Adult Dog Housebreaking

Response to an inquiry from a Rescue worker as to best way to get her current (adult) foster dog to stop urinating in the house. This is a case of an adult dog who is not well housebroken , rather than one of a dog doing "marking" in the house or one who is having a medical problem or a medication side-effect..
Just about everything in this article also applies to housebreaking a puppy, except that a puppy will have to be taken outdoors much more often because the puppy's "hold it" power is so limited and this power increases very slowly as the puppy matures.
Adult house-breaking is much easier than puppy house-breaking, and it's one good reason to adopt an adult rather than buying a baby puppy..
I am actually giving you two discussions , "two for the price of one", the first one by myself and the second one by Sue Matthews, long time Bouvier breeder and list-alpha of the echobouvier e-mail list, for which sucbscription information will be included at the start of her section.

Adult Dog Housebreaking

by Pam Green, © 2003, 2015

My rescue foster (adult) dog is doing well except that he does not seem to have any comprehension of asking to go out. He just squats and pees right where he thinks about it. Any ideas on how to cure him of this habit? I have tried the scolding, etc with no change.
                --------------   a frustrated foster parent

It sounds like he has missed out on housebreaking, ie that he was never housebroken properly in the first place. This is not a rare occurrance with newly rescued dogs. So you have to do it as if he were a puppy , except that he won't need to be taken out as often and the whole process should be completed in a couple of weeks ---- my worst case took one month and that was a dog with medical issues and a bit of mental impairment. The fact that he is squating to pee, rather than leg-lifting suggests that he is peeing in order to empty his urine rather than to "mark" territory in your house.

First rule out medical issues such as a urinary tract infection. Mnay different medical isues can cause a dog to need to urinate very frequently or with very little warning or to have poor "hold it" power. Phone your vet and set ua an appointment. Parisites would be another thing to rule out since he is also having diarrhea. Your vet will also ask if the dog is drinking a lot of water.. Be sure to tell your vet any medications , including herbals, that the dog is taking, because some of them can cause increased urination or cause diarehha.

Set up either a crate or an x-pen (if need be anchor two corners of the x-pen to the wall with eye-screws and snaps and if necessary put a top on it so it turns into a super-sized crate). The crate or pen is where he will live when you are not home or not in mood to supervise. When you are home and in supervisory mood, tie him to you with an "umbilical cord"", ie a 4 to 6 foot leash or string to your belt. Take him outdoors at appropriate intervals (ideally every 4 hours or oftener if you are able to during the first few days) and praise him liberally for peeing or pooping in your yard. Some trainers also advise giving the dog a reward, such as a food treat or some play or a walk, as well as mere verbal praise and physical caresses. As you take the dog out of his crate or pen and head towards the door, you might want to add a cheerful phrase such as "wanna go out?" or "let's all go out to pee!" (I actually sing this). Don't give him any opportunities to have an "accident" inside the house. (and use a black light to find all prior accidents and deodorize them with Natures Miracle or similar deodorant) If you have a dog door, when you take him out take him through the dog door outbound and returning : slide yourself around the edge of the people door and pass the leash through the dog door and call and guide him through.

You must go outside with the dog so you can praise him for deposting outside and so you know if he is "empty" when you return inside. Later in the training, when the dog has become pretty good about pottying outdoors , you could just stand on the porch, stand in the doorway, or spy through a window so that you observe whether or not the dog makes a deoposit. From porch or doorway , you can praise verbally.

Do understand that to some extent "defecation is its own reward" and likewise urination. There's a pleasant sensation of relief from needing to pee or poop. You might never have thought about these acts as being pleasurable, and certainly would never say so in polite company, but Thomas More did say so in Utopia, and More eventually was canonized a Saint. So your praise and any added reward add to this intrinsic reward and make it very clear to the dog that you really approve of his action that immediately preceded the praise. Dogs need that information :"yes , dog, I really like what you just did:" and "yes, dog, you made the right choice". For an adult dog who may very well have previously been scolded or worse for peeing or pooping in the house and who therefore believes that peeing or pooping in view of a human is dangerous, it's really necessary for the dog to get praised and rewarded for doing it outdoors.

I can pretty much guarantee that a month of strict housebreaking procedure with confinement, umbilical, and supervised potty excursions outdoors will get him housebroken. The next step would be supervised off leash freedom indoors (one small room), with you prresent and watching closely to see if he is indicating a need to be taken out or if he is using your dog door if you have one. Then if you see he is reliable, you can give him more and more freedom indoors with less and less vigilant supervision. Using stretch gates to exclude him from areas with highly valued carpet that you don't want to risk subjecting to an "accident" would of course be prudent.

Please realize that a dog "telling you he needs to go out" is a process of mutual learning and training. In the first step, as you see the dog looking the slightest bit like he might need to go out, you say brightly "wanna go out?" (or any phrase you've been using) and you take him out. Next step, as you see he may need to go, you say "wanna go out?" and wait a moment to see if he heads towards the door. If he does, that is great, and you follow and immediately let him out. Next step is you don;'t follow immediately but watch what he does when he gets to the door : he might bark or whine or scratch or nudge the doorknob or he might do nothing -- most will do something, but what he does depends on his individual personality. Don't wait more than a few seconds, because you don't want him to give up and pee in front of the door. Soon as he does any behavior that could be exaggerated into a good "asking to go out", you must react with a word of praise and with "wanna go?" and you head to the door and let him out. After quite a few times of you reacting promtly, you can be a few seconds less prompt and in effect pretend you are a bit "dumb" or inattentive. With any luck, if you don't respond, the dog will "ask" in a more emphasized form, to which you will react. From this point on from time to time you will be slow to respond but then respond as soon as he "asks" more vigoruously. Most of the time you can respond to a low level "ask", but just occasionally be inattentive to keep him tuned that sometimes he has to "ask" more vigourously. Some people will hang a bell on a cord from the doorknob and teach the dog to nose-nudge or paw at the bell to make it ring; this is a signal that would be hard to miss.

