You can lead a dog to potty but you can't make him ring ...
May 22, 2011 7:15 PM   Subscribe

Ideas on how to get our dog over this training hump?

We've been having trouble getting our nearly 10 month old, 15lb mutt to 100, or at least 99% potty trained. Basically, he knows he is supposed to potty outside, and will do so if we take him out often enough, but if we aren't watching him like a hawk and taking him out constantly he will inevitably pee in the house.

Our methods so far have been to give treats for pottying outside, clean soiled areas with the special pet cleaning stuff, and grab him and move him outside when we catch him peeing. Admittedly we have gotten lazy on the last point because it is so tiring and frustrating to constantly watch your dog pee when you are comfy in bed and he just went half an hour ago, damnit. (Also I should note this is not health related, sometimes he'll go hours, sometimes half an hour, but there's no reason to suspect UTI, etc.)

Yesterday we had our carpets cleaned, so I decided to get this puppy trained once and for all. We hung a bell from the door and I wanted to train him to ring when he needs to go out. It only took about 15 minutes and two slices of salami to teach him to touch the bell when I said, "Touch" and pointed to the bell. Then for the rest of the day we practiced making him touch and then opening the door to go outside.

Okay. So clearly this dog is smart. But now he is just constantly ringing the door bell to go outside when he doesn't actually have to potty. So we've just been taking him out, giving him a minute or two, then bringing him back in. How can I get him to realize the bell is only for potty other than only praising/giving treats when he actually relieves himself? Also, even though he rang to go outside several times before this, I still caught him peeing in the house. I moved him outside, he finished, I praised and gave a treat.

Any other ideas? He catches on to "Do this" really fast, but I don't know how to teach "Don't do this."
posted by ohsnapdragon to Pets & Animals (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
For my dog, we taught him a command to pee ("Go pee").

We took him out on a regular schedule. Every hour, come hell or high water, we'd take him outside and tell him to pee. If he did, he got lots of love and affection. If he didn't, we just brought him back inside. If he hadn't peed in a couple hours, we'd take him out every fifteen minutes until he did.

The trick that I think makes this system work is that he explicitly knows you want him to pee right then and there. If you reward his self-directed peeing, then he simply associates the reward with peeing. If you only reward his human-directed peeing, he knows that he received a command, completed an action, and was rewarded.

Even now that he has a yard and a doggie door, when it's time for bed (and I'm going to close the doggie door), I'll still tell him to go out and pee. I do this ritual about 90 minutes before I actually intend to go to sleep (I'm a bed reader), and if he didn't pee then, I'll take him out again just before I actually go to sleep.
posted by Netzapper at 7:21 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

You can't get him to realize the bell is for potty. Forget that idea. The goal is to have the dog ring the bell to go outside.

If he is having accidents in the house, he is NOT housetrained, and should not be allowed the freedom to have the accidents in the first place! Honestly, this is a very, very common mistake people make, the dog is 99% reliable so they assume the dog is trained, and "knows better", and then undermine the months of training they've put in by allowing the dog too much freedom without supervision, and the dog then demonstrates exactly how housetrained it really is. People do this with everything from "sit" to "come" to housetraining - the more accidents you allow your dog to have, the longer it will take for your dog to be actually housetrained.

You are smart to realize that you don't know how to teach "don't do this", that's because it's far easier to teach a dog what TO do, than what not to do. My suggestion is to take a few big steps backwards in your assumptions about your dog's degree of housetraining - if he is having accidents in the house in the absence of illness, he is NOT housetrained.
posted by biscotti at 7:22 PM on May 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

And yes, adding a cue word to relieving himself is very beneficial. But you need to be there with him to train that.
posted by biscotti at 7:23 PM on May 22, 2011

you taught him that ringing the bell will get him outside—not that ringing the bell means he has to potty. the way i taught my dog to do this is that every time i took him outside to go potty, i made him ring the bell first—and then when we were outside, i made sure he went potty. that way he associated the bell with having to go to the bathroom, not just going outside and nothing else.
posted by violetk at 7:50 PM on May 22, 2011

ohsnapdragon: he knows he is supposed to potty outside, and will do so if we take him out often enough, but if we aren't watching him like a hawk and taking him out constantly he will inevitably pee in the house.

