WHAT IS HOUSEBREAKING ?


 
What does "housebreaking" mean to the dog ? What are the skills the dog must learn and master in order to be reliably "housebroken" and what must the human caretakers do to help the dog to acquire these skills ? It's a bit more complicated than most people think.
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WHAT IS HOUSEBREAKING ?

By Pam Green, © 2003

If you were to ask most people "what does it mean to say that a dog is "housebroken" ?" they would probably reply something like "he knows that he should pee and poop outdoors, not indoors." A few might add to that "and he knows how to ask to be let out."

Now those answers are not wrong, but they are incomplete. At least they are incomplete from the dog's point of view, which is the point of view that really counts. This article will deal with what the puppy must learn and then will re-emphasize what you , the human, must do to enable that learning to take place as easily and cleanly as possible.

(Note : although I will usually refer to the canine as "the puppy" , everything in this article applies as well to mature dogs. The mature dog has the advantage of mature physiology giving him greater "hold it" power, but may have the disadvantage of previous mis-training. Usually the housebreaking of an adult dog proceeds much more quickly and easily than that of a puppy, unless the dog is carrying the "baggage" of previous mis-training or has a medical condition making continence difficult or impossible. Likewise I will use the masculine pronoun, but everything applies equally to the female. Males are much more likely to "mark" deliberately indoors and out, though neutering by age 6 months will go a long way to prevent this. Females are more prone to "submissive urination." I will not cover the topics of marking and submissive urination in this article . I will also not cover the medical conditions that can make it difficult or impossible for a dog to avoid having "accidents.")

 

Part I : What the Puppy (or Dog) must learn.

To become reliably housebroken , the dog needs to master a number of skills :

Let's go through these skills in detail. Because it is in the details that humans often fail to make housebreaking easy and pleasant for the dog and the persons involved. Although I have numbered the steps, some of them occur concurrently with one another. Eg (1) through (4) are learned concurrently. Although I will keep referring to "the puppy", all of this applies equally to the adult dog.

OUTDOORS IS GOOD

This is a step that is absolutely vital and all too often is neglected. Too many people seem to expect the dog to "get" this on his own. They just scoot the dog outdoors and leave him there unattended and assume that of course he will know what he is supposed to do there.

You the human MUST go outdoors with your dog and wait until he actually eliminates, ie pees and / or poops, so that you can praise him for doing so. Let him know how much you approve and appreciate him peeing and pooping outdoors. Make sure he knows that outdoors is good.

By going outdoors with the puppy , you also gain the certain knowledge of whether or not he has urinated or defecated outdoors, thus the knowledge before letting him back indoors of whether or not he is now "empty" and thus will not need to eliminate again for an ensuing period of time. If he is empty , then he can have some period of greater liberty in the house but not too long a period of course. If he is still full , then he must go back into his pen or crate or back onto the "umbilical cord", and he will need to be taken out again in the fairly near future.

As you head outdoors with the pup, it is good to use some phrase like "want to go out?" or "need to go potty?" or whatever phrase you like. The goal is for this phrase to become associated with trips outdoors to eliminate. And as you see the puppy start to assume the position for urination or defecation, it is good to use a phrase like "let's potty " or "dump time" or whatever you like (and would be comfortable saying in front of strangers when traveling), so that this phrase becomes associated with actually making an elimination. Once the association is well formed, this phrase can be used as an "invitation" to trigger the dog to eliminate anything that might be ready to be deposited. Having this trigger can be very convenient later on , especially if you are traveling or if you engage in dog sport competitions and want to empty the dog before performing.

HUMAN NEAR IS GOOD (but not essential)

It's not so much that you must teach your dog that your presence nearby is a good thing and not a reason to inhibit urination and defecation, but rather it is that you MUST AVOID teaching him that your presence nearby is a bad thing and a strong reason to inhibit elimination.

