Housebreaking 101

The first three rules for housebreaking:

1) Supervision

2) Supervision

3) Supervision

The next rules:

4) Crate, when not under supervision

5) Pups and dogs usually have to eliminate after eating – pups immediately, older pups and dogs, less urgently.

5) Go outside *with* your puppy/dog so you can reward with a pea-sized, soft bit of meat or cheese.

6) Do not “free” feed dogs in training.  Your veterinarian will have ideas on a feeding schedule, but a typical one is that a puppy 2 – 3 months eats 3 or 4 meals per day and a pup 4 – 5 months eats 3 meals, and a pup 6 months and over eats 1 or 2 meals per day.  Meals give you more control over knowing when bowel movements will happen.

Note:  Do not “free-choice” feed adult dogs either.  Dogs are not herbivores, with a long, slow digestive tract set up for “grazing’ all day.  Even more importantly:  Every time your dog has the extremely primal and powerful experience of eating, this gift needs to come from you.  Every time you feed your dog you are showing him how powerful, amazing and generous you are.  Every meal time is the perfect chance for you to show your leadership in asking him to give you space as you prepare the food, to sit and wait calmly when you put it down for him.  Dogs that are slow and picky:  Give them 10 minutes, pick it up and offer it at the next meal.  Dogs can fast for two or three days easily.  Each missed meal only increases the normal desire to eat.

A common problem that people come up with, usually a week or two into housebreaking training, is that the pup goes outside and wanders around for 5, 10 even 20 minutes and does not show the slightest interest in pottying.  The wet, frustrated, cold owner gives up and comes inside.  Puppy happily runs to the fluffy, warm carpet and pees!  How frustrating!!!

To get past that problem, you will be happy to hear that you need to stand outside with her for only three minutes, maximum.  If she does not go then, bring her back into the house, but she needs to be put into her crate.  (This crate needs to be large enough for her to stand up and turn around, but not large enough that she can pee in one end and sleep in the other!)  Set a timer or alarm for 20 or 30 minutes and take her out again.  If she does not eliminate in 3 minutes, repeat.  Obviously you need to practice this on days when you won’t be in a huge hurry to rush out of the house!  Usually it does not take long – especially with a young pup, for them to *have* to go when you take them out.  Make sure you have that reward, because that’s a big moment of success!

As a puppy gets older, they may simply not have to go as often, so you’ll have to adjust to whether pup really does have to go, or not.

Night time:  Even an 8 week old puppy can “hold it” for 6 straight hours at night.  Adjust your schedule so you can have 6 hours of sleep before waking pup and taking him out of his crate.  Being confined to a crate for the first few weeks or months, at night prevents accidents.  By 10 or 12 weeks, the pup should be able to sleep up to 8 hours per night.

What do you do when the puppy makes a mistake?

1)  Roll up a newspaper and smack *yourself* with it for not supervising well enough!

2)  If you catch him just circling and starting to go, rush over and say “Ooops!” and zip him outside quickly.  Hopefully, you’ve kept treats in your pocket, or by the door to reward his good job outside.

3) If you do not catch him in the act, only finding the accident somewhere, clean it up very well.  Use a bit of vinegar mixed with your clean-up water for urine puddles to neutralize the ammonia smell of pee.  Even better, use an enzymatic cleaner like Nature’s Miracle to neutralize the scent to reduce the pup’s attraction to that spot.

4)  If you do not catch him in the act, you CANNOT punish or correct.  This will feel very frustrating, but punishing him after the fact will only frighten and confuse your pup, and lessen his trust in you as a strong, fair leader.  RESIST the temptation!

5)  It is normal for puppies and dogs to learn quickly to not potty near you, but then to experiment with eliminating in farther off, private places in the house.  These places work great, in their minds!  They have an uncomfortable feeling, they know they cannot go near you, they go and find a “better” spot, and are rewarded by the uncomfortable feeling going away.  Aaaaaaahhhh.  No one yelled, no one redirected them to outdoors, so – “Hooray, this back bedroom must be the perfect spot!”  So….in the final stages of potty training, you’ll have to muster the energy for yet more close supervision, following pup into these far-away rooms to catch him, give him a “Hey!” and redirection outdoors so he knows that cleanliness in the human world involves *all* the places that are indoors….not just the busy spot in the center of the house.

Leg Lifting in the House

Does your male dog mark “his” territory in your house?  Are you finding mystery stains on drapes, chairs, beds or other corners?

This behavior is not a house training issue, technically.  It is a leadership and dominance issue.

Dogs that do this are often small, insecure/dominant types.  (We’d call them passive-aggressive, if they were humans!)  These dogs feel a lack of leadership in the house, and feel they have no choice but to take control, but it makes them very uncomfortable and nervous.  They then feel that a great solution is to mark everything in the house so that any possible “scary” invaders know that a really tough guy lives there!

It sounds a little bit funny, but it is a common problem, with very icky, un-funny results!  Here are several approaches to use to conquer this behavior problem:

1)  Master the Leadership Walk!  (If you’ve spent more than 5 minutes talking to me about training, or reading this blog, you aren’t surprised I wrote this as #1, are you?)  Learn more about the Leadership Walk and why is is crucial to your and your dog’s entire relationship.

2)  Practice discipline in your house.  Your dog must give people respect.  This means:  give them space.  Not only does the dog not jump on people, he does not get close enough to jump on people!  He is calm and submissive and following behind people when leaving or entering the house.  He moves off of furniture politely and quickly when asked.

3)  Neuter him!  No excuse for an un-neutered dog or un-spayed dog unless you are a very serious breeder with a long-term plan to improve your chosen breed.

4)  Supervise him.  For a few days, or a week or two – until the behavior stops – do not let him out of your sight.  If you are too distracted to watch him, crate him or tie him to you with a leash so he can’t sneak away.  My family completely broke a new dog from the shelter of a very intense house-marking problem by tying him to his owner (my seven-year-old daughter) for three or four days.  This is not convenient, but it works 100%, and increases your bond, and his “follower” mentality too.  Literally every move he makes is determined by you!

5)  Correct just before the act, or right in the middle. Rush over and say “HEY!” very indignantly and tap him firmly in the ribs or neck.  Stand tall and lean over him, letting him know in no uncertain terms that this is *your* property, and then send him away, using your voice to say “Go!” and stalk toward him, “shoo-ing” him away.

6)  When on walks, do not let him stop to lift his leg.  Just walk.  When you do take time for a “potty” stop (this is at *your* decision, most definitely not at *his*!) if he goes to lift his leg, tug him along to a place with no vertical “temptation” and teach him that he can relieve himself in a calm, non-excited/dominant manner.

Often, just doing the Leadership walking correctly, and the respectful door behaviors correctly will stop the indoor marking.  Your dog will feel calmer, and happier, knowing he doesn’t have to worry about making the house safe from “bad guys”!

One last word:  Use an enzymatic scent eliminator like Nature’s Miracle to clean, to lessen the scent trigger that draws your dog to mark that place again and again.