That's because you are giving him the freedom of the house before he's potty trained. Biscotti is totally right as usual. Tether the dog to you, go outside every two hours, add the cue word, and when you have that down successfully, you can allow the dog off-lead for say, 30 minutes immediately after you come back in. Slowly extend off lead time. When you can go a full four hours without an accident 100% consistently, extend the four hours if you need to.

For any accident, back up and start over.

You can bell train the dog when he's house trained. If he's ringing just to go out, you take him out on the lead and do not take him off until he pees. If he does not pee, you return to the house.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:50 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I absolutely agree with biscotti, as usual.

In addition to going outside to potty, we also got our dog trained to use a potty pad (she has a really sensitive stomach, so occasionally has accidents at night). We leave one out in the same place every night so that she can go on the potty pad- this is especially helpful when our routine changes for whatever reason. It's also helpful when it's raining out, when she usually doesn't want to go outside. She rarely uses the pads, but when she does, they're much easier to clean up than accidents.
posted by kro at 8:05 PM on May 22, 2011

Came in to say what biscotti said: a dog who pees in the house 30 minutes after having been outside is nowhere near "99% house-trained". In fact, personally, I'd call that 0% house-trained.
posted by toomuchpete at 8:57 PM on May 22, 2011

Response by poster: Okay, it sounds like the main thing we're doing wrong is letting him have freedom in the house. I did keep him on a lead attached to my wrist for most of the day, and I can ask my partner to start doing that when she's watching him too. He is crate trained, so we can use that as well when we need a break.

I do use "Go potty, go potty" as his pee command but I don't think he really gets it. Maybe I use it too often? Should I only say it right when he's going? Or should I just give more effusive compliments when I say it and he actually goes? Today, for instance, I think he only peed three times and hasn't taken a poo all day, so I haven't had many chances to reinforce positive behaviour.

FYI, we live in an apartment, so he is always, always on the lead when we go outside.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 9:18 PM on May 22, 2011

it is so tiring and frustrating to constantly watch your dog pee when you are comfy in bed
Can I presume that you're not crate training, then? If not, I suggest giving it a try. It really does work. They don't want to pee where they have to lay, and it makes them learn to hold it. Not that you should keep it crated all day, but when you're in bed, the dog would be in its crate. We are currently training our puppy, Quincy, who I would say is 99% of the way housebroken, and the crate has helped immensely.

It will also help to learn your dog's "signs" that it's about to eliminate. Even if they're slight, there are probably some - sniffing, whining, leaving the place where it was resting or playing, walking to a certain spot (for us it was under the dining room table). The moment you see the signs, take it outside.

I haven't done bell training, but from what I've read, the way to start is to teach them to associate the bell with eliminating, not just going outside. So you would take the dog outside, no bell ringing until it eliminates, then when it does, you ring the bell (that I guess you've brought outside with you? not sure on the details). The next step would involve you ringing the bell inside the house when you know the dog has to eliminate, which you can do because you've learned to spot the pre-pee signs.

How are you praising outdoor elimination? We use "good potty" for pee and "good poop" for poop. Now we're getting to the point where we can say "Quincy, go potty" or "go poop" when we go outside and he'll go do it. If your dog responds to no, you could say "no pee" when it starts to go inside, and then whisk it outside like you're already doing.

Water consumption is also a biggie. Are you limiting it or at least observing how much he drinks? If not, that probably accounts for why he can hold it for hours at some times, and only 30 minutes other times. Regulating his water intake will help a lot. Quincy used to drink his entire water bowl and then have to pee immediately. So we started picking the bowl up after dinner, which meant we had to get it down every time our older dog Dexter wanted a drink, which was a pain. But it helped him to not have to pee all the time, and now we can leave the water out all the time because we know he'll ask to go outside (and he's learned not to drink the entire bowl at once).

