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Housetraining Your Dog: The good, the bad, and the in between
March 14, 2012 - Kari Rose
Perhaps you have just purchased, adopted, or rescued your first puppy or adult dog. Perhaps you are not a first time dog owner. You may even have a senior dog that seems to have forgotten the basic rules of housetraining seemingly overnight. You love your dog and don't want to give up on it, but why does it keep messing on the floor? Maybe you have already tried a number of things and are at your wits' end. Do yourself a huge favor and sit down, take a deep breath, try to relax, and stop pulling your hair out! There is hope for housetraining any dog of any age under any circumstance. There are also alternatives to look at for the seemingly 'impossible' dog.
Let's examine what seems to be one of the biggest challenges, housetraining a new puppy. As we all know, puppies need to learn as they grow and when they mess on the floor (or anyplace else for that matter) they are not intentionally being naughty. Even so, it's enough to drive us humans bananas! When you bring your puppy home for the first time, do not go inside with them until they have done their business outside. When they relieve themselves where you want them to, praise them verbally and give them some affection. If it is extremely cold outside it may not be feasible for you or your new addition to stand outdoors. If this is the case, I suggest already having some puppy training pads on hand. When you enter your home put down a training pad (if you haven't already) in a quiet, private area with few distractions. A bathroom would be ideal. You will want to stay with your puppy until they relieve themselves. As the Minnesota winter weather becomes bearable for standing outside, you will want to resume taking your puppy out to do their business. Make sure to praise them when they use the training pad as well as when they relieve themselves outside. The idea here is to get your puppy used to going outdoors to relieve itself and anticipate being praised for it. Training pads are an alternative if you have a small, toy, or teacup puppy or if you bring your new fur baby home in a blizzard. I will talk more about training pads in a little while. Your puppy will grow quickly even if they are a very small breed. More than likely they will drink a lot of water on a regular basis and will generally be eager eaters. So how do you know when to take your puppy outside? You will want to take your puppy outside for a bathroom break first thing in the morning before it gets a chance to eat and drink. I suggest being ready to go so when you open your pups kennel or crate, you can put on its' collar and leash and head out immediately. You will also want to take your puppy outside about every twenty minutes after it eats and before you retire for the evening. In between these times you may want to take your puppy out every one to two hours in the very beginning until you get a good feel for how often your puppy really needs to relieve itself. You will soon sinc up with your dog and know how often it needs to go out. You should also start noticing hints from your puppy that it needs to go outside. Some will bark at the door, scratch, pace or whimper. Some may even go from you to the door and whimper. The keys in basic dog training for dogs of any age is patience and consistancy. Remember to always praise your puppy when they do what you expect of them. If they mess indoors firmly tell them "No, Naughty!" and frown so they notice you are visibly unhappy. Never stick a puppy's nose in the mess! This can make a puppy very fearful of you and it is unsanitary. You can put your puppy by the mess while telling them "No". After the mess take them outdoors immediately. If they relieve themselves praise them! They are smarter than what we tend to give them credit for and will catch on. Never spank your puppy or hurt them in any way physically and never use a kennel for punishment. This will breed fear and resentment.
The Adopted or Rescued Dog
Many of us who love our furry canine friends have visited a shelter or rescue at least once. It's hard not to fall in love and often we'll meet that special dog that finds a way right into our hearts...and our homes. It is rare that a shelter or rescue knows the entire history of the dog/s you are interested in adopting. Volunteers will gladly provide any information they have and answer your questions to the best of their ability. Many times dogs are adopted out and much to the new owners' dismay become 'un-potty trained' from the time of leaving the shelter/rescue to entering their new home. If you were told that your new companion was completely house broken and never messed their kennel, don't worry. It's extremely unlikely you were mislead. So why is your new furry friend messing all over then? There may be a variety of reasons for this but there are also a variety of solutions. Sometimes a dog is at a shelter/rescue for a long period of time before being adopted. Chances are they have bonded with the volunteers and have started to think of them as family. This drastic change in homing can create some potential (and usually very temporary) anxiety and at the same time excitement over their new home and human family. They have also fallen into a routine at the shelter/rescue that has suddenly changed. It takes time to adjust but more often than not, they will do just that and you will have a wonderful new addition to your family. It is also important to note that your new dog is being bombarded by new sights, sounds, smells, and faces which can result in over-excitement. This can lead to your new companion being over-whelmed and temporarily 'forgetting themselves'. So what can you do?
