Help. First-time dogparent needs housebreaking advice
April 1, 2009 10:52 AM   Subscribe

PeeingOnTheCarpetFilter: Our new puppy (shelter mutt, roughly 14 weeks old and of at least average intelligence) is thoroughly enjoying our spring weather. She often goes to the door and whines to go out just so she can roll around in the grass and chase bugs. When we give up on her bathrooming outside we'll bring her back inside, where she promptly pees or takes a dump. We're not talking about whirlwind visits to the great outdoors; we're talking a half-hour or so.

We try to be consistent about the location of the potty area, using verbal commands (I feel like a moron saying, "Go potty!" in public, but there you have it.) People always tell us that housebreaking is frustrating and requires patience, but how can we get the girl to potty first and play second?
posted by workerant to Pets & Animals (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would try keeping her on leash until she does her business, then bring her back inside right away. Don't mix playing and bathroom breaks - they should be separate outings. Or at least keep her on leash until she goes, then let her off to play after praising her.
posted by handful of rain at 11:03 AM on April 1, 2009

Seconding keeping the pup on a leash until desired result. Also, some training book I read suggested "Hurry, hurry" as the potty code--I like using that instead of "potty." Make a huge deal, and even treat--my dog is super food motivated--with success.
posted by agatha_magatha at 11:08 AM on April 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

observe the ears. When you get her serious about something, her ears will go back. When she's playing her ears will perk up. It is very important to observe how she reacts to certain stressers. I suggest watching a lot of "It's me or the dog" on Animal Planet.
posted by redandblue at 11:08 AM on April 1, 2009

Crate training will solve it. When she's indoors, she's in a dog crate. (I.e. a cage or plastic shipping container for dogs large enough so she can turn around.) Dogs will not pee or poop inside their "den," so she won't do it there.

Then when you take her outside, you put a leash on her while she's still in the crate, and scurry her out of doors before she can do anything. She'll have to pee and poop outside.

Then it's back to the crate, until she's housebroken.

Crate training is pretty standard these days. It may seem a little cruel, but dogs aren't human beings. In the wild, they live in dens which are no bigger than a dog crate. If you keep it a bit dark in there (towels over the crate), she'll sleep until she's let out.

That's what we did with our Bouvier, and he's been almost perfect ever since he was 11 weeks old. (He's 11 years old now.)
posted by musofire at 11:09 AM on April 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Yes, what handful of rain says. You are leaving her out there too long. If she doesn't do her thing within a few minutes, bring her back in. Then try again in a few minutes. If/when you do catch her going potty outside, be very generous with the atta-girls and treats.

You'll probably have to take her out and bring her in more than you thought humanly possible, but she'll get the idea eventually. Right now she associates outside with playtime, not potty time. Put her on a schedule for potty breaks - every hour, shortly after meals, right after naps - that kind of thing.

She's a cutie, and she looks smart. She'll get it eventually.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 11:09 AM on April 1, 2009

I concur. I would go so far as to limit her outside time to bathroom only, and once she is housebroken then she can play outside, but not until that happens. She needs to associate the outdoors with bathroom and bathroom only at first. She should be immediately brought inside once she has done her business. I've never tried the method above of leashing her and only unleashing when she has done her business. Housebreaking IS frustrating and takes lots of patience and towels. Are you crating her when she is alone? I've had friends who have had success with putting a towel or something down where the dogs pees in the house and then bringing the towel outside so that the dog associates the scent with the outdoors. I've never tried this either, FWIW.
posted by archimago at 11:12 AM on April 1, 2009

Until your puppy is housebroken, keep her in a safe (ie, easily cleanable) part of your house like the kitchen.

When the puppy does pee or take a dump inside the house (even in the kitchen), educate them that it is bad behaviour. Cross your arms and say "no", and then turn your back, and keep standing. Dogs instinctively understand the concept of territory. It's not going to catch on with your puppy overnight, but it will eventually.

