House training puppy + cats
August 10, 2011 6:39 AM   Subscribe

We just got a 4 month old Shetland Sheepdog puppy (female), and we've been having a lot of problems to house train her. We suspect the problem might be her interaction with our two cats.

She sleeps in a small bathroom, with newspapers in the shower so she can pee/poo (we live in an apartment). We take her there several times per day, and we've started taking her outside on walks too. But she refuses to eliminate outside or in the bathroom. We can walk her for a long time, and put her in the bathroom immediately afterwards, but she eliminates as soon as she's elsewhere.

When we catch her on the act we pick her up, say "no" and take her to the bathroom so she can finish. We praise her when she eliminates in the bathroom, which is rare.

We have two cats, male and female, about 1 year old. They are very intrigued by the puppy, and vice versa. The female cat plays with her, until the puppy gets rough, and then she swats or bites her softly. The male cat is very aggressive with her, he hisses and hunts her. We always supervise them when they interact with the puppy and we cut/filed their nails to avoid any accidents.

The puppy is always distracted by the cats, and they are always watching/following her. She is anxious to play with them, it's very hard to get her attention, and we suspect that's making it difficult to house train her.

I'm starting to fear all the elimination problems are due to cat related anxiety. Today, when she woke up and my bf was about to take her into a walk, she saw the female cat and peed on the hall. Could it be territorial?

I'd appreciate any tips or anecdotes, specially about housetraining in households with cats. Thanks!
posted by clearlydemon to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
my bf was about to take her into a walk, she saw the female cat and peed on the hall. Could it be territorial?

Not likely at 4 months old. I doubt the cats have much to do with it.

When we catch her on the act we pick her up, say "no" and take her to the bathroom so she can finish.

I suspect the problem is that you're only 'catching her in the act' a fraction of the time, so you can only encourage the desired behavior once in a while. The rest of the time she eliminates in other areas, and that is what gets reinforced by the relief she feels at having eliminated.

I don't have a ton of experience with this, but I'm currently going through it again with a new puppy right now. Most housetraining advice I've read indicates that you've got to supervise the dog basically all the time until they get it. If you can't supervise all the time, look into crate training.
posted by jon1270 at 6:49 AM on August 10, 2011

Best answer: Oh, and this:

She sleeps in a small bathroom, with newspapers in the shower so she can pee/poo

is a really bad idea. Dogs resist soiling the area where they sleep. You're basically training her NOT to eliminate there. Read up on crate training and you'll see where you're going wrong.
posted by jon1270 at 6:51 AM on August 10, 2011 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Agreed, dogs don't shit where they lie. Also, don't scold her when you catch her in the act. This in turn makes her think peeing is bad and she'll try to do it out of sight of you (hard lesson we learned w/ our st bernard puppies). Keep her deification spot in a corner somewhere out of the way. When you catch her in the act just quickly and quietly take her to the spot and let her finish. Also, if you only want her to go outside don't have a spot inside. The best way is to really take her outside every hour and immediately after she eats or drinks. The good thing about potty training when they're so young is that they usually pass food and water quite quickly after eating/drinking.
posted by no bueno at 6:59 AM on August 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I'm starting to fear all the elimination problems are due to cat related anxiety. Today, when she woke up and my bf was about to take her into a walk, she saw the female cat and peed on the hall. Could it be territorial?

If it is related to the cats, and the cats are stalking/making her anxious, I would guess the peeing is a submissive gesture rather than a territorial one. If it is related to the cats. Like jon1270 above me, I'm not sure I would immediately ascribe this to the cats so much as age and mixed signals.

Definitely do all you can to keep her with you at all times - this is a learning process for both of you. She's learning where it's okay to eliminate, but at the same time you should slowly but surely start to pick up on her more subtle cues that she needs to go so you can take her outside as soon as you can. With me it's been helpful to actually keep an un-housetrained dog on a leash even indoors, "tethering" the leash to my belt loop so we're always together - not just in the same room, but within immediate eyesight of one another so I can catch those accidents as they happen, the only time you can actually do anything to effectively alter her behavior. As soon as she starts sniffing, walking funny, or just gets that "special gleam" in her eye, scoop her up and take her out to the spot you'd like her to use outside.

