Housebreaking leads the pack in terms of being the topic that I receive the most questions on, hands down. The key is really to make sure you are following a consistent plan. Consistency will make housebreaking your dog or puppy as simple as it can be. However, housebreaking is still tough. And it’s not something you’re going to accomplish overnight, or even in one week, despite some of the ads you may see online stating that you can. Housebreaking is a process. Your dog must learn through conditioning where it is and is not appropriate to go potty.
Even if you’re following all the steps you can still run into unexpected setbacks in the housebreaking process, namely when your dog starts using the bathroom indoors again after they seemingly had housebreaking down solid or when your dog starts using the bathroom in their crate. There are different processes for handling these issues so I’ll address them separately, starting with dealing with a dog that has started pottying indoors after you thought they were fully housebroken.
Before we dive in to 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 runny, little present near my backdoor after having been housebroken for a decade! In that instance the accident was totally my fault. I’d gone out of town overnight and she didn’t have anywhere else to go. Keep this in mind when you’re potty training your dog or puppy because a single accident may not mean your dog has completely relapsed. However, if you’re dealing with accident number 2 or more in a short time span you need to take action immediately to prevent any further problems.
The common reasoning I hear from owners when they’re dog starts to backslide on potty training is that the dog is angry, or doing it out of spite or to « get back » at the owner for some injustice done to them. I’m guilty of having these thoughts before too but the quickest way to a solution is to let go of that line of thinking and adopt the mantra that your dog doesn’t do things out of spite or hatred of you. Dogs generally want their owners to be happy. They’re pack animals and they want to be in a happy, cohesive pack. They also don’t have the same feelings a human does and they don’t hold grudges or act out of spite.
It’s actually quite simple… from the dog’s perspective. He thinks he’s supposed to go in the house now… he’s done it so many times now with no correction (or the wrong type of correction).
That means that when you cannot watch your dog he needs to be crated or confined so that he has no accidents and he should have very limited access to roam free in the house until you get the housebreaking back under control. Here is the specific strategy for handling housebreaking issues:
1. Tether your dog to a leash attached to your belt or some piece of furniture so that he is never out of your sight.
2. Keep a close eye and learn to determine when your dog is hitting maximum potty-holding threshold. Typically lots of sniffing the ground comes right before an accident. Watch your dog!
3. When you see your dog bend (or squat) into that classic « I’m going to go potty » pose JUMP (even if you’re standing), clap your hands together to get your dog’s attention, say « Ah-Ah » in a clear, firm voice (no need to sound hysterical here, the idea is to startle your dog into paying attention to you rather than pottying).
4. Using the leash guide your dog outside. Pick your dog up if you have to in order to get them outside quickly.
5. Encourage your dog with gentle praise and smiles to potty once you’re outside. Praise your dog LAVISHLY with treats and hugs and love for finishing outside. That’s what you want.
The « Ah-Ah » was enough to stop my Sheltie long enough for me to get her outside. Then I would coax with a smile and a friendly command of « potty time » until she went potty OUTSIDE. Then it’s time for lots of praise and even some treats if you have a few handy. A few times of doing this and your dog will understand that pottying should only happen outside.
What I want you to get out of this strategy is that you should not just focus on punishing your dog for using the bathroom indoors. In fact the only time you should even chastise them for that is when you catch them in the act (with the « Ah-Ah » or a firm « No »). Punishing your dog after the fact, even 3 minutes after, is not going to work.
Your dog will NOT, I repeat, will NOT, make the association between what he did even 2 minutes ago (namely, pottying indoors) and you ranting and raving and shoving his nose in the mess.
Clean up the mess, don’t let your dog see you clean it up, and be prepared 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 for you to actually pick them up to carry them outside. This is a good way to get your puppy outside quickly before they finish pottying 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 jumping she wouldn’t/couldn’t stop pottying once she’d started. And this frustrated me to no end! But stick with the process. Get your dog outside as quickly as possible and encourage them to potty.
So show your dog where you want them to go potty when they have to go potty. It reinforces the behavior quicker. And make it beneficial for them to potty outside by showering them with love and treats when they do.