Please, no tiny puddles of pee for my feet to discover in the dark.
February 10, 2011 8:56 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to get a dog. I think a small breed would be best based on my specific situation and I have only had past experience with large breeds. Can you provide some guidance about the housebreaking difficulties I'm reading about everywhere?

As I'm researching breeds of small dogs I'm reading a lot about housebreaking problems. I'm specifically considering a 5-month old male Pomeranian and a 3-year old male Pekingese and neither of them is reliably housebroken yet.

I plan on immediately doing a basic obedience class with whatever dog I get. I work from home and plan on taking the dog out several times a day but the dog will not have access to a doggie door. I am comfortable with providing lots of consistent training. Under these circumstances is it possible to reliably housetrain either of these breeds? Or is it just not possible to get the breeds I'm interested in 100% housebroken ever?
posted by tinamonster to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My limited experience with tiny dogs is my mother's not-entirely-house trained Jack Russell. However, I was recently home for two weeks and the dog didn't have an accident once. Why? I asked the dog if he wanted to go out once an hour or so. The answer was always an enthusiastic yes.

Tiny dogs have bladders the size of jelly beans.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:02 PM on February 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Anecdote: We have a dachshund and a chihuahua, both under 12 pounds. The dachshund we got as a puppy and rigorously potty trained and she is entirely housebroken. We've trained her to ring some bells on a string tied around the doorknob whenever she wants to go out, and she uses that very reliably (I can't recommend the bell training highly enough). We got our chihuahua when she was about 2, and her potty training history was a little more eccentric; she knows she should only go outside, but we haven't been able to teach her to ask. She occasionally poops inside when it's really cold outside or when she's been inside for too long.

We try to let the two of them out every two hours or so, which is easy since we work from home. The max time we'll ever leave them alone is about 4 hours, and that seems to be their limit.
posted by lilac girl at 9:18 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Our dog is small (16 lbs. as of last weighing), and was of questionable training when we got him from the shelter. I found that setting a schedule along with crate training was the most reliable way to get him relieved without having to take him out five or six times a day. He goes out to pee when we get him up at 8, and gets fed right after that trip. He goes out for a walk etc. at 10. He eats again at 6, and goes out to walk again at about 7:30 to 8:00. He spends the night in his crate, and the whole thing starts all over again next day. If we have to go anywhere, he gets put in his crate, then taken out to pee immediately when we get back.
He gets all the water he wants, but we haven't had an accident in months now (knock wood). I think that knowing what the schedule is helps him plan his day, bathroom-wise.
posted by Gilbert at 9:21 PM on February 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Has the 3 year old Pekingnese been neutered yet? If he hasn't, it may be very difficult to break him from a habit of "marking" his territory, even if he gets neutered now. You want to make sure he was neutered early in life, because sometimes that behavior never goes away.
posted by Sal and Richard at 9:38 PM on February 10, 2011

I have spent a lot of time with other people's little dogs, and I've seen lots of people that get them as accessories rather than as a pet and companion. More often than not they think that getting carried around in a purse should be enough to make a small dog behave well.
If you treat your small dog like a dog you shouldn't have much more trouble than with a big dog, they just may need to go more frequently.
Also, crates are awesome.
posted by gally99 at 9:43 PM on February 10, 2011

Can't speak to the breeds you're considering, but my relatives got a Shih Tzu and it is a great dog. Housebroken, never has accidents, knows a dozen tricks, has personality, not barky, reasonably solid little bod.

Watch out for dogs that come from puppy mills, as they can develop bad bathroom habits if they're caged all the time when little (eg eating their poo).
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:31 PM on February 10, 2011

Best answer: I have a very large dog that I had to house train as a puppy, while living on the 3rd floor in a walk up building. It was a pain but once he got it, he was fine. When I stayed at a friend's place for 2 weeks with his 2 small dogs, one a jack russel and probably chihuahua mix and the other a chihuahua. The chihuahua was not housebroken and I made it my mission to housebreak her before the owner's return. She was the stupidest dog EVER and just never, ever grasped the concept of peeing and shitting outside. I think she was too used to going inside; we had to take an elevator to get out of the building; I didn't have a crate. I would walk her little legs off. We were not returning home until she'd done her business. She'd shit and/or pee on the floor the minute we walked in, like she was holding it til we got home.

