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Training Corner

Housetraining Dogs & Puppies
by Susan O'Brien


House-training a dog is one of the most important tasks we have to accomplish when we bring a new dog into our home. A dog that’s not house-trained is destined to live a lonely life on the outside looking in.

If you have adopted an adult dog, it's best to assume he's not house-trained and proceed with the basic concept you need to get across: to eliminate in the right place, not the wrong one. Since the "right” and “wrong" places aren’t obvious from the dog's perspective, it is our job to communicate where elimination should happen. Peeing and pooping aren’t wrong—it's just all about location, location, location!

Preventing accidents and rewarding success is the fastest way to house-train.

How do we get them in the right place at the right time?

Elimination happens—and it is predictable. The goal is to be able to predict when it will happen, get the dog in the right place, and be there to reward!! Understanding some elimination facts will speed things along and make you a successful "potty predictor."  In general, when something goes in, something comes out. Feeding on a schedule is key to predicting elimination. In a very young pup, the relationship between in and out will be quite close. With an older dog, there may be more time between a meal and a "result." During training, with all dogs, a trip outside following a meal is a must. If nothing happens in five minutes, bring the dog back in and confine or keep on leash and try again in about 15 minutes. Once your dog is empty you can come back in and be relatively safe for a short period of time. Time to play! But remember, as soon as your dog eliminates, they begin filling up again. After 20 minutes, put him back on leash or confine again.

Another predictor of elimination is around the activity level—going from "inactive" to "active," such as overnight or after a nap. During the night, if your dog is not house-trained and is free to get up and roam about the house, she is likely to have an accident. Confining your pup to a crate, an exercise pen, or small bathroom helps to keep her inactive until you are ready to take her outside. This also takes advantage of your dog's instinct not to soil in her own space, and for a young or untrained dog, that space needs to be not much bigger than the dog herself. Pay attention following naps; once your dog is up and moving he's going to go. If you use the crate or confinement, you are able to keep him inactive until you are ready to take him out and reward.

Perhaps the most frustrating of accidents is the dog who has been left outside for hours, only to come in and pee. Remember, just because the dog was outside doesn't mean he's empty. Perhaps he was sleeping and awakened when you arrived home. In he comes with a full bladder—and voila! A greeting outside and encouragement to go, while you wait and reward, can avoid this common accident.

Another risky time is following high activity. If you are outside, returning from a long walk or play, make sure you stop in your potty area before re-entering the house.

The best way to teach your pup where to go is to anticipate the "event" and reward with treats and lots of excited, happy praise. A flat "good dog" is not enough; if your neighbors don't think you've gone a bit nuts when house-training, you are not praising enough!

Be a good potty predictor, control your dog's activity anytime you can't keep your eyes on him, and reward enthusiastically each and every time he gets it right. As with any training goal, it is repetition and reward, not punishment that will get the job done.

Addendum: If you have a dog who is urinating very frequently, "leaking," or suddenly appears to never have been house-trained, a vet check may be in order to determine whether or not a bladder infection or other medical problem may be the cause.

Susan O'Brien provides behavior consultations and in-home training for resolution of common canine behavior problems. Training and volunteering on the peninsula since 1990 (formerly Kindred Spirits), currently she is partnering with POMDR, providing training for volunteers and the dogs POMDR rescues and rehomes. She is a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. For more info and contact information for Susan, go to www.anewleashtraining.com.


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