Housebreaking...you've come here either because you are planning to get a new dog, or you need help with your current dog. Regardless of the category you are in, rest assured, this can be done. Housebreaking your dog is possible. If you are losing hope, hold on...don't lose hope. We can figure this thing out before it is too late.
When I first got my puppy, I was terrified about housebreaking. I soon learned that I had nothing to fear. Housebreaking is not hard. It may take some time for the dog to master the skill. It will take some time on your part to teach the dog what she needs to do. But it is very doable for the average dog owner. Below are some things that I did. Some pointers that I have found helpful.
Don't let this article be your only source for housebreaking the dog. There are entire books written on the subject. There are "Dummies" guides and "Complete Idiots" books on this. If you don't have one, get one, and follow it. This should be considered an appendix to those programs.
1. Catch 'em in the act
You need to see the behavior in order to shape the behavior. If you want to reward doing business outside, you need to see Fido do his business outside. If you reward the dog when he comes back in, he has no way to link the reward to the action.
The same goes for when the dog soils in the house: you need to witness it and act immediately. If you find the pile 3 days later and then get down on the dog, he will have no idea what he did to cause your action.
There is a rule from the egghead world of training: the consequences needs to be within a half second of the behavior in question. So you gotta catch 'em in the act, either good or bad.
2. Reward for Going Outside
Rewarding the dog for going outside to do his business informs the dog that it is good to go outside to potty. I used a clicker so that I could catch him in the act and rewarding it. There are other options, but this worked good for me. You can find an explanation as to how to use a clicker here.
From day 1, I accompanied the dog outside on his bathroom breaks. Every bathroom break was on a leash. I watched and waited for him to do his business. As soon as he finished, I clicked, rewarded, and basically threw a big party to let him know how happy he was for doing his business outside.
By rewarding, you show the dog what you want to have happen.
3. Frequent Opportunities To Go Outside
When I would wake up in the morning, I escorted him outside. After he ate, I would escort him outside. After he played, I would escort him outside. After he woke up from a nap, I escorted him outside. If it had been 20 minutes since he last went outside, I would escort him outside. Before going to bed, I escorted him outside. The point being, I gave the pup plenty of opportunity to succeed. If you are only bringing Fido outside *after* an accident inside, you don't have the opportunity to reward. You haven't caught him in the act. By taking him out *before* he needs to go, you can be there to reward. Soon he'll understand that doing his business outside means a reward and a party.
4. Distraction, Not Punishment
Many books and articles warn against punishing a dog for doing his business inside. I agree with that. Oftentimes, it teaches a dog to hide from you when it needs to use the restroom. As such, I never resorted to yelling or punishing the dog for soiling the house. Still, it would be nice if we could inform the dog what is inappropriate, without causing the hiding behavior.
The answer to this is distraction. In order to use distraction, you need to be able to read the dog. Before a dog messes in the house, there are often other behaviors that lead up to it. Things like sniffing, circling, or grabbing a magazine are good indicators that a bathroom break may soon ensue. These don't always happen, but when they do, you need to key in on them.
When I would see one of these precursor behaviors begin, I would try to distract the dog and get him paying attention to me. Clapping or calling his name could work. Then, I would quickly pick him up (when he was a puppy) and hurry him outside. When the commotion subsided and he finally did his business outside, there would be a click, reward, and a big party.
By distracting and hurrying the dog outside, this is the other half of the communication. This shows the dog what you do NOT want to happen.
5. Restrained Freedom
My puppy was never unattended. If I could not see puppy, it means he could be soiling my house without me catching him in the act. If I was watching TV, pup was constrained to the TV room, where I could see him. If working on the computer, pup was constrained to the computer room. You get the idea. You can't catch 'em in the act if they are in a separate room. Once the dog is getting the hang of it, the extra freedom can also act as a bit of a reward.
If your dog is marking in a particular area...meaning he is good everywhere except in one location, you will have to plan on spending a lot of time in that area with that dog. Perhaps first restrain the dog near the area, then expand his area to include the marking temptation. There will need to be a lot of time spent here.
6. Teaching The Dog To Talk
How is the dog supposed to tell you that he has to go outside? One way is to teach him how to tell you. Here is what I did: I hung a bell near the back door. *Every* time I took him out to have the opportunity to go, I would take his paw and hit the bell with it. If we were playing in the house, and he decided to swat the bell, we would drop everything and go outside. In pretty short order, pup has learned what he needs to do in order to get outside. After a while, we needed to have the bell down for only part of the day, because he learned it so well that he would swat the bell every 5 minutes in order to go play outside (with me in tow).
Consistency in all the above will get a house trained dog pretty quickly. Zeke was housebroken in about a week. My dog Shiloh took about 3 months. Why so long? He spent his days at doggy daycare. In doggy daycare, there was not the consistency in training. He did not have a bell to ring. Other dogs were going their business inside. There were no rewards for going outside, nor any distraction from going inside. In contrast, Zeke's owner was unemployed during his formative days. The housebreaking structure was firmly and consistently in place. He never knew anything but this routine.
If the dog only occasionally gets rewarded for doing his business, he's not going to understand what you want. If the dog never has his behavior disrupted while inside, he's going to have a harder time learning where NOT to go. Consistency is key.
There you go. If you start incorporating these tips into your housebreaking routine, it will pay dividends. Also, this is a companion piece to what I wrote about dog marking. If your dog is older and is male dog marking in the house, consider taking a look at this piece.
Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.
Filed under: Uncategorized