Those owners who shove the puppy out the door, assuming he will eliminate, then let him back in without knowing that he is "empty", are setting themselves up for an "accident". The puppy may very well still be "full" when he comes back indoors and shortly thereafter will make a deposit on the floor. If the owner then compounds his mistake by scolding the puppy, what is the puppy learning ? All too likely he is learning that it is dangerous to eliminate when a person is nearby. If so , then pretty soon he may start having his accidents out of line of sight of his people. Whereupon the human may become angry that the puppy is being "sneaky." From there you and the puppy will proced down a viscious spiral that too often leads to dog abuse through punishments that are incomprehensible to the dog. At the end of this spiral, the dog is likely to either be relegated to the backyard forever for a life of extreme lonliness or the dog is likely to be dumped at the pound , where he may be KILLED for his owner's mistakes.

When you accompany the puppy outdoors and praise and pet him when he eliminates outdoors, you are both teaching that outdoors is good and that your presence is not dangerous. Now some of the time while the puppy is outdoors you may stick pretty close to him and other times you may be at some distance, maybe across the yard, but still discretely watching for that magic moment so you can express approval with some kind words. At some point in this process, when the puppy has gotten very much into the habit of eliminating soon after he is taken outdoors with his phrase of "it's potty time", you could occassionally take the pup out and return indoors yourself and spy on the puppy through the window; as soon as he makes a deposit , you could then go outdoors to praise him and play with him or you could simply open the door and call him back in with a very happy tone. However do NOT just scoot the puppy out the door and neglect to spy through the window; you still need to know whether or not he has actually eliminated outdoors before allowing him back indoors. We are however laying the foundation for the time when the more mature dog can simply be sent outdoors to potty unsupervised. A lot of incidents of spying through the window will let you know when it becomes a reasonable risk to send the dog outdoors unsupervised. If a dog-door is available, of course the transition to the dog taking himself out unescorted will probably occur much sooner and more naturally.

ON LEASH IS OK, SO IS OFF LEASH

All you need to do is some of the time have the pup on leash for his potty breaks and other times have him off leash. You don't want him to think that either on-leash or off-leash is a requisite for elimination. Even though you may currently be in a lifestyle that allows or requires one of these modes to be the only one used, do try to provide experience with the other mode. Someday you may need to use that other mode, for example when traveling. A Flexi-leash (retractable leash) is particularly nice for use when traveling; it lets you stand on the edge of a field and let the dog have some latitude to look for a nice spot.

VARIOUS OUTDOOR SURFACES ARE ACCEPTABLE

Because puppies tend early in life to form a "substrate preference" for elimination, ie a preference for eliminating on one or more specific types of surface, you want to make sure that your puppy has successful elimination experiences on all the outdoor surfaces that he is likely to encounter in his life. These should include bare dirt, grass, gravel, and pavement. All these are surfaces that you may need to use for his elimination when you are traveling. So make a small area of each in you yard; a 3 foot by 3 foot patch would probably suffice, though a bit larger could be desirable for a large dog. To encourage a dog to use a given surface that he seems disinclined to use, just pick up some of his feces and transplant it to the new surface, and likewise catch some of his urine (a plastic soup ladle makes an excellent catcher) to transplant. The smell of his own feces and urine on the new surface will greatly encourage him to make another deposit there. Some really clued in breeders will send puppies off to their new homes with a container of urine and feces to be annointed onto the surface of the new home's backyard.

You might also want to include very short mown grass , taller grass, and taller weeds in your puppy's expereince of potential potty areas. Some dogs have a definate preference for taller or shorter stuff, and when you travel or are in a hurry , it pays to offer the preferred micro-environment if it is readily available. (One friend of mine used to carry a small bush in the back of her truck because her dog had such a strong preference for using a bush.)

THE HOME YARD is GOOD, but OTHER PLACES are also OK

There are both advantages and disadvantages to restricting your puppy or adult dog's toileting to your own fenced yard.