Also, are the indoor papers really necessary? I would think that at such a young age it would be especially confusing to figure out two different places where she can eliminate - you want to make things as straightforward and uncomplicated as possible, not ask her to figure out not only that she should usually pee outside, but that there are also specific places inside where the "only pee outside" rule isn't in effect. (Moreover, this might be biased as I've only known a few people to use pee pads, but each of those people have ended up having troubles with their dogs eliminating on bath mats, towels left on the floor, and other surfaces with a similar texture. I'm sure there are plenty of people who can testify to their successful use, but imo it just doesn't seem like a great solution in the long run if you can avoid it).

What a cute puppy, by the way =) Keep at the training, be consistent, and keep a close eye on her at all times - it will take some time, but she'll eventually get it. Good luck!
posted by DingoMutt at 7:08 AM on August 10, 2011

Oh, one more thing: definitely err on the side of taking her out more than she needs to rather than less. Even on the order of once or twice an hour (or more, at least at first!) - and don't forget to reward every time she potties outdoors - perhaps treats as well as praise, at least until she associates your praise with something good. The act of elimination relieves a discomfort and as such is self-rewarding, meaning that every time she does it indoors she'll be more strongly associating eliminating there with a positive feeling, making it all the more challenging to break the habit. With my current dog, my partner and I didn't really make much headway in training until we were taking her out literally every 15-20 minutes or so to ensure that she never had much of a chance to potty indoors. Yes, it was a bit of a pain, but a week or so of that (plus treats for a successful outdoor trip) made a huge difference in helping to communicate to her that hey, pottying outside is a pretty great thing!
posted by DingoMutt at 7:19 AM on August 10, 2011

Best answer: I am really confused why you are trying to train her to poop where she sleeps, and why you are training her to poop and pee in the house. This goes against every single instinct a dog has. Dogs don't wake up in the night because they have to pee, that's a thing humans do. You dog needs a safe, secure place to sleep, far away from where you expect elimination to happen. Elimination needs to happen outside only, or you're going to be training twice: once for the paper/tub, and once outside. The way you're going, you're going to have poop in the shower for years.

Starting right now, clean up the bathroom until it is spotless. With bleach. No trace of doggy effluvia. Buy a crate that's big enough for your dog to stand up and turn around in, no bigger. Put it elsewhere in the house, another room, not the closed-door bathroom. Cover it with a sheet or a crate cover, fill it with towels. You now have a doggy-den, and this is where your dog is going to need to sleep, every night. Put her there tonight. When you get up, open the door with the leash in your hand, clip it to her collar, and go right outside, do not pass go, do not collect anything. Outside immediately. Walk around until she does her business. Every time she goes, praise her and give her treats.

Feeding should occur after walks, 2x/day. Once in the morning and once in the evening. With a puppy, you might consider a walk first thing, feeding, then a potty break almost right away after the meal to get her in the habit since things move quickly through tiny intestines. There is a difference between a walk and a potty break. Puppies need both, and sometimes, adult dogs do, too. Don't let her graze on food all day or give her small meals, all that does is make her elimination schedule impossible to track. If she eliminates in the house, and you catch her in the act, grab her and take her outside. Don't bother with "no," once the peeing or pooping starts, not much she can do to make it stop. Don't bother punishing if you find poop or pee in the house, she can't connect the past event with your unhappiness.

I really don't think your cats have anything to do with it. Trouble housetraining is trouble with or without cats, and your previous method is probably more to blame than your cats.
posted by juniperesque at 7:22 AM on August 10, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I would feed before taking your dog out for a walk say 15 mins or so as puppies especially seem to like to poop/pee after eating. I am not a big fan of crating, but have seen it work with other peoples dogs. I like the tether method as I'm home with the dogs, so basically the dog is on a lead near me at all times so I can see if they start looking like they need to go potty, then I can whisk them out and give them a tonne of praise every time they go outside and lots of high value treats. I prefer this method as the dogs learn to signal me that they need to go out. I had one dog that used to just sit queitly by the front door when he wanted to go out and in a 2 story house the poor guy used to have to hold on for ages. So now I like to train my dogs to find me to take them out.

This is just my take on it though and crating or any of the other methods mentioned also work fine. Which is actually sort of what you are unintentionally doing using the bathroom anyway as your dog will not want to pee/poop in a small area its confined too. So your dog might take to crating easily.

Just pick one consistent method and message and stick with it.