Whatever "ask" signal you and the dog develop between you, do realize that unless your dog is extremely stupid, he will also realize that he can "ask" to go out for purposes other than urinating and defecating. For example, perhaps he detects a squirrel or a cat in the yard. I rather think dogs have a right to do this : "dogs just wanna have fun" But if it becomes a nuisance either (a) make a rule (ie routein) that dog comes back inside after 5 minutes unless he makes a deposit, that deposit earning him a longer outdoor time or (b) install a dog door.

If it has occurred to you at this point that it would be much easier to have a dog door, yes, indeed it surely is much easier ! I have found that if there is a dog door , then many rescued dogs will housebreak themselves with very little intervention from me. I used to make a point of showing the new dog where the dog door is located and how to go through it, but very often my own dogs do this for me, simply by running out excitedly and the new dog usually follows them out and then back into the house. I really consider a dog-door to be a great blessing for dog and person, and having a dog door frequently makes a big big diference in ease of housebreaking and ability of a dog to refrain from "accidents" if no one is home for periods of greater than 4 hours.

However there are situations in which one might justifiably decide not to have a dog door : for example, because one has a very young child in the house who one does not wish to have unsupervised access to the yard (to protet the child from possible danger), because one has a cat whom one wishes to keep strictly indoors (thereby protecting it from many dangers), or because there are raccoons and other critters in the neighborhood who might use the dog door to invite themselves into your home, or finally for fear of a small sized burglar using the dog door to enter your home. To adopters, I say "It's your choice and it's your carpet." . See the article Dog Doors for advantages and disadvantages.

Scolding him for peeing indoors by itself won't solve the problem and may make it worse by simply teaching him that it is unwise (dangerous) to pee in your presence. Now after a month of being praised for peeing outdoors, if he should make a mistake indoors right in front of you so you can scold within 30 seconds, then that could be appropriate -- but not nearly as good as recognizing the warning signs that he is thinking about it, interrupting him with a sharp word , taking him outdoors and praising him for doing it outdoors. To scold or not to scold is a bit of a controversy among dog trainers.

Note : this same advice on adult house-breaking also applies when a fully house-broken adult dog is moved to another house, whether with same family or another family (ie adoption). Be wise : do a "refresher course" in house-breaking.
And if the move is from a house where there was a dog door to a house without a dog door, realize that dog and human must now teach eash other a means for the dog to "ask" (signal) to be let out or taken out.

And anytime an "accident" happens, it's the human's responsibility for not having prevented it. House-breaking and well timed potty outings are the human's responsibility , not the dog's responsibility.

Don't allow "accidents" to continue happening over and over. If an "accident" is due toa medical condition, take the dog to the vet. Otherwise, do a "refresher course" in house-breaking.

Sue Matthews once wrote "if your puppy has an accident, roll up a newspaper and hit yourself three times , saying 'bad owner, bad owner, you weren't watching your puppy' ". This was a joke , and one I have plagerized many times (plagerism is the sincerest form of flattery) for house-breaking, for chewing of valuables (which shouldn't have been left within dog's reach), for food-stealing (food which shouldn't have been left within dog's reach), etc. . But it's not intended to make you feel guilty, just to prevent anger and instead make you ttake responsibility and to become more careful.

from Sue Matthews

© 2015 by Sue Matthews

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(posted to the echobouvier list in response to an e-mail list member saying she was having a rug-peeing issue with a 2 year old dog she'd adopted.I am quoting Sue exactly except for adding some bold formatting for emphasis.)

My two year old adoptee, Miranda, has had a few "accidents", some on a hand-tied oriental rug. As this is the first dog that I didn't get as a puppy the transition has been quite different. Perhaps I'm not picking up on her non-verbal cues.
                  from list-member

I never differentiate between puppies and older dogs who join my family. I just assume that the older dogs are not house trained and they go on the same potty supervision and management plan that I would follow with a baby puppy.... i.e. outside first thing in the morning, after meals, after naps, after playing, or every few hours or any time the dog seems to be looking for a spot to pee. The dog is on a leash that is in my hand or attached to my belt the majority of the time, or in a crate if I cannot watch him for a bit. Dogs go outside on the leash and get 5 minutes to potty. If they are successful, we have a cookie party and lots of praise and stay outside to play ball or some other fun game. When we go back inside, he gets to be loose in the same room I am in, or follow me around the house if I am moving around. If there is no success, I just walk the dog back into the house and put him in his crate without any explanation, and ignore him for 20 or 30 minutes until it's time to let him try again.

Most dogs figure out really quickly that the quicker they eliminate, the more time they have to play outside... and conversely, when they don't eliminate, life gets really boring really quickly.

Mainly, it just means that the human needs to take initial responsibility for the dog's elimination so that he can be successful as often as possible, and so the dog has no opportunities to make any mistakes in the house. Consistent behavior and expectations means consistent results.

Thanks Sue. I guess my expectations were too high ??. But after spending $200 to have that rug cleaned, I've become more vigilant in her training!
                  response from list-member


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 5/26/03 revised 9/02/2015
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