An obvious advantage is ready availabilty and ease of clean up. Another advantage is that you don't offend anyone else by letting your dog "mess" on their property or public areas. A big but less well known advantage is that dogs tend to consider areas that they regularly urinate and defecate in as being part of their territory, thus an area they would defend against intrusion. There are many advantages to limiting your dog's definition of his territory to your own yard , including less potential for roaming outside the yard, less potential for aggressive interactions with other dogs and humans outside your yard. Finally if most citizens in the area limit their dog's eliminations to their own yards, there will be less passing around of internal parisites and less exposure to those contageous diseases which can be transmitted by urine or feces. So it certainly makes good sense for your own yard to be where your dog does the majority of his eliminations.

The only real disadvantage to limiting your puppy's pottying to your own yard is that when you travel you can't take your yard with you. So you do want your dog to be willing to potty in places other than your own yard. For some dogs who are really imprinted on their own yard as being THE place to potty, getting them to feel it's OK to potty elsewhere can be a problem. If so it can be solved by transplanting the dog's feces and urine to the target area and using your "potty time" phrase to encourage elimination there, and especially this can be done at a time when you know your dog is just burstingly "full." Defecation can also be physically triggered by gently sliding the KY or vasaline lubricated tip (only the tip) of a Q-tip into the dog's anus : usually defecation will follow within minutes. I should add that I think it is only a minority of dogs for whom this might be a problem and for most of those merely using your "potty time" phrase will be enough to overcome any inhibitions the dog might have.

If you do choose to give your puppy experience pottying away from the home yard, you must consider the serious issue of his vaccination status and level of immunity to contagious disease as relative to the use of the area by other dogs, especially ones who may not be immunized and thus may present a risk. Some serious diseases can be transmitted through urine or feces, and just a tiny invisible speck can be enough. Parvo is the big worry with puppies and can be transmitted thrugh a microscopic speck of infected feces. Do ask your vet for advice on what age would be the earliest safe oppertunity. This would be the same age as the age for taking your puppy into public places generally or taking him to a group obediance class. Usually it will be around 16 weeks or a bit earlier.

HOW TO GET FROM INDOORS TO OUTDOORS

Many people just assume that a dog knows he should "ask to go out" when he needs to urinate or defecate. In fact both the dog's "asking" and the person's "responding" have to be learned. It's a case of mutual teaching.

Once a dog is very used to being taken out a given door to go out for potty breaks, he is very likely to start anticipating going out that door when he starts to feel the urge or need to go out. This is the opportunity you the human must be able to observe and respond to. Different dogs will have different natural ways of showing that they are uncomfortable and are thinking about going out. Some dogs are tremendously subtle, resulting in the owner missing the signs. Some dogs are naturally inclined to scratch at the door, and if so this is a signal that is easy to notice, and one that could be enhanced by putting a more noise producing scratch plate in the area the dog most likes to scratch. Some dogs are naturally inclined to bark while standing near the door and perhaps staring at it. Again this is an easy one to notice. Some might nudge at the door with their nose, and this is not so easy to notice; so some owners will hang a bell from the doorknob and teach the dog to nudge the bell, ringing it.

For all of these signs that the dog makes naturally, it is critical that the owner notice the sign and immediately respond by taking the dog outdoors, using whatever phrases have already been associated with potty breaks. The first hundred or so times that the dog "asks" he should receive an immediate "answer". Otherewise, there will probably be an "accident" in the vicinity of the door. Now, AFTER this first hundred times, if the dog's manner of asking is not one that would be impossible to miss, it can be made more obvious if the owner will simply on occasion , not oftener than one time in every four, pretend to not notice. If the owner does not respond to the dog's initial "asking" , it is very likely that the dog will "ask" again a bit "louder" ie more vigorously and thus more obviously. The moment the dog escalates, the owner should respond. Then the next few times, respond to the first "ask" and then again throw in one instance of not responding until the dog escalates a bit. Over time , the dog will become more clear. You are teaching him "if I don't hear you, just yell at me."

Note that this mutual teaching process between dog and human must be done with every human in the household who has the physical and mental ability to respond and take the dog out. that is because the human is being trained by the dog as much as the dog is being trained by the human.