Oh and never say No to a dog that's pooping or you'll end up with one that's too scared to poop in front of you and will hide and poop in the weirdest spots. . .ask me how I know and how much carpet cleaner I went through before I undid that training mistake of mine.

Also at that age what DingoMutt says, take them out a LOT so you can catch them doing their business where you want them too then praise them like they just pooped solid gold.
posted by wwax at 8:14 AM on August 10, 2011

Best answer: There's a wealth of knowledge online, of course, about housetraining dogs, but you don't give enough information in this post to figure out if there's a specific problem with your puppy.

How long have you had the dog? When did you get her? What did her breeder/rescue/shelter do? Are you using elimination commands too? Are you only expecting her to eliminate after walking on leash (some dogs won't) (And is she getting off-leash running time - there are two schools of thought, that it can be a reward after eliminating or that it can stimulate elimination)?) and are you using the same spot and does she have a surface preference (there's information around that talks about how elimination can be stimulated by what surface their paws are on and how taller grass can direct dogs to a certain area in off-leash parks)? And are you either working with a trainer or going to puppy classes? Etc. Four months is an interesting age at which to get a dog - a puppy from a proper breeder might have come to you earlier, so I wonder how long has this been going on; a rescue might have been fostered and trained at this age before being adopted out; a shelter means your dog might have unknown issues; and a pet store...well...I won't say. But it doesn't have to be even that complicated.

Yes, juniperesque has it - the best, most basic way to re-train your dog, and any dog, to eliminate outside. Because you're doing things that are definitely "off" (fine - wrong) (or, say, needlessly creatively) and which make me wonder (and ask gently) if you've had a dog before? This part is also strange: "We take her there several times per day, and we've started taking her outside on walks too." You don't take her out several times per day? And started taking her outside on walks too?! That's odd. It sounds rather like you're confusing dogs and cats. One of the reasons dogs are delightful is that the are simple in so many ways when it comes to having their needs met (if there are no pre-existing issues) and most like routine.

Further, there are all sorts of techniques for training your dog's attention on you - and working through distractions are part of them. The cats should have nothing to do with it - unless you're treating your dog like a cat that goes for walks? And training a dog to focus on you is a Day 1 kind of thing to do, so fifteen minutes of that today, and doing what juniperesque said (maybe with using elimination commands) should clear things up within a very short time.

One more tip - your praise need to be either a high-value reward, or super excited words and lots of petting. Often dogs who seem a bit clueless have learned that they can go through life doing pretty much what they want, apart from the odd correction which they don't learn from if they're not done right. If your only strong reaction to this dog has been excited play or mis-timed and placed corrections, your dog just plain doesn't know what she's doing right.

Good luck with your lovely pets!
posted by peagood at 8:33 AM on August 10, 2011

Best answer: I have raised two Sheltie puppies. One has had only one accident in the house, EVER, in his entire life and the other only had a couple and they were within the first few weeks. By the age of four months eliminating in the house was inconceivable to them. Here is what I did to help my puppies succeed:

1. I crate trained. I started with a small crate just big enough for the puppy to comfortably sleep. At night the crate was on the floor right next to my side of the bed; during the day it was out in the living area. This way I knew immediately when the puppy was awake or had to potty. Also, puppies want to be with their people; at night, it comforts them to smell you and hear your breathing. I made the crate a fun place to be by playing all kinds of games with it, leaving treats inside for the puppy to find, etc.

2. I took the puppy out to potty:
a. Immediately upon awakening in the morning and after every nap. If puppy peed/pooped, then back inside for 20-30 minutes of playtime (this increases as I learn how long puppy is safe to hold it), then back into the crate. If puppy didn't go, then puppy went straight back into the crate for another 20 minutes, then out for an other try.
b. 20 minutes after every meal (adjust as you learn your puppy's transit time)

3. Any time my puppy was out of the crate, my eyes were on him/her. Actively watching, eyeballs on the puppy, so I could catch the very first signs of sniffing, circling, etc. I did not say "no," I just quickly picked up the puppy and brought it outside to go.

4. When puppy was done pottying outdoors, I acted like it had just laid a golden egg. Lots of praise and treats. If puppy had an accident inside, I took puppy straight outside and praised if it went some more, then back inside I just cleaned up the mess without comment.