That said, I recommend crate training to help with housebreaking. Take them outside the minute they come out the crate. The minute they squat give the command you want to use going forward, I used go potty. Lots of praise and go potty during the act, say it several times, and give a treat IMMEDIATELY after they finish. When they look around for the treat when they're done, they're starting to get it, which should be after a few days with a normal dog. Don't yell when they have accidents. Do a firm no and take them outside. (No nose rubbing should go without saying.)
posted by shoesietart at 11:04 PM on February 10, 2011

Best answer: Crate training is key. Plus a REALLY good treat for pooping outside. Freeze-dried liver is supposed to be THE thing to use.

We have a yorkie / shih-tzu mix (obligatory puppy pic) who rings a bell to go out. Very few accidents, and she's maybe 19 months old. Bell training only took a day for us, though.

She does occasionally poop near the door, I guess when she wants to go out and is unable to wake us up at night. She's actually shocked when she sees it later - will stand there and stare at it, and then at us, as if she knows hours later she made a mistake (we don't punish her, on the theory that dogs don't have very long attention spans...) She appears to have an iron bladder, though.
posted by joshu at 11:57 PM on February 10, 2011

When it comes to dog training related questions, I have become a broken record. I have worked with numerous dogs -- many of whom were very badly abused and/or neglected before I met them. I have had dogs in my life for -- well, the vast majority of my life. Almost every issue related to living with a dog can be solved through the application of vast amounts of love and a very little bit of knowledge.

When it comes to house training (or any other behavior problem with the possible exception of fear-based aggression), I recommend getting a good book about Clicker Training. Google "clicker house training" and you'll find some resources. Taking a positive approach to training will help you built a relationship with your dog that will make future training even easier.

That said -- when dealing with a dog that isn't house trained yet or a puppy (who isn't going to be house trained until he/she is a little more mature... remember how long it took you), the key is to let the dog have access to an acceptable place to go as often as possible. Smaller dogs do tend to go more often -- it's just a function of size, energy-level and metabolism, I guess.

Good luck! And remember, dogs, in general, want very badly to please you.
posted by driley at 2:15 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

How small of a dog do you want? My family has always had Shetland Sheepdogs (shelties) who are teensy - my best friend has one on the extreme small side, 11 pounds at 8 years old, most are around 20 pounds. However, since they are herding dogs, they have a working dog personality. Nothing against the pomeranian and yorkie fans of the world, but I like herding dog behavior much better.

They're really smart, very easily trainable, and sweet little dogs. My sheltie was house trained in barely days thanks to using crate training. They can be barky, but see the easily trainable thing- we trained them to not bark indoors unless given a "speak" command.
posted by lyra4 at 3:32 AM on February 11, 2011

Are you sure a small breed will be best for your situation? I have a medium-sized (about 30 lbs) mixed breed who needs to be taken out once a day (as in, even though she can go outside whenever she wants, she waits for the walk), but is delighted to go out much more, and can go (and her legs are long enough) for miles and miles on tramps without tiring (though she'll sleep a lot afterwards!). She can also just hang around the house being totally lazy. (obligatory pic & pic)

Despite her wonderfully accommodating dog nature, my not-at-all-perfect human nature means that about twice a month I don't take her out (it's really cold, or really hot, or I'm sick, or hungover, or so super busy, blah, blah), and I have that luxury because we have an outside area where she can go without cocking up her house training, and we've trained her to use it when needed. So, sometimes she has walks several times during the day, sometimes only once, sometimes short ones, sometimes really long ones, sometimes in a serene park, and sometimes in crazy urban people-and-traffic cacophony — and sometimes, not often, she has to go in the courtyard because I've completely abdicated my walking responsibility that day.