Note also that this method of the dog having to "ask to go out" requires that a human be present to let him out. Or at least that a human be present enough of the time that the dog does not have to "hold it" longer than his mental and physical capabilities allow. (see below)

There is of course the EASIER way : put in a DOG DOOR. "Dog door means never having to say you're sorry." You don't have to apologize for getting home late and the dog does not have to apologize because he just couldn't cross his legs any longer.

Now you do still have to teach the dog where the dog door is and how to use it. This is very easy for any normal dog. The door does have to be appropriately sized for the dog to get through and the lower edge not too high above ground level for him to get over easily. Two people can place themselves on either side of the door and call the puppy through and praise and pet and perhaps give a tid-bit of food as a reward. A leash can be passed back and forth to guide the puppy through the door. For less bold dogs, the flap may at first be held out of the way and then after the dog is negotiating the unflapped door with confidence, the flap can be lowered and maybe just the lower edge lifted a little bit. If you don't have a second person, then you just have to slide yourself around the edge of the people door, leaving the pup behind, and then call him through the dog door. Usually just one or two lessons will be all it takes to teach a pup how to use the door. Of course when housebreaking a young pup, you still need to escort him to the door and accompany him outdoors to observe and praise the elimination.

(Note : an adult dog or older puppy added to a home where resident dogs are accustomed to using a dog door may well learn how to use the dog door simply by following the resident dogs out and in. I often find that my rescued dogs get taught this lesson by my own dogs immediately and better than I could do it.)

(Note : if at some future time you should move to another home, or if you should change the location of the dog door within your home, you will need to show and teach the dog where the new location is. This will probably require only one lesson, but it is quite important.)

I have had a lot of people complain about a dog "messing" indoors who have found the dog became almost instantly clean indoors as soon as a dog door was provided. I urge you to install a dog door unless there is some serious reason not to do so. By serious reason, I mean something that outweighs the importance of more frequent accidents during the learning period and occasional accidents thereafter when human absence periods exceed the dog's "hold it" power. The most obvious example would be if you have a very young child in the home whom you wish to prevent from going outside without adult supervision : the child's safety is more important than the welfare of the carpet. Some people worry about a large dog sized dog door providing access for a burglar, and some worry about a dog door of any size providing entry for wild animals such as skunks or raccoons and for stray cats. There are dog doors available that are keyed to a gizmo on the dog's collar and will only open for that gizmo. This provides a pretty good safeguard against intrusion, but it would not be foolproof against burglars. Other people are concerned about allowing their dog outdoors without human supervision because of fears of a malevolent human doing harm to the dog, eg by throwing poisoned meat over the fence. You have to make some realistic assessment of the risks and take responsibility for your decision, which can include the responsibility of accepting occasional "accidents" as the price of your decision.

ALL INDOORS IS A DEN

The ability of the dog to become housebroken rests on the foundation of the canine species inherited lupine instinct to keep the den area free of urine and feces. The den area is the area that the dog sleeps in and eats in, the core of his living space. This space varies a bit from dog to dog, but the area the dog would naturally consider to be his den is likely to be much smaller than the total area of the average human house. So the goal is to utilize the den cleanliness instinct and to gradually expand the dog's definition of his den to include all areas of the home to which he has access. While the dog who is completely housebroken in his own accustomed home would not necessarily regard a motel room or someone else's home where he is visiting as being a den, thus requiring the human to exercise some vigilance under those circumstances to prevent accidents, it is a pleasant surprise that many dogs do generalize housebreaking to include such novel indoor areas. Of course when you travel if your dog is accustomed to a crate or an X-pen, you can bring that along to confine the dog when unsupervised in a novel environment. It's also wise to carry your urine/feces deodorizer solution along just in case you need it.

