The break-in leads the pack in terms of being the topic I get the most questions about, hands down. The key is to really make sure you stick to a consistent plan. Consistency will make housebreaking your dog or puppy as simple as possible. However, breaking and entering remains difficult. And it’s not something you’re going to achieve overnight, not even in a week, even though some of the advertisements you may see online indicate that you can. Breaking is a process. Your dog must learn through conditioning where it is and where it is not appropriate to go to the bathroom.
Even if you are going through all the steps, you may still encounter unexpected setbacks in the housebreaking process, that is, when your dog starts using the bathroom indoors again after he apparently had a solid housebreaking or when his dog start using the bathroom in his cage. There are different processes for handling these issues, so I’ll tackle them separately, starting with dealing with a dog that has started urinating indoors after you thought it was fully domesticated.
Before we dive into housebreaking, keep this in mind … even the best-trained dogs will have accidents. The goal is for it to be so occasional that you can’t remember 2 of the last 3 times it happened. Even my 11 year old dog surprised me a few months ago with a little runny gift near my back door after being home for a decade! In that case, the accident was entirely my fault. He had left the city during the night and she had nowhere else to go. Keep this in mind when you are potty training your dog or puppy because a single accident may not mean your dog has completely relapsed. However, if you are dealing with accident number 2 or more in a short period of time, you should take immediate action to avoid further problems.
The common reasoning I hear from owners when their dog begins to regress in potty training is that the dog is angry, or does it out of spite or to “get back” at the owner for some injustice committed against them. I too am guilty of having these thoughts before, but the quickest way to find a solution is to put that line of thinking aside and adopt the mantra that your dog doesn’t do things out of spite or hatred for you. Dogs generally want their owners to be happy. They are pack animals and want to be in a happy, cohesive herd. They also do not have the same feelings as humans and do not hold a grudge or act out of spite.
It’s actually pretty simple … from the dog’s perspective. He thinks he’s supposed to go home now … he’s done it so many times without correction (or with the wrong kind of correction).
That means when you can’t keep an eye on your dog, it should be in a crate or confined so it doesn’t have accidents and it should have very limited access to roam freely around the house until you control the break-in again. Here is the specific strategy for handling burglary problems:
1. Tie your dog to a leash attached to your belt or some piece of furniture so that it is never out of sight.
2. Be vigilant and learn to determine when your dog is reaching the maximum threshold of potty ability. In general, the ground is sniffed just before an accident. Take care of your dog!
3. When you see your dog crouch (or squat) in that classic “I’m going to potty” pose. JUMP (even if you’re standing up), clap your hands to get your dog’s attention, say “Ah-Ah” in a clear, firm voice (you don’t need to sound hysterical here, the idea is to get your dog to pay attention to you instead of going to the bathroom).
4. Using the leash, guide your dog outside. Pick up your dog if necessary to get him out quickly.
5. Encourage your dog with gentle praise and smiles to go to the bathroom once he’s outside. Praise your dog DEFINITELY with treats and hugs and love for ending up outside. Is that what you want.
The “Ah-Ah” was enough to stop my Sheltie long enough for me to get her out. Then he would persuade her with a smile and a friendly command to “go to the bathroom” until she went to the bathroom OUT. Then it’s time for lots of compliments and even some goodies if you have some on hand. A few times of doing this, your dog will understand that potty training should only happen outside.
What I want you to get out of this strategy is that you shouldn’t just focus on punishing your dog for using the bathroom indoors. In fact, the only time he should punish them for that is when he catches them in the act (with the “Ah-Ah” or a firm “No”). Punishing your dog after the fact, even 3 minutes later, will not work.
Your dog will NOT, I repeat, will NOT make the association between what he did even 2 minutes ago (ie going to the bathroom inside) and you ranting and delirious and poking his nose in the mess.
Clean up the mess, don’t let your dog see you clean it up, and be ready next time to catch your dog right when he’s squatting.
For a puppy, this process is even easier because they tend to be light enough that you can pick them up and carry them outside. This is a good way to get your puppy outside quickly before he finishes eliminating indoors.
With my English Bulldog I ran into an unexpected problem that you may be experiencing yourself. Even with the firm “Ah-Ah” and the hopping, I couldn’t / couldn’t stop going to the bathroom once it had started. And this frustrated me a lot! But go on with the process. Get your dog out as quickly as possible and encourage him to go to the bathroom.
So show your dog where you want him to go to the bathroom when he needs to go to the bathroom. Reinforce behavior faster. And make it beneficial for them to go to the bathroom outside by showering them with love and treats when they do.