Housetraining 101 for your dog

By Frania Shelley-Grielen. All rights reserved.

How do you house train your dog? And what happens when house training is not working? Recently, I heard from a client who lives on the Upper West Side. Taking advantage of a holiday, my client and her 9-month-old puppy were at the parents for the long weekend. However things were not going as planned and whatever success in housebreaking had occurred in New York City was slipping away in suburbia, the dog had taken to hiding when eliminating and everybody was unhappy. My advice on how to address the situation follows (I have changed names to protect the innocent):

How frustrating for everyone! You are right in thinking that what Sammy is learning is that going potty in front of you or even when you are near by is a “no - no.”

Remember the basics of house training? Creating a confinement area where you are close by puppy and spending time around that area, either with fencing in an open space as in your living room or in a smaller room without fencing (such as bedroom or office) can help with both housetraining, settling down and stationing to work on breakfast, dinners and naps. This puppy proof area needs a comfortable bed, water, plenty of toys including good chew toys and pee pads placed farthest from water and puppy bed. When house-training either from confinement area (or even open door crates), taking puppies out every hour to the locations (either in the house or outside) to where you would like them to eliminate and waiting for this to happen and then praising (praise and treat the second after the pee or poop so as to reward the full elimination) is the recipe for success. After an outside walk with no elimination, keep the leash on puppy and pay attention to squirming, circling, fidgeting that signal an oncoming elimination, no time to head downstairs? Walk over to pee pads and just wait with puppy. Try not talking much so they are not distracted by figuring you out and can take care of business and praise like crazy when they go.

After eating, first thing in the morning, last thing at night, after excitement, are some of the times puppies really need to go. Five months is when puppy bladder and rectums are most fully developed to control eliminations and when a regular schedule of first thing in the morning, middle of the day, early evening, late evening walking typically takes hold for full house training.

For help with remedial house training, first breathe (in, out, repeat often). Your pet is amazingly skilled in reading you and your body language, if you are upset, uptight, angry or frustrated this will come through loud and clear. (And no matter how upset that little face looks at you in response, it is not because they understand they have done something wrong, more they would like you so much not to be mad at them, please.)

Do not, no matter what, ever, ever scold Sammy in the act. Ever. You can pick him up (and should) if you see him doing his business, be matter of fact and go directly outside with him. Even if he is done with the act. Go outside place him on the ground and allow him to sniff and or finish, praise and treat. Let "ignore the bad behavior reward the good behavior" become your mantra followed by "direct and redirect". Think training for what you want the dog to do rather than punishing for what you do not want them to do. In this scenario you want the dog to indicate to you the desire to go outside for relief and to perform that behavior there and not in the house. (Continue Reading Below)

Since Sammy is under the impression that he will get in trouble for eliminating while in proximity to you or in locations you have caught him at it, in the past, you want to turn this around. You can do this by, again removing all punishment, next by keeping Sammy in his halter and leash at all times and attached to you. This way you will know when he needs to go because you will be aware of his every movement. No reaction only a positive one if he indicates needing to go out. Praise with a cue for this, "good out Sammy," etc. You can tie his leash to your belt or loop it around your wrist. When I was housebreaking my dog I used to sleep with the leash attached to my wrist. It works (this and more on housebreaking and other help are in Ian Dunbar's How to Teach a New Dog Old Tricks. If there is one dog owners' guide you need, this is the one).

Continue to walk Sammy frequently and on as close to a schedule as possible. Schedules are beneficial for our pets and provide a sense of control where we are the ones deciding when and where they get bathroom breaks. If you walk Sammy and nothing happens do not put him down when you get home. Keep him either attached to you on the leash or on your lap. Pay attention to the signals that he has to go (squirming, fidgeting, etc.) and proceed directly outside. Use this weekend and your proximity to being able to get outside quickly as remedial housebreaking 101.

When he does go, have a party for him, you have with you at all times the greatest reinforcer praise from you to him. Tell him the very second he begins to void what a fabulous little man he is. “What a good wee outside Sammy!!!!” The great thing with all that loving praise is the timing can be instantaneous, no fumbling for treats. And when you start with the praise and a treat follows, that’s an added party favor. Whatever he likes best that you can do outside together, do.

You can continue to leave pee pads in the house but place them as close to the exit doors as possible, front and yard doors (and in the "secret" spots he is now using). Remember wee wee pads are a training aid because they are grass scented, find as much grass as possible along the sidewalks or street or yard.

When you are doing your frequent walks (and always, always right after a meal) try and find locations where other dogs may have frequented -- the street in front of your parents' home will work better than the backyard. Dogs are the most interested in the smells of other dogs' urine and will "overmark," inspired by their past "performances." Make sure your walk is long enough for several pees, even female dogs will urinate more than once if given the opportunity. A voided bladder is a good thing especially when house training. A good sniff around the block is a good distance for exercise, smells and the distraction or two for excitement. And because Sammy is quite distracted by squirrels, which you can use to your advantage, get him focused on a few so he expends a ton of energy (another "motivator") and then pick him up and walk where there are less squirrel distractions and he can focus on business.

Start now re-educating him, the more you work this the more it will work. Give Sammy a big hug and kiss from me.

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