Last thing I can think of - consistency on your part is critical. I started marking a red star on the calendar for every day Quincy that didn't have an accident. When I was feeling lazy about checking on him or taking him outside, I would think "I want that star today" and get off my butt and do it. It will "take" eventually, but you really have to be consistent. It was more about training myself to train him, which is what so much of dog training really is. You (and he) will get there with time and effort. Good luck!
posted by boomchicka at 9:19 PM on May 22, 2011

I do use "Go potty, go potty" as his pee command but I don't think he really gets it. Maybe I use it too often? Should I only say it right when he's going? Or should I just give more effusive compliments when I say it and he actually goes?

I think I said this above, but saying "good potty!" when he pees and "good poop!" when he poops will help him associate the words with the actions. Saying "go potty" doesn't mean anything if he doesn't know what those words mean yet. You might as well be saying "bleep bloop." You have to teach a command before you can use it. And from your OP - expecting any training to "take" in one day is unrealistic. Being consistent but patient will pay off.

Did you take your dog to a puppy training class? They can be really valuable in that they teach you how to teach your dog. Once you learn how your dog learns, you can teach it a ton of stuff. And learning commands gives your dog structure, which dogs need. Does he know sit, stay, down, etc?
posted by boomchicka at 9:26 PM on May 22, 2011

Response by poster: @boomchicka - he is crate trained in that I can say "go to your crate" and he will run in, stay there quietly, etc. He WILL sleep quietly through the night in his crate, but we hardly ever make him cause we feel guilty. I know, I know.
He knows sit, lay down, and roll over. We haven't tried to teach stay at all but we should. He will sometimes/usually come, but I guess that means he doesn't really know come either, from reading above. I will look for a puppy class to sign up for.

I like your idea of a "no accident" calendar to stay motivated. I think our two biggest failure factors are getting frustrated/losing motivation, and feeling guilty about rules. It doesn't help that we also have an older dog who is trained, so she gets to run around, sleep in our bed, etc.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 9:56 PM on May 22, 2011

feeling guilty about rules
I know. But dogs thrive on consistency and structure. He will do so much better when you decide what the rules are and enforce them consistently.

Dexter is also trained, and gets to roam the house freely, and sleeps on our bed. But what's best for Quincy is not to be able to do all of the stuff Dexter can do, not yet anyway.

I think you're on the right track as far as figuring out what you need to do or stop doing.
posted by boomchicka at 10:21 PM on May 22, 2011

I dont really have anything to add that has not been said about the potty training but i do have 2 cents to add about training in general.

A fairly well known dog training told us during two of our dogs obedience classes to never use treats as obedience training tools. Imagine that your dog is in the road when a car is coming and knows you dont have a cookie, or pauses until he sees your hand go into your pocket. This is not obedience training unless you want them to obey the cookie. Treats are fine to teach your dog tricks but dont rely on them for obedience.

The same training basically had us yell "OUT" at the puppy (according to him, studies show it sounds most like the corrective motherly dog bark) and grab the nap of the dogs neck and fast but gently take the dog to the ground.

We used other tools/techniques for leash training and off leash training. I would still put my next dog in an obedience class (with research into the teacher) even thouogh i could teach them on my own. They gain a lot by being taught while around other dogs and the instructor can help with specific and unique problems.
posted by Black_Umbrella at 10:41 PM on May 22, 2011

I would add that you may wish to Google "clicker training" and read some of the tips and tricks that use positive reenforcement to house train. There are some really great resources out there.
posted by driley at 12:00 AM on May 23, 2011

Having just read Karen Pryor's excellent Don't Shoot the Dog, which is about how to effectively use operant conditioning (on dogs or anyone else), I'm certainly not expert but I think I have a few things to add. I've been applying my new-found insights with my own pets, and they've helped a lot. I wish I'd read this book 7 years ago, when I got my dog.

I moved him outside, he finished, I praised and gave a treat.

