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Considerations When Housetraining Your Dog

Considerations When Housetraining Your Dog

Consistency Is Key with Housetraining


There are very few dogs that can't be housetrained - just poor pet owners who don't understand the value of consistency. You're the most important element in successful housetraining for a puppy or adult dog that's new in your home.


The dog is looking to you to set boundaries and rules, while also showing that he's welcome in your world.  Housetraining might take a few days - or it might take months - each dog is different.


It takes at least several weeks or a few months to establish housetraining with a puppy. Some owners say that puppies are easier to train, since they have no negative experiences to counteract.


Other owners insist that an older dog is easier to train because they have better developed bladders, can wait longer between breaks and know something about housetraining. It doesn't matter which is right or wrong, it's only about dealing with the dog you have in the most positive way so that you're teaching a good lesson, not instilling fear.


The old method of housebreaking was punishment centered - hitting a puppy with rolled up paper to make him stop having accidents and then punishing him again because he urinated on the floor instead of the newspaper.


Needless to say, it rarely got the desired behavior. Positive reinforcement shows the puppy exactly what you want him to do by rewarding the potty behavior with praise and affection.


These are far more powerful motivators for your dog than punishment.  If your dog senses that you're going to be home soon, he will make every effort to wait for the potty break.


But if you're home on time one day, late the next and later the following day, then your dog is smart enough to give up and go when he has to. That's not his choice - particularly if he's in a crate because he dislikes combining his potty with his personal space.


Losing that consistency will cause him to give up and go against his instinct to potty in separate place.  Housetraining takes time, so you need to be prepared to schedule yourself for this task until it's complete.


That's going to interrupt your schedule and cause you to watch the clock. If you'll make this sacrifice for the weeks needed to train your dog, then you'll be done with the process completely.


This is a small price to pay for a housetrained, well-adjusted dog that will live comfortably in your home for many years. At the end of the training period, you aren't a screaming wreck and your dog isn't cowering under furniture at the sound of your voice. Effective training builds a lasting bond with your dog.



The Leash and Crate Mix


Most dogs lack the opportunity to roam a large backyard at will. They're more likely to spend the day indoors while their family members are away at work and school. This can make sticking to a potty-training schedule more difficult.


A combination of crate and leash training works for some dogs. If the adult dog is new to your family or returning home after time in a kennel while you were away, you may have to reinforce his potty training.


One option is to return him to the crate during the day and possibly use a leash that's not overly restrictive when you're present so that he stays in one area of the home. Keeping the dog contained 100% of the time isn't the total answer - it's merely part of the process.


Start as you would with a puppy and set up regular potty breaks. Make sure that you time the elimination breaks with enough time after feeding so the dog can do something meaningful on the trip outside.


Spend the weekend closely observing him on the leash whenever he's out of the crate so that you begin to recognize the signs that he needs to potty. He may shake, sniff around, act agitated or start to squat. Those are your signals to stop what you're doing and immediately take him to potty.


Remember to praise him lavishly when he does his business during the potty break.  That's the positive reinforcement needed to show your dog where he's supposed to do his business.


If, during your absence, your dog stayed in a kennel where he eliminated, ate and slept in the same area, then he may have lost his earlier training. He's also probably very depressed and dejected.


Dogs don't like to mix potty with living space any more than you want to eliminate on the floor in your kitchen. So, he needs to start again and build up confidence in his potty skills and in the willingness of the adult on duty to take him out when he needs to go.


An older dog probably has better bladder control than a puppy, so he can usually go longer periods between potty breaks. However, your dog may have a urinary tract infection, diarrhea or other medical problem that's the real cause of his accidents.


If you see a noticeable change in your dog's potty behaviors and there are no other apparent reasons for it, then you want get him checked at the vet. The potty problems may be a symptom of a greater problem.


During the time he's being treated for the medical condition, go easy on the potty training. Your dog needs to feel well and be reasonably able to manage his urine and elimination so that he can cooperate with your training. Keep him on a leash when he's not in the crate and carefully care for him by helping notice signs that he needs to potty while he recovers.