I remember when our dog was a puppy, it would never do its business outside... It took about a week or two.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:13 AM on April 1, 2009

first and foremost, do not take musofires' advice. in theory, crate training can be effective (just like kicking the shit out of your dog might prevent it from doing something you don't like). i'm not saying those are one and the same, but despite the insistence of many a dog trainer out there, and also the standard public perception, forcing your dog to wallow in a crate for even remotely extended periods of time is not acceptable. and certainly do not buy into the notion that she enjoys being locked in the crate, or that it's her "safe place". your dog will enjoy hanging out wherever she wants, whether that's on a couch, on the floor, or in a crate. long ago i crate trained a dog to great effect, and even so i regret it immensely.

having said that, the answer is: treats! it can be frustrating for a while, as it relies more or less on her (potentially entirely random) decision to go to the bathroom outside. but always have a treat in hand just in case, and the very second she goes, you need to get really stoked. explode with excitement about what she's done and give her the treat, making sure to encourage her for "going potty outside". the facts are as follows: a) there exists some (perhaps many) treat(s) out there that your dog will absolutely love, so find those treats. b) your dog is smart enough to connect words with actions with enough practice.

so, without question, enough repetition of this, and your dog will absolutely understand that going potty outside results in a lot of excitement and even a treat, and though it may take some time, once she makes that connection, she will always be excited to do her business outside to please you and to get that treat.
posted by austere at 11:22 AM on April 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Expanding on the "catching her going potty" point:

It really is a crap shoot :-) in the initial stages of potty training. You want to time her outside visits for when she really has to go, and then praise her for her success in having the foresight to potty outside.

If she goes inside, make sure that you don't scold her for it, or she might associate going potty with scolding. If you catch her in the act, take her outside immediately, even if she's peeing down the front of your shirt as you carry her. Then reward her when she's done.

If you discover her accident later, it's no use reprimanding her, because dogs just can't associate past deeds with current words. (Imagine the teacher in the Peanuts cartoons - that's pretty much what your voice sounds like to a dog.) Just clean it up and hope to catch her next time.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 11:26 AM on April 1, 2009

Wow! Thanks for all the thoughtful responses. Some more data:

1. She is under almost-constant supervision. My husband and I own our own business, so she comes to work with us.

2. She sleeps overnight in a crate and we put her in it when we can't supervise her. Sometimes she curls up in it herself, so it's not a negative place for her.

3. When she is outside, she's on a leash. We live in the country, there are a lot of loose dogs around, plus we have hunting birds big enough to pick her up without slowing down. We're currently using a 23-foot retractable leash, and we're training on a five-foot fixed leash.

4. We each keep a pocket full of small treats to reward her immediately after each outdoor potty event. We also verbally praise her.

Please, keep the ideas coming!
posted by workerant at 11:42 AM on April 1, 2009

I would take her out often for short periods of time. You are more likely to catch her at a gotta-go moment. Take her out on a leash and walk her around. The stimulus of physical movement may encourage her to go - I know it works for my dog. Since you are right there with her on the leash, you'll be ready to praise. Soon she will realize that this outdoors thing is all about the pooping.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:48 AM on April 1, 2009

and certainly do not buy into the notion that she enjoys being locked in the crate, or that it's her "safe place". your dog will enjoy hanging out wherever she wants, whether that's on a couch, on the floor, or in a crate. long ago i crate trained a dog to great effect, and even so i regret it immensely.

Where do you get this from? My parents' dog and some other friends whom I know all go in their crate when they're bored. It is their territory and home where nobody else can go. You might not like it, but it is effective and who are you to say the dog doesn't like the effects? Dog whisperer?

With your crate, they key thing is don't use it negatively, ie if she pees inside, do not punish her by putting her in the crate. Then, yes, the crate == bad.
posted by jmd82 at 11:50 AM on April 1, 2009