Because the puppy's initial definition of den is only the very small area around his bed and food bowl, confinement in a crate works wonderfully well to inhibit the puppy from soiling. This works ONLY so long as the puppy is not confined longer than his body can comfortably "hold it". That length of time is at the utmost expressed by the formula "number of hours equals puppy's age in months plus one." It is probably much more prudent to drop the "plus one" : do not expect your puppy to stay clean in his crate for longer than a number of hours equal to his age in months. If you get lazy and confine the puppy for longer than that, you risk forcing him to soil his sleeping area and to become more tolerant of sleeping and eating near his urine or feces. If he has such experiences at all often, he will lose the instinctive desire to keep the den clean. At that point your prospects for housebreaking take a terrible nose dive.

It is for the reasons just stated that puppies who were bred in puppy mill situations or who were housed under pet shop conditions become dogs who are difficult or impossible to housebreak. Their cleanliness instinct has been damaged or destroyed by living confined in filthy pens or cages. If several generations have lived this way, the instinct for cleanliness may have been partly bred out of them by selective breeding. Remember that puppy mills aren't just in Kansas anymore. You can find "breeders" keeping small dogs by the dozens in stacked cages in apartments. You can find "breeders" keeping larger dogs in kennel runs where they live for months at a time, without excercise , without education, without socialization.

So the rational method of housebreaking is to confine the puppy in a crate or an "exercise pen" also called an "X-pen" for intervals not to exceed in hours his age in months during times when there is no responsible person available to supervise him. At intervals in hours equal to his age in months, he MUST be taken outdoors for a supervised potty break. At those times when there is a person available to supervise the puppy, rather than crating or penning him, he should be on an "umbilical cord" which is a 6 to 10 foot cord or leash attached to the supervising person , eg to that person's belt. Thus the puppy is always under that person's area of awareness. Again, while on the umbilical, the puppy must be taken out for frequent potty breaks.

At times when the puppy has just returned "with empty tanks" from a potty break, the puppy might be given a bit more liberty. That liberty should not exceed one room and that room being the one that the supervising person is occupying. Either close the doors or put stretch gates across the doorways to confine the puppy to that room. The time interval for this greater freedom should be much less than the familiar formula of hours equals age in months; perhaps half of that interval would be the prudent time frame.

Now to make the whole house become a den, the puppy needs to spend time in every room of the house. Or in every room that he will later have access to : it is absolutely reasonable to decide that some rooms will remain non-dog rooms permanently, either because items in that room are dangerous to dogs or because items in that room could be damaged by dogs. (For example, I exclude dogs from my office / computer room because I don't want my computers at risk And because there is really no open space available in the room, and I exclude dogs from the utility room because of the toxic cleaning fluids and other dangerous material stored there and because the dog food bins are there and I don't want my greedy dogs raiding them and overeating, and of course I exclude dogs from the medicine cabinet.) The way to make a room seem denlike to a dog is to go in there with the dog on an umbilical cord (or for an older dog the cord may not be needed) and set yourself to doing something sedentary and uninteresting to the dog , so that the dog winds up settling down for a nap or just plops down to relax. You could even take a nap yourself. Spend some time with the dog in each room in this den behaving way. Now I should add that most dogs do generalize their concept of den without necessarily needing to have you share naps in every room. But if one room seems to be a problem, try the nap method. Or make that room the dog's dining room for a couple of weeks.

"HOLD IT" WHEN YOU MUST

Finally, the puppy must develop the physiological ability to "hold" his urine and feces when he is unable to get outdoors. He must develop both the physical ability and the mental desire to do so.

As stated above, the puppy's ability to hold it is the number of hours equal to his age in months or possibly his age in months plus one. So even a 6 month old puppy may well not be physically able to "hold it" for a full 8 hour work day plus commute time. There is no way to hurry the development of this physical ability. Some puppies mature more slowly than others.