Setting a Schedule for Your Dog's Elimination


As you housetrain your dog, you have to set up a schedule. Your dog isn't going to do that for himself. It takes your effort and monitoring for several weeks to a few months for this to occur, so that your dog learns a routine.


You can help your dog know when it's the right time to go potty by repeating that routine consistently.  When most people wake up, they usually go to the bathroom soon afterwards.


Well, your dog needs the same courtesy. Don't stop to make coffee or check the newspaper - take your dog out as soon as you're up and moving. He's been holding it all night, so don't make this difficult.


Keep the first potty break short, and then bring him inside for breakfast.  Let your dog eat breakfast while you're getting dressed and ready for the day. By the time you finish your coffee and breakfast, you can take the dog out for a potty break.


If he's had some time to eat and let the food settle, he'll be ready for elimination before going into the crate or the room where he spends the day. With a puppy, you need to come back for a mid-day potty break and a mid-afternoon break if possible. 


When you're at work, let another family member or willing neighbor handle those breaks for you. Just make sure everyone knows and follows the routine you use for breaks. Make the breaks short (5-10 minutes) and don't mix playtime with potty time. Your dog needs to clearly understand the difference and he will - if you're consistent.


Keep the same routine for dinnertime. Let your dog out for a potty break as soon as you return home from work or school. Set a time to feed the dog and don't get more than thirty minutes off schedule.


It's better to feed the dog early in the evening, so that the food digests and he's ready for an elimination break before bedtime. Then follow the same procedure that you do in the morning.


As you're housetraining your dog, keep notes of the times. You can even create a simple checklist to post on the refrigerator. Then anyone who feeds the dog or takes him for potty breaks can make note of the time. This is helpful in noticing what the dog's natural elimination patterns are.


When your dog completes his potty break, remember to give him praise and affection. You can offer a dog biscuit, but it's not necessary. He's just as happy with your approval. Instead of the old training methods that punish a dog for making a mess in the house, you take the more effective positive approach to show him approval for getting the job done during a scheduled potty break.


Since your dog wants you to love him, he will be willing to try his best to please you. Just don't make it difficult.  If you're running late and miss his potty break, clean it up and get back on track without scolding him. Your dog depends on you for many things, including staying on target for potty breaks. He doesn't want to mess in his space - or in yours - so help him do the right thing by sticking to a routine.



Potty Training for Small Dogs


Granted, small dogs can only make small messes. But you'll pay the same carpet cleaning costs to do the room with urine stains whether it's made by a Chihuahua or a Doberman. Small dogs need the same potty-training basics as any dog.


You have to remember that their size might work against them in that their tiny bladders won't hold as much (or for as long) if you're late coming home for their potty break.


Small dogs don't mind living in apartments or homes without big yards. They only need a little spot to do their business, so a flowerbed might be enough room.


Some people make fun of little dogs in their knit sweaters, but it's more than just a fashion statement. During the winter months in cold climates, the change from heated indoors to freezing outdoors is very harsh on a small dog's body.


The sudden chill can also distract them from the potty business and cause them to run back inside. Once warm again, the urge hits and there's nowhere to go but the rug. You can make this easier on your small dog by getting him a warm sweater for cold weather.


Some small dogs will not budge off their hind legs until they see the sweater in your hands.  Your small dog may totally refuse to go outdoors in rain or cold, even with a sweater on.


You have to plan options. Perhaps you can keep a papered box in the garage as a backup potty during bad weather. Only use this for limited times during the year so that you don't discourage the dog from going outside to his regular potty spots.


If your small dog goes outdoors in a yard or in the park, be alert as to where he's walking. Keep your dog away from tall grass or bushes. While he's busy trying to sniff out the right spot, he's easy prey for snakes in tall grass.


Owners of small dogs can become insensitive to their neighbors. Just because the feces is small, it's still dog poop. Pick it up - your neighbor didn't contract with you for fertilizer. 


Not to mention that dog poop on their shoes may not be visible until it's tracked onto the carpet. That won't win you an invitation to the neighbor's next bar-b-q.  It's your responsibility to clean up after your dog. Don't try to get out of it by arguing that it's so small it doesn't matter. It matters to anyone who doesn't own it.