Sometimes a dog needs a little exercise to make things happen (especially poop), and then they need some contemplation to realize they actually need to go. So you may need a three-phase approach outside: 1. Play on long lead for 5-10 minutes, 2. Stop playing on short lead until desired results, 3. More playing on long lead.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:01 PM on April 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding avoiding musofires' advice.
Patience is definitely key. If she's peeing/pooping when she comes back inside, she hasn't been out there long enough. When she pees or poops, don't just give her a treat. Go completely berserk with happiness and praise. And keep in mind that input is directly related to output: feed her once or twice a day. If you are allowing her to free feed, stop immediately. Once you have chosen a time to feed her, note the next time she poops. If you feed her the same time each day you'll then be able to guesstimate when she's going to have to poop.
Also, make it an absolute iron clad law that she goes out *immediately* upon awakening from a nap throughout the day. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Always pee/poop after a nap and in the morning.
Take heart--t should only take a couple pees with rewards for her to get the pee outside idea. And pooping is pretty easy to predict once the feed schedule is put into place. Good luck!
posted by hecho de la basura at 12:03 PM on April 1, 2009

i'm not saying that crates a terrible thing by any means, just that confining an animal to a crate unnecessarily is. on a road trip? absolutely. in a pinch when there are no alternatives to supervision and the dog is inarguably safer in the crate for the duration than if she were to be left alone in the house? you bet.

what was suggested earlier in this thread was that for the duration of the training, the dog should be in the crate if she isn't outside, for the simple fact that that way, she won't go to the bathroom in the house (as dogs will indeed avoid soiling their own space if at all possible), which is wrong on several levels, from both practical and ethical perspectives. without question, that is a lazy way out. there are other ways to teach an animal that it shouldn't go to the bathroom in the house, and that is the key -- you need to be teaching! crating her indefinitely is a desperate preventative, so as to avoid having to deal with the problem. positive reinforcement is what works without fail. i'll say it again: to essentially imprison your dog because you've not yet properly taught her that she should use the bathroom outside is wrong. wrong wrong wrong.

that is exactly why i illustrated the point that the dog is happiest wherever she chooses to be. whether that's in your lap, on the kitchen floor, lying on the rug, or in her crate. sure, she might enjoy the crate, and if in that moment the crate is closed, then in theory, "no harm, no foul". but what if she decides on a whim that she'd rather sit on the rug? it's the difference between a dog choosing to hang out in the bathroom because it enjoys hanging out in the bathroom, and being locked in the bathroom with no other option. sorry to expound on the subject - i just want to be clear. our chihuahua has a soft carrier for when we travel, and it is dormant on our bedroom floor when not in use; on occasion, our dog will choose to lay in it for her own reasons.

so, again, the point is to be teaching her, and you teach her nothing by locking her in a crate.
posted by austere at 12:18 PM on April 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

For our pup, we would take her out of her crate, snap the 6' leash on her, walk directly to her potty area in the backyard and stand and wait, saying goofy things like, "Go pee", then "Go poop". As soon as she did either of those, we would immediately say "Yes!" then give her a number of treats then make a big to-do. Bigger treats and excitement when she hit the bullseye in her potty area. You feel kind of dumb saying things like, "Yay! What a great pooper you are!" and stuff like that, though you get over it when you realize what you're trying to work towards - a house-trained dog.

Once she got the whine-at-the-door-I-gotta-go! down, we started to let her out without supervision. Most times she'd head to her potty area however she started to get it all over the yard. One suggestion from our trainer was to throw a handful of her kibble in her potty area so that'd it be the first place she'd run to when let outside. Once she got her nose close to the ground, she'd smell her dumps, realize what she was out there for and then go right away.

If you take her out and she doesn't go within 5 minutes, bring her back inside and put her in her crate. Wait half an hour and take her out again. Repeat ad nauseum and she'll understand that when she comes out of her crate, she goes outside to pee or poop. Once she does that, then she gets to play.

No one likes to play with a poop/pee-filled puppy.
posted by KathyK at 12:38 PM on April 1, 2009

Our vet told us to grab the puppy by its scruff and rub its face in its piddle while growling at whenever it went in the house. Then, quickly take the pup out so it knows where the proper place is to go. Apparently, the pup thinks you're its mama dog and knows that he's done wrong when you growl at it. We potty trained 4-5 dogs this way and it always worked. Nthing praising the pup for going potty outside and taking it out very often.
posted by mandapanda at 1:13 PM on April 1, 2009

Let me just fix musofire's sentence:

When she's indoors, is still being house-trained and hasn't been to the bathroom lately, she's in a dog crate.