Timing here is very, very critical. If praise is the reinforcer, you can easily be praising the dog WHILE he is peeing, so it's very clear to the dog what you are praising him for. If you wait until he's finished and there's a delay of even a couple of seconds, the dog is much less likely to have any idea what you're so happy about.

A treat isn't so easily delivered while the dog is peeing, so use a marker word ("yes!" is popular, and the clicker used in clicker training is basically the same thing, with the added benefits that the click is both instantaneous and a unique sound) that you say exactly as the desired behavior is occurring, then follow with a treat or praise quickly and reliably afterward. Use this same marker word for all sorts of training. Initially the marker word will be meaningless (as 'go potty' is now for your dog), but if it's always followed by a treat or other reinforcer (praise, for example) then you'll be able to cue him that he's earning a reward even when he's out of reach or doing something food-incompatible, and you will be able to gradually increase the time delay between marker and reward.

I do use "Go potty, go potty" as his pee command but I don't think he really gets it.

Like Boomchicka pointed out, he has no idea what this means yet. If you say 'go potty' now, it's not a command, it's just something the human says when you're standing around in the yard. Your dog is learning that you have this odd custom -- perhaps an exotic religious ritual? -- of saying 'go potty' and 'go poop' when you are standing on grass. Perhaps pee is your god? So for now, wait until he's actually doing his business to use these words. He'll get the idea, and then you'll be able to use them as cues.

Finally, I feel safe in saying that Karen Pryor would not think much of Black_Umbrella's trainer's methods. The whole business about not using treats because you don't always have a treat with you or visible is simply a misunderstanding of how operant conditioning works. There is also no difference, to the dog, between 'obedience' and 'tricks;' it's all just stuff you want him to do on command.
posted by jon1270 at 12:47 AM on May 23, 2011

Treats are fine to teach your dog tricks but dont rely on them for obedience.

Yeah no. What jon1270 said. Your trainer didn't seem to understand the difference between a reward and a bribe, and obviously didn't understand operant conditioning, a common problem, but being "well known" doesn't mean someone understands dog behavior science (or actually understands dog training at all, many times dogs learn despite the training methods we use, as Jean Donaldson says). Used properly, rewards are the best way to train dogs to have reliable, permanent changes in behavior, this has been shown repeatedly in studies. I don't work for free, I don't expect my dogs to - that doesn't mean I need to have a cookie with me at all times or my dogs don't obey me, but it sure as hell DOES mean that I reward them regularly, especially for important things like coming when called, which I reward every time I can (and a reward can be a game of tug or whatever, it doesn't have to be a cookie, but food is the single most powerful motivator for most dogs - trainers who eschew it are shooting themselves in the foot, I always have at least a handful of kibble or some yummy little Zukes biscuits in my pocket, it's as much a part of being ready to take my dogs out as poop bags and leashes are).

To train a "go potty" cue - I take my dog out on a leash and walk him/her around in the potty area. I say my cue word (I used to use "get busy" and "go pee", although honestly I don't think two cues are ideal, since the dog's going to do what it needs to do, so I only use one cue at this point) slowly and calmly - this is not a walk for exercise, it's a walk to get things going (keep in mind that many dogs need physical activity to relieve themselves). So we're out there, and I say "get busy, get busy" in a happy but calm voice (the ONLY time I use the cue word before I have the behavior, since it's the only real way to connect the two), once the dog starts taking care of whatever business is necessary, I say "goooood get busy, gooooood get busy" in a happy but still calm voice. And then, when the dog is finished, we jump around, get cookies and have a party "YAY! Get busy you GOOD DOG!!!". The trick is to use a calm, encouraging voice while still using your cue word, praise while it's happening CALMLY (so you don't interrupt), AND reward like crazy when it's done.
posted by biscotti at 7:08 AM on May 23, 2011

I do use "Go potty, go potty" as his pee command but I don't think he really gets it. Maybe I use it too often? Should I only say it right when he's going?

I trained my dog to go on cue by saying "go pee" the split second I saw her start to squat. I learned that from a jockey who told me how racehorses are trained to pee before races. Say it once, for no confusion.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:12 PM on May 23, 2011

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