviorist and I have been working with dogs that have “issues” for 20 plus years. I have rehabilitated not just hundreds, but thousands of dogs. Having said that, I have to tell you that housebreaking dogs and/or puppies is at the top of that my list as far as difficulty is concerned. Yes, yes, we have all heard the stories of dogs that were completely potty trained at eight weeks. Is that urban legend? I have seen this happen, but it is far from the norm! I would say that dog is in the top 95% of his class!
Let’s also clear this up… are males worse than females? On the whole, yes, but I have seen females that were pretty resistant to house training and they can “mark” like a male. I have seen them lift their leg, just like a male!
Breeding for a good temperament in a puppy helps a lot. I try to do this with my puppies, in fact, temperament is the biggest factor I look for in a breeding dog. A dog that has a good temperament is not going to bite your kids or neighbor, but it also insures that your dog cares what you think. A dog that cares about your happiness is easier to housebreak.
So, let’s say you have a dog or puppy you want to housebreak. If it is an adult dog, you will start from ground zero, just like you have a new puppy!
To start our discussion, here are a few basic facts about how your canine thinks.
- Dogs prefer to sleep or rest in a den-like area, like a kennel
- Make the kennel comfortable by putting in soft bedding. Like giving a baby his own blankets.
- Introduce your dog to the kennel by feeding him in it with the door open
- Don’t ever force your dog into the kennel, make it a positive experience by offering him treats and praise.
- Close the door of the kennel for short periods of time (start with 10 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes) then reward him for staying in his kennel for longer periods of time.
House training requires CONSISTENCY. This means confinement in his kennel when you are gone and at night. Supervision when you are home. Lots of trips outside. Watching for and interrupting mistakes. Lastly, rewards for eliminating in the correct place. It is really important that everyone in your household is on the same page and follows this plan with your dog. One person doing something different can ruin all the hard work!
When I am housebreaking a dog, I keep him tethered to my leg with a leash. That way he has to go everywhere I go. It only takes a second or two for Fido to go into a corner and poop! Try to keep an eye peeled to catch any signs that he might need to eliminate (sniffing, circling, squatting). It is okay to yell “No,” pick him up and take him outside. Fast! The only exception to the rule on being tethered is if he is playing with you. Obviously, when your eyes and attention are on him, he cannot have a mistake.
When you are not home there are two choices, kennel him, or put him in a small area. If you are going to be gone from l to 4 hours, the kennel works fine. If you are leaving for 4 to 8 hours then I recommend a small area like a bathroom. It is just not acceptable to for any living thing to be confined for that long in a kennel, unless is sleeping at night. If your small area is a bathroom or a kitchen (with a baby gate) leave some newspapers down for elimination purposes. Gradually, you can do away with the newspapers as your dog becomes more house trained or gets older. Clients of mine always ask me about those puppy pads you can purchase at the pet store. In my experience, newspaper works better. My puppies just chew up the puppy pads and they don’t with the newspaper. As a rule of thumb, adult dogs can hold it eight to nine hours. Four- to six-week old puppies need to eliminate every two hours. As they get older this time frame increases. A good way to gauge this is puppies need to eliminate with the same hourly frequency as the number of months old. For example, a four-month-old puppy can hold it for up to four hours.
Make lots of trips to the potty area. When you are home, every couple of hours, immediately after a meal or after a nap, and before bedtime. Just like a baby, keep a consistent feeding schedule so your puppy’s elimination is predictable. If you have a dog that is potty trained, use this guy as an example for junior. He will “monkey see, monkey do.”
Reward good behavior. When he does go potty in the right place, give him a treat, praise and play time!
The maximum time an adult dog that is house trained should be expected to hold it is eight to nine hours. However, if you are house training a new adult dog, assume he can only hold it for two or three hours at first.
Generally, punishing your dog for making a mistake will only make him afraid to eliminate in front of you, and that is exactly what you want him to do when you take him outside.
I like to clean accidents with an enzymatic cleaner as this will destroy the odor and make it less likely that he will return to the scene of the crime!
If all else fails, (and I have seen this happen) I will bring a dog to my Animal Psychology Center and use the pack to house break. Being in a pack is natural for any dog and acting out of instinct they will follow the lead of their peers.
Both you and your dog are happier when he is housebroken. He gets his freedom and you get a clean house. The added benefit is while you are doing all of the “work” of house training you are creating a bond with your dog and trust. All this work is really worth the end result!