It's true that almost all dogs won't soil their bed and will wait until they're let out of their crate to eliminate. For a little puppy, you really don't want to leave them in there for extended periods of time (ours was on a 4-hour schedule during the night in the beginning which got longer as she got older) as their bladders aren't big enough. You also want to take them out after a nap, 5 minutes after they've had water and within half an hour of play time. What you are working towards is having a dog that can hang out with you indoors (outside of her crate) and knowing that when she walks to the door that she's letting you know she needs to go outside to pee.

Crates can be used as an effective house-training tool. However, if you leave your dog in the crate all day and only take her out only to go to the bathroom then, yes, it is a prison. Our dog will only have her crate until she's about 2 - 3 years of age when she's learned the house rules: pee/poop outside, don't gnaw the furniture and don't eat the plants.

Also, make sure that you are saturating the soiled indoor area with a good pet deoderizer for at least 10 minutes before wiping up any leftover pee. Once your dog has gone indoors (which is entirely your fault, btw, as you either haven't given her the right indicators for going outside or not paid attention to her eating/drinking/napping/playing habits indoors), she'll be triggered by the scent in that area and think of it as an okay place to go. If you see her going in front of you, don't scold her or next time she'll slink off and try to hide it. Pick her up and quickly take her outside - your urgency alone will give her the heads up that something's not right.
posted by KathyK at 1:17 PM on April 1, 2009

Seconding the rule, which my vet also endorses, that until pup is fully housebroken, there shall be no playing outdoors. I mean, you can take the pup elsewhere, like to a park, for outings now and then, but when it's a bathroom trip outside to the bathroom area, that's all it's for.

Your "supervise like a hawk every waking moment" + "crate whenever you can't supervise" system is the one I've used raising eight puppies over the last 15 years, and it works great. The pup learns to enjoy its crate but doesn't experience too much enforced confinement.

Also, it's too late now for this pup since she already knows her phrase, but you don' t have to use "potty" or "poop" as signals. I've used "hurry up," and some good friends use "zip zip." What works best of all singing, or singsonging, the phrase in a predictable "tune" since they're more sensitive to tones than words. If my eight year old shepherd mix needs to poop and wants some, er, inspiration, he'll mill about in his favorite spot and then look over to get me to sing his phrase and help get things moving.
posted by FelliniBlank at 1:40 PM on April 1, 2009

Well, as usual I'll chime in that I think that crating can be very bad and should be used very carefully by people that know what they are doing. (Actually I'm totally against it.)

I wonder why nobody brought up the following yet:
Where did the dog piddle'n'poop in the shelter? Often this might be an indoor area. Dogs do not like to poop in their den, but if they have no choice they will do it.
And your dog might have learned from a young age that pooping indoors is the way to do it. (Nobody likes cold draughts around the nether regions :-) )

mandapanda's way is very old school and considered a bad way to housebreak a dog nowadays even though this method has still many adherents. After your dog did his business in the house, pushing his nose into the puddle does nothing put to alienate the dog. He will not make a connection between pooping in the house and being pushed into its own feces. Of course he will look guilty, you are the powerful pack leader and the dog wants to appease you so that you will stop punishing him.

Ally modern dog books that I know (and actual experience) teach a variation of the following:
You have to observe the dog constantly and especially vigilantly after he fed/drank. As soon as you start to notice any potty behavior or even if the dog is already in the act, you have to make a big fuss, grab the doggy (he will probably clench up, because he will be shocked by your behavior) and get/carry him outside to his pooping spot. Don't let your doggy finish doing his business in the house, get him outside before or while he is in the act.

This sounds like a lot of work, but it actually isn't. Your dog should learn that he has to do it outside in no more than three days. (Accidents might still happen, of course, since his bladder is so small, but you will notice that he wanted to go outside before the accident happened).
Your time might be tougher, because of the possible previous in-shelter-pooping conditioning.

And as nearly everybody else said, pooping outside is cause for great celebration and treats all around.

The explanation behind this is that especially young dogs do not have a very good reasoning ability. The cause and effect of a behavior have to be closely coupled to achieve the quickest learning results. Quick treats and quick punishment are the order. (By treats, I also mean praise and belly rubs not only food. By punishment I mostly mean scolding.)

