Of all aspects of dog ownership, house-training is the most prominent and the most important. From the first day a dog comes into his new home, there is a sense of urgency that pushes us to house-train him as quickly and thoroughly as possible. However, just like any other kind of training, house-training requires patience, persistence, and an understanding of your dog’s instinctive habits. Once your dog is properly trained, you will both be calmer and happier with his daily routine.
Reasons for House-Training:
A clean, hygienic living environment is imperative for you and your family, and pets must be made aware of your requirements. Once your dog understands the do’s and don’ts of his bodily functions, you will have laid the groundwork for additional training, and you will be well on your way to a great relationship with your dog as well.
The need for house-training your dog is not only important; it is immediate. Have a plan for house-training before you bring your new dog home, and implement it right away. This is not only for reasons of hygiene, but also because your dog must understand that there are certain behaviors he is expected to learn, and that you are the on to look to for guidance.
Here’s the Scoop:
The first step in changing your dog’s potty habits is to avoid those time-worn methods that have been proven to be wrong and counterproductive. Dogs live in the present—they think only about what they are doing and what is going on around them at the moment—punishing them after the fact is ineffective and futile. Rubbing your dog’s nose in the accident, showing it to him and making a scene, or scolding him after the job has already been done, will only confuse him. Consider this scenario: Your dog has urinated on the rug without you seeing him. As you walk into the room, he runs toward you. At the same time, you notice the spot on the rug and reprimand him. The last thing your dog was doing was running toward you, so in his mind, this is what he is being punished for.
You must catch your dog in the act for any corrections to be an effective deterrent to that behavior. Similarly, you must reward your dog immediately when he does something right (such as eliminating in his designated area), to clearly identify acceptable behavior. The clicker is a great way to mark a behavior and to say “Well done”, quickly and consistently.
Next, establish a reward history with your dog by taking him on a leash to his potty area so you can immediately praise and reward him with a treat when he eliminates in the right place. Taking your dog on a leash to his potty area will allow you to guide him to the proper place and immediately reward the action. Waiting until after he is finished and on his way back inside, allows too much time to pass for your reward to be meaningful. It is important to establish the correct behavior in your presence. That way, if you later catch him eliminating in the house and have to reprimand him, it will be clear that it is only the chosen area that is unacceptable, and not the act of eliminating in your presence.
Your objective is to prevent the elimination behavior before it starts, and this requires a certain amount of vigilance on your part. You must stop him each time you catch him eliminating inside your home and reward him each time he goes in the right spot outdoors. Remember, consistency and patience are the keys to minimizing your dog’s confusion and helping him to understand exactly what the desired behavior is.
If you notice pre-elimination behavior, such as circling, squatting, or selecting some light reading material, immediately take your dog outside (preferably on a leash) to his designated area and reward him with a treat when he eliminates there. If you catch your dog in the act somewhere in the home, distract him with a shaker can (a soda can filled with several pennies or pebbles) or other noisy disruption. Then immediately take him out to his designated area (put on the leash, if possible) and reward him for eliminating where he is supposed to eliminate. After you have established a reward history with your dog, you can make him understand that the floor is not his potty area by simple repetition. If you catch him eliminating in the house and correct him (as outlined above), at least five times, he should understand that this behavior is unacceptable.
When you take your dog for a walk, allow him to eliminate and reward him before you begin your walk. Many people walk their dogs just until they eliminate, and then take them straight home. This will often result in the dog waiting to eliminate for as long as they can in order to make the walk last longer. If you allow your dog to eliminate first, and then go for your walk, he will learn to eliminate more quickly so that the walk can begin.
Potties for your Pooch:
Most of us have better things to do than to catch the dog in the act of soiling the carpet, and there are sure to be times when you are unable to personally supervise your dog. In the instances where you are busy or away for a short time, confine him to his crate. Since dogs are naturally clean animals, they do not want to eliminate in the place they live and will tend to wait until you take them outside. It is very important that you always allow your dog to eliminate just prior to putting him in the crate. Also, as soon as you get home, take him out on leash to his designated potty area and immediately praise and reward him when he finishes. Remember that puppies and small-breed dogs have small bladders that don’t hold much, so they will need to eliminate frequently.
If you must be away for a longer period, you can set up a dog-proofed area in your home. Use a small bathroom or utility room. Be sure to put away anything your dog could potentially get into and cover up all cords and wires. Keep your dog comfortable and happy in his area with a bed, water, interactive chew toys, and a potty area. An interactive toy is great to use as a special toy he receives only when he is left alone; he can even eat his meals out of it.
Create a potty area using a dog litter box, or a similar containment filled with the material the dog would ordinarily use outside. If he is accustomed to using grass, fill the box with sod. It may be that he is used to dirt, sand, or even concrete (for city dogs). These materials will have to be cleaned each day for sanitation purposes. Pads and newspapers are not recommended for several reasons. Since dogs are not generally accustomed to using these materials outside, introducing them could cause confusion when making the transition to eliminating only outside. Also, your dog will not be able to distinguish between his potty-paper and your morning newspaper!
Naturally, larger dogs will need a larger elimination area. If you cannot find a litter box or similar containment big enough for your dog, a piece of linoleum or small kiddy pool will do. Linoleum is available at most hardware or home-supply stores and can be cut to any size you want. Use it to cover and protect your floor, and overlay it with sod, dirt, sand, etc. Each time you return home, take tour dog outside on leash, and reward him with a treat for eliminating there. Once he starts using the indoor potty area regularly, you can begin to enlarge his dog-proofed area of confinement to a bathroom and hallway or a bedroom.
With a consistent reward history, your dog will learn that eliminating outside results in a treat, while eliminating inside does not, so he will try to hold it for longer periods to get his reward. Over time, he should use the indoor potty area less and less until eventually he will no longer need it. Then you can remove it permanently.
“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.“
~Anatole, French Novelist
Certified Canine Trainer & Behavior Specialist
Professional Dog Training in Houston, TX