Housetraining for small dogs is the same as for large dogs. You can begin with crate training and frequent breaks until a routine is established.  Some small dogs can be temperamental because many are spoiled lap dogs. That's where the positive reinforcement of your praise and affection is even stronger - when it's so important to your dog to please you.



Housetraining for Adult Dogs


Bringing an adult dog into your home demands as much effort from you and the family as does a puppy. It's a mistake to think that just because the dog is full-grown and may have been potty trained in one home, that he'll just immediately adjust to your home's elimination schedule, too.


That's not realistic. The dog has many adjustments to his new environment and doesn't instinctively know that you don't allow peeing on the floor - especially his prior owner didn't mind or didn't seem to care.


Don't make the mistake of assuming that because he's an adult dog that he'll just "know" what to do. Start with him as if he were a puppy and gradually teach him the routine of your home's pet potty schedule.


You probably need to start with crate training or restriction to a bathroom. Then set a schedule for potty breaks. Adult dogs are very picky about finding a potty place outside that's apart from where they play, just as they don't like to potty near where they sleep or eat.


Help him find that place in your yard or outside when walking and return him there for subsequent potty breaks.  You have to monitor the potty breaks for several weeks to learn your dog's elimination patterns.


You also have to set morning and evening feeding times. He may not have had such an organized life schedule, so this could take time for adjustment.  Don't believe that old saying, 'you can't teach an old dog new tricks." It's not the age of the dog that matters - it's the consistency of the owner.


If your dog came from an abusive home, even if is was just filled with shouting and hitting with paper for any accidents, then your training efforts may take longer. First you have to win the dog's confidence and understand that he needs time to get comfortable in his new home.


There will be accidents, so be prepared to clean it up and move forward.  Don't assume that an adult dog will be any easier to train than a puppy. Both dogs would face the same adjustment issues. You have to train with consistency and affection so that you reinforce the responses that you want repeated.


An older male dog may be accustomed to marking his territory by urinating on it. This is an instinctive behavior for male dogs - you aren't going to break him of it without breaking his spirit or having him neutered.



Watch Your Dog's Diet During the Housetraining Process


As your dog is learning to follow a potty break routine, you have to avoid doing anything that makes the lessons harder. One way you can help this process is in managing the dog's food intake.


As you monitor and log the crate time and potty breaks, you'll notice a pattern in your dog's elimination. Make sure that the food you provide and the timing of feedings don't compromise training.


Feed your dog at the same time each day. If you feed him in the morning before leaving for work, put out the food as soon as you wake up. The dog can eat and begin to digest the food while you're getting dressed and having your breakfast.


Then the dog will be ready to potty before you leave. Never leave the dog food out all day. If your dog (especially a puppy) eats gradually all day long without a potty break, you're asking for an accident to happen.


For crate training a puppy, make sure there's a supply of water in a container that won't tip. Also leave a few small dog biscuits or treats in case he gets hungry during the day - but don't leave a full meal.


When you get home, take the dog out and then feed him. Don't wait until late evening to feed dinner to the puppy or you'll be cleaning up feces in the crate or on the rug. Allow a reasonable time for the digestion to occur.


No matter how much the dog begs, don't give table scraps or snack foods. These are not well tolerated by most dogs and some snack foods can be harmful to the dog (and not so great for you either).


Just because a dog will eat what you give him in food scraps doesn't mean it's suitable for him. Feeding him the wrong kind of foods is likely to result in doggie diarrhea. If you don't give your dog the non-nutrient snacks and junk that you eat, he won't develop a taste for it - which is definitely better for everyone in the long run.


High quality dog food is made with added nutrients and designed for the age and weight of your dog. If you're on a budget, find a place to skimp besides your dog food budget. Cheap dog foods can contain ingredients that cause stomach upset and have minimal nutritional value, so your dog may get fat but doesn't grow and thrive.


If your dog gets diarrhea (even from high quality foods), check with your vet. There may be an ingredient in the food that doesn't interact well with your dog's digestive system. Ask the vet for a recommendation. If the next high-quality food gets the same results, then your dog may have an internal illness or food allergy that the vet can diagnose.

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