The mental determination to "hold it" is developed by confining the puppy for just a little longer than he would be "holding it" without conscious effort. This can come ONLY AFTER the puppy already knows that outdoors is the right (praised) place to urinate and defecate and only after he has the physical ability to hold it. At this point he can be asked to hold on very briefly before being taken outside. At first it must be a very very little longer. Then a bit longer than that. Then a bit more still. But at no point should a puppy or dog be asked to "cross his legs" for a painfully long period. Those people who expect even an adult dog to go without urinating or defecating for 8 hours or more are , in my opinion, being very unjust to the poor dog. Try the experiment yourself of denying yourself the opportunity to urinate for 8 hours straight. It is cruel. If there are periods of more than 4 to 5 hours when no one is home to let the dog outside, then you should put in a dog door. Or accept that any accidents are your fault for not being there to take the dog out.

I know it is tempting to view confining the puppy outdoors in a yard or a kennel run as the solution to human absences that exceed the "hold it" period. The problem is that a puppy confined outdoors alone will feel very insecure and is likely to start barking or howling, which soon becomes a bad habit and one which will bring down upon you and the unfortunate puppy the justifiable wrath of your neighbors, resulting in complaints to Animal Control or (worst case) can result in poisoned meat tossed over the fence. Puppies left outdoors for long periods also are likely to feel bored and amuse themselves by barking or digging or chewing on plants and on the corners of the house. It is also possible for a small puppy to find an exit from the yard, which puts the puppy at great risk. A puppy left outdoors with a calm adult dog will be much more secure and much less apt to get into trouble. For those of you who are unable to be home enough of the time, I would suggest either getting a more mature dog instead of a puppy or else useing the method I describe in my article "Housebreaking When No One is Home" which basically involves fencing off a small portion of indoor space next to the dog door and a modest sized safe portion of outdoor space next to the dog door.

 

Part II : What the human needs to do and why

This section will be to a great extent repetitive and redundant, as much of the material has been discussed in Part I : What the dog needs to learn. But now in Part II we are considering it from the human's point of view. I will keep the discussions fairly brief where the material has already been covered at length above.

DON'T GET A PUPPY IF YOUR LIFESTYLE IS NOT SUITABLE !!!

Don't get a puppy if your human family schedule and lifestyle do not permit the frequency of potty breaks that are essential for easy housebreaking. Don't get a puppy if you are not home much or if when you are home you are likely to be preoccupied with things that preclude paying attention to the puppy , educating the puppy, and playing with the puppy. Having a puppy is as much of a commitment as having a baby. The good news of course is that the puppy will housebreak much easier and sooner and will become a civilized member of the family much easier and sooner, but this will not happen without some serious effort on your part.

For many people, lifestyle and schedule considerations make the adoption of an adult dog a much wiser choice and will give much greater pleasure and much less frustration to the humans and to the dog. There are many many wonderful dogs out there who have been thrown away by irresponsible first owners who could become a treasured member of your family. While an adult dog too requires effort from the humans in the family, that effort can often fit into the family schedule and lifestyle more easily than can the needs of a puppy. Consult your local Rescue group or Pound or Shelter to find a wonderful dog.

GO OUT WITH THE PUPPY OFTEN !

Take the puppy out at intervals appropriate to his age. Also take him out every time he drinks, eats, wakes up from a nap, or is physically or mentally excited and active. Take him out if he shows behavior like sniffing at the floor or circling, ie behavior of a dog thinking about eliminating.

Go with him so you can praise him for eliminating outdoors. Go with him so you know whether or not he is "empty" when he comes back in. If "empty" , he can be given a short period of greater freedom indoors or you could play with him outdoors or he could be given the great reward of going for a walk away from home or the great reward of a ride in the car and a walk or game at the other end of that ride. If he is still "full", put him back in his crate or X-pen and be prepared to take him outdoors again in about half an hour.

It is better to have your puppy eliminate at home and then take him for his walk rather than to use the walk as a way to get him to eliminate. The problem with taking a dog for a walk until he eliminates and then turn around and head home is that a smart dog who likes longer walks may come to recognize that early pottying causes early termination of the walk. Of course you can prevent this by continuing your walk well beyond the point at which the dog eliminates. However using the walk as a powerful reqard for speedy eliminations at home will set up a habit of speedy elimination, and there are times in life when that is a great convenience -- eg bad weather, owner not feeling well, brevity of time available, etc. (See also the material above in Part I on the advantages of having your dog do most of his pottying in the home yard.)