On preview: FelliniBlank said it with way viewer words.
posted by mmkhd at 1:59 PM on April 1, 2009

sorry to do this again, but: absolutely do not take the advice of mandapandas' veterinarian. i'm astonished that anyone would trust a vet who would ever even conceive of recommending that course of action. do not ever do this for any reason. as with crating, whether or not its effective is irrelevant. it is cruel, and you should not do cruel things to people or animals that you love.

as someone else said, there is absolutely no point to scold your dog to any extent if you find the mess after the fact. she will absolutely, without question, come to associate that punishment with the action of going to the bathroom. whether your dog thinks you are its mother or not is entirely irrelevant, and as an aside, i'm curious how anyone would expect that the mother would go about rubbing the pups face in its urine or feces in the first place (from a mechanical perspective).

seriously, just follow supersquirrels advice entirely, and as has been said, when she does go to the bathroom outside, do a cartwheel or and squeal with delight or something. between knowing that it makes you happy and understanding that it amounts to a treat for her, she will not have any problems once the connection is made. if you think about it, it makes perfect sense.
posted by austere at 2:47 PM on April 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

One thing that should be mentioned is, are you cleaning up the inside accidents correctly?

If you are not using an enzyme based cleaner specifically for pet accidents, you are setting up your dog for failure. The dog will just continue to mark the inside spot he's already messed on.

Especially on carpet, but even on tile and/or vinyl, the dog is leaving specific scent markers with it's urine and feces. Even with soap/vinegar/bleach, those markers will not come up. You must use a cleaning product formulated for pet urine/feces.

I adopted my dog at 7 months old, and he was still having accidents once in awhile. It was at approximately 12 months when he was completely housebroken.
posted by lootie777 at 3:14 PM on April 1, 2009

The following is assuming you are with your puppy every time it goes potty:


Potty inside - YAY TREAT TIME I WENT POTT-- oh wait. Mom just said No really sternly and took me outside.


Potty inside - ...Mom isn't happy for me. wtf this sucks.

this x 2-3 weeks

If the puppy goes potty inside and you do not catch him in the act, just clean it up and say nothing. And you'll want to buy a bottle of Nature's Miracle, if you already haven't. Make sure it dries fully.
posted by spec80 at 3:24 PM on April 1, 2009

Our puppy was very happy peeing indoors, no matter how many times we took her out a day. Once we started giving her treats every time she peed, she was potty trained in a week. We did that until she wasn't going to the bathroom at all in the house anymore, and then stopped.
posted by andlee210 at 4:07 PM on April 1, 2009

I got my husky at 8 weeks. She was not potty trained at the time (had been an outside kennel dog).

She was in the crate at night, had only ONE accident the first week (due to some strange foods). During the day she was with me 100% of the time, on a short leash. I kept an eye on her, if she looked like she was about to sniff the floor, outside we went. And, she went out about every half hour for the first two or three weeks.

She was on that leash for most of the time for about two months.

Lots of reinforcement when she did her job outside... "good girls" and treats!

We had exactly two accidents in the house, both my fault for taking her out too slowly after a nap.
posted by HuronBob at 6:05 PM on April 1, 2009

your dog will enjoy hanging out wherever she wants, whether that's on a couch, on the floor, or in a crate.

There are some of us who own dogs who do not want our dogs on our bed or on our couch. Crates are good for setting boundaries and managing your mutt.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:29 PM on April 2, 2009

I had a similar problem with my puppy...he had such A.D.D. when out in the big wide world of our tiny backyard. We figured the sounds, smells, etc were just too distracting, so we tried to focus his attention on one area. We used a pen in our yard (4ft square like this) and we would put him in it when it was potty time. We did crate train too, so we knew he was due to go. (He wasn't in the crate all day long though). He would get to business right away, then get a treat (and play). We also used this pen in the house when we were gone, so it was pretty useful.

Oh, and it might be a good idea to make the housetraining treats extra special (i.e. freeze dried liver treats, cheese, or something super exciting). And have a puppy party celebration each time!
posted by hazel at 9:58 PM on April 8, 2009

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