Does your dog refuse to go to the bathroom outside when you are present? Does your dog play outside and then come back inside and go to the bathroom in your absence? Does your dog look guilty if you see them going to the bathroom inside?
If you answer “yes” to any of these then you may have housetrained your dog the wrong way round. Housetraining is a huge issue for dogs. Why? Because many dogs that are not housetrained are given up to shelters and if they are unlucky enough to end up in a kill facility then they may lose their life over it.
I am often called out to a consultation on house-training behaviors to find that the dog also has other problems such as chewing inappropriately, growling and resource guarding. Often owners will say “oh they are not problems but this urination, defecation issue has got to be solved”. The statistics show that many dogs are given up because of this one issue so lets talk about how to house train your dogs and more importantly how not to reverse house-train a dog.
Many owners are lucky to find that with little effort or specific knowledge they end up with a dog that is effectively housetrained. But this is a result of luck or chance. Without an effective approach to house-training most owners will end up with a puppy or dog that is unreliable making life with your new pet frustrating. Frustration and anger with your pet can lead to punishing the dog and this leads to a breakdown in the relationship and trust often resulting in even worse house-training behaviors. While we are too busy getting angry and punishing our dogs we are missing out on opportunities to spend that same time and effort training the acceptable behaviors.
Effectively house-training a dog is a three part process,
a) Management. A committed owner who arranges the universe temporarily to prevent any accidents. The owner has to be on a set program with the tools in place to make sure the dog only has access to the outside for its bathroom habits.
b) A Strong Reinforcement History. Teach the dog where and when they go to the bathroom and reinforce it with the big guns, tasty treats and lots of affection. Dogs respond well to training. If a behavior is rewarded, in this case going to the bathroom outside, then this will strengthen the rewarded behavior.
c) Interrupt and Redirect. When you have managed the process and built a solid reinforcement history, then you can, if done fairly, interrupt and redirect any behavior that looks like it is a prelude to the dog wanting or needing to go to the bathroom inside.
So, to prevent reverse house-training follow the steps.
- When house-training your dog don’t just put them in the yard and assume they have gone to the bathroom. Choose a special spot, take the dog to the spot on a leash and play the waiting game. When the dog does go to the bathroom give them a high value treat and lots of affection. If you train them to use a specific location you are on the way to successful house-training. You know you have mastered this skill when you take your dog to their special spot and they quickly do their business and then look to you for reinforcement.
- Do not take your dog for a walk and then once they have pooped or urinated take them straight home. To a dog this is punishment and they will relate their bathroom habit to ending of the walk. Thus they will hold off doing their business for as long as possible to prevent their walk from ending. So take your dog to the desired spot and as soon as they go to the bathroom take them for a walk as a reward. Your dog will learn that consistent bathroom habits result in a nice walk with you.
- Dogs are not capable of feeling guilty, nor do they do particular things to be nasty. What they do recognize is that people can be dangerous. If you have previously punished your dog for going to the bathroom inside they will anticipate the punishment following any future accidents in the house. By punishing your dog for inside accidents you are teaching the dog that it is dangerous to go to the bathroom inside the house where you can see them. Your dog soon learns to sneak off and go to the bathroom in another room away from you. Remember, punishing your dog does not teach them the desired behavior (doing their business outside).
- As the owner you must make sure the dog goes to the bathroom outside, and you must manage the environment inside until the dog is house-trained. If your dog is using the carpet, or a hard surface or a crate to go to the bathroom then there is a huge management issue. Your commitment and compliance to the correct house-training steps will pay off with big dividends and a lifetime of good habits.
If these 3 steps are followed then you will enjoy years with a solidly house-trained dog. If you are particularly slick with management and building a strong reinforcement history then you may never have to work on the “c) interrupt and redirect” step of the process. For more information on the house-training process contact your local DogSmith