Most puppies can get through the night with just one potty break and after a few months most can get through the night without a potty break. The puppy should be sleeping next to your bed on his own cushion in a crate or a pen, so you can be aware if he gets restless and shows signs of needing to be taken out. (Yes, the puppy could be sleeping in your bed next to you, but only if you intend this to be something that will continue for the rest of the dog's life; be sure to consider the dog's adult size, the size of your bed, and the desires of any present or future human bedmates before making this commitment.) If he is still small enough, it can be best to actually pick him up and carry him out, as he may need to eliminate immediately. Now if you yourself are middle aged or older, you are porbably getting up once or twice in the night to use the toilet, so this is an excellent time to also take the puppy outdoors, with puppy's break preceeding your own. First thing in the morning , the puppy will wake and absolutely need to go out immediately. Again you might want to carry him. Do not delay, not even if your own bladder is bursting, or you will definately have an "accident" and it will be your fault.

LIMIT THE PUPPY'S FREEDOM INDOORS

Use the crate, the x-pen, and the stretch gates to limit his freedom to an area small enough to arouse the instinct to keep the den clean. It does not always have to be in the same part of the house. There are advantages to moving his crate or X-pen from room to room so that he comes to consider the whole house as a den. Also move his crate or pen so as to be in the same area of the house that some human is in so he does not feel lonely. Short periods of confinement in areas that humans are not present are also good experience to get the puppy comfortable about being on his own; during such times he should have toys to play with so he is not bored.

Use the "umbilical cord" to keep the puppy under your supervision as you move around the house in normal activities and normal rest periods. Most of the time when there is someone home who is awake and has some attention to spare for supervising the pup, it is better for the pup to be on an umbilical cord than to be crated or penned. Now when I say "attention to spare" I mean to call attention to the possibility that there are times when you might be so totally absorbed in an activity that you would be oblivious to what the puppy is doing, and at those times the umbilical cord method is not appropriate. Most of the time that you are awake should NOT be a time of obliviousness to the puppy. The minimum amount of attention would be that needed to notice that the puppy is showing signs of needing to be taken for a potty break or to notice that the puppy is about to put his mouth onto something that you do not want him to chew (something dangerous to him or something you do not want to have damaged). You also should from time to time give the puppy a gentle soothing caress and a calm soothing word of approval when the puppy is simply being settled and behaving in a manner you approve.

When you do start giving the puppy more freedom in the house, ie more freedom with less vigilant supervision, it makes sense to start with areas of the house that have floors that are less vulnerable to a "wet" accident, ie either urine or very loose feces. If you happen to have some cherished or valueable area rugs (ie not tacked down carpeting), it would be smart to either keep those areas off limits with stretch gates or roll up the rugs and store them away for the puppy's first year. (Smart parents also do this until their children have outgrown the "run through the house with a glass of grape juice" stage of life.)

Remember that it is not nescessary to give even an adult dog total access to every inch of your home. No one in his right mind would give a dog or young child access to areas that contain dangers (eg medicne cabinet or cleaning goods cabinet). What it takes for a dog to be happy is to have access to enough of the house that he has physical comfort and the oppertunity to be near the rest of the family when they are home and near their scent when they are absent. As your puppy matures into a dog who is reliable about housebreaking issues and chewing issues, you will probably grant access to areas that might have been off limits to the puppy. Use some good judgement and take responsibility for the consequences of your decisions.

FEED ON SCHEDULE and FEED GOOD QUALITY FOOD

There is a definite relationship between the time something goes in one end and the time it will be due to come out the other end. Get to know your puppy's natural schedule for when he will need to eliminate. Keeping to the same schedule for feeding and potty breaks for the first few months can be very helpful. Also remember that the puppy will need a potty break soon after eating or drinking. This is due to a physiological response called the "gastro-colic reflex".