If you don't have an outside spot (balcony/terrace/patio/yard) for your pup, and you get one with a teeny bladder, that's a lot of walking you're committing to — possibly more than you realize. I waited until I could be at home to get a dog, and I was so thrilled with the idea that I swear I thought that taking her out three times a day would be A-Okay-No-Problemo! But I was wrong about that. Even though I work from home, I don't always want to go out three times a day, sometimes I don't even want to go out once a day, though only rarely do I not go out once a day.

On the other hand, if you do have an attached area for your pup to do his/her business as needed, and are only worried about training them to do it there instead of inside, just listen to the great tips here and ignore this!
posted by taz at 3:39 AM on February 11, 2011

Depends on what you mean small. MY family has cockapoos which are not really big dogs and are more on the small side and were potty trained pretty quickly. They do have a small habbit of peing a tiny bit when they are puppies and get excited but they break out of that quickly.

Cocka poos also do not shed and some of them can be real energetic and play fetch just like a bigger dog.

They can stay in the house without peeing all day while your at work.
posted by majortom1981 at 4:38 AM on February 11, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your help! I had a hard time picking best answers. They were all really helpful comments, but I chose a few specific anecdotes about tiny dogs since that's what I was hoping for. It sounds like very very small is not the way to go for guaranteed housebreaking and I'm going to look into some slightly larger dogs. I'm also going to speak with some trainers and do some more research before I take the plunge.

PhoBWanKenobi: I dogsit for a Jack Russell regularly and I've never known her to answer any question with anything but an enthusiastic yes!!

Taz: Adorable! What kind of dog?

Joshu: So cute! I will look into the bell training. That sounds great.
posted by tinamonster at 7:20 PM on February 11, 2011

We have no idea what she's made of, tinamonster, and it sort of drives us crazy with curiosity! She's a rescue, and she seems to be some kind of poodle mix. Our vet thinks she has some Husky in her. I've seen a few dogs on the internet that look like her, and usually they're unknown mixes, but one was a Schnoodle (Schnauzer/Poodle).

About the bells, be sure to set them up from the very beginning. I tried to teach Sky to use the bells when she wants to go to the courtyard, but since she was accustomed to me reading her mind (body language, really) for two years and opening the door almost instantly, plus the door being mostly open for months at a time in nice weather, she didn't get the whole bell thing (Yeah, fine, I can jingle the bells when I want to go out, but you and I both know you're going to be here immediately to open the door anyway). I thought it would be very helpful if we ever have a non-mind-reading sitter. Maybe I'll give it another shot. :P
posted by taz at 2:03 AM on February 12, 2011

Response by poster: It's almost a year later and it occurs to me that I never posted an ending to this story. So here it is on the off chance that someone stumbles across this thread in the future:

I went to meet the 5-month-old pomeranian described in my original question and we took to each other instantly. I could not have created a better dog personality for me from scratch and we have been super happy together. Here is a link to a tumblr of photos that I created for friends and family. His name is Sunny and he is the perfect sidekick.

For the housebreaking: I used a combination of crate training at night or when I'm not with him and a long game policy where he slowly earned my trust to be left free to roam the house. He's really small and can't jump up and down from chairs so I gave him his own chair in my office which he sits/sleeps on while I work. I worked with his natural love of "giving five" to make that his signal to go potty. He's a really smart dog and now when I ask him "Do you have to go potty?" he considers and either gives me five while his eyes bug out a little (yes) or pointedly averts his gaze (no).

I also established a regular routine of potty breaks every 3-4 hours and at first I only let him roam after he had just finished going. As a result I can happily count the number of times he's had an accident on one hand with a couple of fingers left to spare. Yay!

I was super strict with him at first and I wanted to observe him 100% of the time. While this would be over the top with some dogs, he didn't notice at all because luckily he pretty much just wants to be right next to me anyhow. Now that he's earned my full trust, when given the choice he just hangs out right here, sleeping or chewing on a bone, punctuated with quick run-around-and-play-with-the-cats sessions.
posted by tinamonster at 1:19 PM on February 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

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