As with a new puppy, don't bring your new dog into your home until they have relieved themselves outdoors. Always remember to praise them when they do! Make the introduction to your dog's new home as calm as you can. Excited dogs are more likely to have an accident. Keep them on their leash and slowly walk them through your home giving them time to sniff things and inspect their new environment. After you have done this, take them to the door you will use when you go outside for potty breaks. Give them a verbal cue such as "Go Outside!" and use a tone that sounds promising and exciting. The idea is to make these outdoor trips something your dog feels comfortable with and looks forward to. After doing this consistantly and praising your new friend when they relieve themselves outdoors they will more often than not get the idea quite quickly. Remember, when they were at the shelter/rescue they knew the routine which included where they would be let out to relieve themselves. Even the best trained dog can get over-stimulated and temporarily forget their training. If you are consitant and your new companion just doesn't seem to catch on, contact the shelter or rescue you adopted them from. You should already have their veterinary records in your possession. Look them over to make sure your dog wasn't treated for a urinary tract infection shortly before you adopted them. These can sometimes come back and if this is the reason for urinating indoors, an inexpensive medication will usually remedy this. Usually a shelter/rescue will cover the cost of a needed medication if you have only had your new companion for a short time. This can varry by shelter/rescue so be sure to ask them. Share your concerns with them about your dog's messing. They may be able to give you additional tips. If they feel a veterinary visit may be in order they will more than likely cover the cost. Make sure to ask them. More often than not, messing in the house with a dog that was housebroken until you brought it into your home is just a combination of nerves, excitement, and adjustment and will generally pass quickly and with ease.
The Senior Dog
When our canine companions get to be seniors their bodies start going through some changes. There is usually a slow progression with things such as loss in vision and/or hearing, arthritis, and an inability to hold urine or stool like they used to. You may find yourself in a position of re-adjusting their outdoor schedule. As they age some dogs will undergo a weakening of their kidneys or be prone to chronic kidney infections and cannot hold their urine for very long at all. In this case you may opt for 'piddle pad' training. Buy some puppy housetraining pads and put one down in a quiet area, preferably with a floor that can be easily cleaned, such as a bathroom or kitchen. Make sure to praise your dog each time they use the training pad, then toss it away and put down a fresh one. If your dog relieves themselves in anyplace other than on the training pad, firmly tell them "No" and place them on the pad. As with relieving themselves outdoors, a dog succesfully relieving themselves on an indoor pad should be praised.
The 'Impossible' Dog
So you've tried it all, taken a lot of advice, used different methods of training and praise, ruled out any medical issue and your dog continues to mess in the house? Your dog is completely impossible, righ? Wrong! There are many things that can cause these 'problem children' to use your home as their bathroom. Most of them are small changes that we may not even think of. Did someone start working an extra or different shift? Even an extra hour or two a day can upset your dog emotionally. Give them extra attention when you come home to reassure them. The slightest change in routine can throw some dogs off kilter. Are you walking your dog less than you used to? They may be letting you know that you "got some 'splainin to do!". If you can't walk them as often try a few vigorous ten minute indoor play sessions in between walks. This will usually take care of that extra pent up energy and at the same time let them know you haven't forgotten. Some dogs may suffer from seperation anxiety which can range from mild and temporary to severe and long term. You may wish to try a natural medication or calming spray. Consult your veterinarian and ask their recommendations. Some dogs with severe seperation anxiety may require a stronger medication and will need to see their veterinarian to be diagnosed and given the proper medicine. No dog is impossible, although it may seem like it! Hang in there, ask advice from dog owners, do some research, consult your veterinarian, try different methods of training, rewarding, and excercise and remember...just like people, there is no 'perfect' dog. But lets' face it, they are pretty awesome!
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This is my dog, Dajah. She went through the puppy stages of house training and stayed in the 'impossible dog' phase for a very long time!