Sometimes picking up the water bowl a few hours before bedtime helps the puppy make it through the night. Sometimes changing the dinner hour will help ensure that his first potty next morning will be due after you have awoken : sometimes giving his dinner as late as possible is the key to this.

Feed genuinely good quality kibbled food. Cheap poor quality kibble leads to large loose stools that are difficult for the puppy to retain. Canned food also leads to much more frequent and less controllable need to defecate. Foods with dyes and artificial preservatives can produce stools that are harder to retain.

DEODORIZE ALL ACCIDENTS

Because the puppy will be keyed to urinate and defecate by the lingering scent of prior deposits, it is crucial to completely deodorize all accidents. Use a product made specially for this purpose. Some products use special chemicals and others use enzymes. Buy this stuff by the gallon and be very generous in its use. Use it as soon as possible after any accident, especially a urination accident because you don't want the scent soaking into the flooring. For urine, blot up as much as you can with paper towels and then pour the deodorizer on liberally.

If you think you might have missed some prior accidents, use a "black light" to locate them so you can deodorize them. Black light will glow on almost any biological secretions. (That bluish glowing light that you see used by the crime scene investigators on the "CSI" TV program is a black light and it is being used to find traces of blood or other bodily fluids.) You can buy a black light at the hardware store, or a larger more expensive one at the pet emporium.

ANY ACCIDENT IS YOUR FAULT, NOT THE PUPPY'S

When I say "it's your fault" I do NOT mean that you should beat yourself up with guilt, but just that you should acknowledge responsibility and try to avoid repeating the mistake that led to the accident. No one ever raised a puppy without at least one accident, usually more than just one. (And no one ever raised a puppy without making the mistake of leaving something chewable within range of the puppy and being unhappy that it got chewed to bits.) The important thing is that by taking responsibility , you make the commitment that you are not going to scold or punish the puppy for something that was NOT his fault.

Take responsibility for the accidents. Either you weren't home soon enough or didn't take him out often enough or didn't pay close enough attention to notice that he needed to be taken out. Or maybe you just shoved him out the door and didn't supervise the potty break, so he came back indoors with a full load.

In any case there is no point in trying to punish the puppy. Any correction given more than 15 to 30 seconds after the action you are trying to scold will be absolutely useless as the puppy will not connect his action with your correction. If you were paying enough attention to correct immediately, you were paying enough attention to whisk the puppy outdoors in time. If you see the pup about to make an accident, then yes do shout or do anything that interrupts his attention so that you can immediately take him outdoors to eliminate and be praised.

If there is an accident , all you can do is to clean it up and figure out how to be more attentive next time. Figure out your mistake and try not to make the same mistake again.

If you still feel the need to punish or scold someone, then take a rolled up newspaper or magazine and hit yourself on the head three times, each time saying "bad person, bad person : you weren't watching your puppy." (I didn't invent this correction : it comes from Bouv maven Sue Mathews.) And likewise if something you value gets chewed up, you can scold yourself "bad person , bad person : you should have put it in the closet." I only advise scolding yourself as a way to invoke your sense of humor or sense of the ridiculous to put things in perspective. Just as your love for your child and delight in his companionship should be far more important than the inevitable damage he will do to household furnishings, so your love for your dog and your delight in his companionship should be infinatly more important that the inevitable damage he will do to your houeshold cleanliness.

 

for further reading:

If you still have questions about housebreaking or any issues related to urination and defecations such as submissive urination or male urine marking (which is also occasionally done by bitches), please read "The Evans Guide for Housetraining Your Dog" by Job Michael Evans. This book has been out of print for a few years, but you may be able to find a copy at your local library or through interlibrary loan or you may be able to find it through one of the on-line bookstores or on-line dog book specialist bookstores.


 


 
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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 10/08/03 revised 8/30/2015
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