The keys to this plan are the crate and your eyeballs. The crate keeps the puppy from going when you can't watch her, because she won't go where she sleeps. Your eyeballs keep her from making a mistake indoors, because you are always right there to whisk her outside, and she rapidly makes the connection of outside=potty=praise/treats.

Shelties are among the easiest breeds to train. I'm very involved in dog sports and around tons of Shelties every weekend, and I've never heard of one with a housetraining problem. I'm not saying this to make you feel bad, just to make sure you understand that the problem is NOT your puppy--she's just confused because you're asking her to do something completely unnatural. Paper trained dogs are never completely clear on where it's okay to go; if you want a properly trained dog, you have to take it outside. I've done this in a high-rise condo so I know it's inconvenient, but I also know it's the only way to get a dog that is rock-solid safe in the house.
posted by HotToddy at 8:44 AM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We have a sheltie who is about 2 1/2 now, and house training her was hellish. I can remember walking her and trying to get her to go first thing in the morning (when I knew she had to go) for 30 minutes in freezing rain. She never did go. It took well over a year before she was trained. And when we have to board her she gets completely messed up and it takes a couple weeks before she stops peeing in the house again.

Shelties are extremely submissive, so I agree that the peeing on the floor was a submissive sign. She is afraid of your cats. (Ours is afraid of our pet rabbits. And Christmas wreaths. And air vents.) Because they are so submissive, any kind of harsh discipline is counterproductive; it just freaks them out. If we so much as raise our voices our sheltie immediately rolls onto her back and exposes her belly. I agree with everyone who has said that trying to train your dog to eliminate in the place she sleeps is just confusing her. Get a crate, use it consistently. Until she is trained she will need to spend more time in the crate than out of it. We eventually decided to do away with the puppy pee pads because we realized that we were going to end up having to train her twice; once on the pads and then to go outside. We hung bells on our door and she learned to ring them when she wants to go outside. (She also rings it to let us know that her water bowl is empty, and once when the tray her food and water bowls are on was too dirty. I am not joking.)

On preview I see HotToddy's comment about never hearing of a sheltie with house training problems, so maybe you and I are the only ones! But I had dogs growing up and my husband and I had another dog prior to our sheltie, and we never had potty training issues like we had with Lily the sheltie. Use the crate, be consistent, and eventually you'll be successful.
posted by Bresciabouvier at 8:51 AM on August 10, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for your comments. I realize now we're doing it wrong. I'll look for a crate today to take her out of the bathroom. We thought the shower doors would be enough to separate the toilet from the sleeping area, but clearly they're not.

...which make me wonder (and ask gently) if you've had a dog before?

Heh, fair question. Yes, I've had dogs before, but it was in a house with a garden and a backyard, which made it very easy to train them and to separate them from the rest of the pets. It's my first time having an apartment dog and a sheltie.

This part is also strange: "We take her there several times per day, and we've started taking her outside on walks too." You don't take her out several times per day? And started taking her outside on walks too?!

Didn't explain myself well there. We take her into the shower several times a day. We couldn't take her outside as she still needed an immunization shot, that's why we had to assign a toilet area in the shower. She just got her shot and the OK from the vet to take her outside.

peagood: We got her from a breeder, but I don't know what did they do to train her (my bf must know). For safety, we use a leash at all times, and we're using elimination commands. We've had her for 3 weeks. We praise her enormously and sometimes give her a piece of kibble. We've already taught her to sit using the same method.

HotToddy and Bresciabouvier: thanks for the breed-specific answers. I agree shelties are highly trainable, but it makes sense that, if her peeing is a cat-related reaction, it would be submission. We'll take care not to make her nervous with harsh discipline.

Again, thanks everybody.
posted by clearlydemon at 9:10 AM on August 10, 2011

we're using elimination commands.

How? If you don't know when she's going to do her business, how are you teaching her what those words mean? If you say 'go potty' and the dog doesn't go potty, then from the dog's perspective you've just made some nonsense noises that have nothing to do with anything.
posted by jon1270 at 9:18 AM on August 10, 2011

juniperesque said most of what I'd say, but please, get a good MODERN puppy training book like "Before and After Getting Your Puppy" by Ian Dunbar and actually learn how to train this puppy! You will be happier and so will your puppy!

(also a bit of kibble is not really much of a reward for something as important as this, think cooked chicken or steak or cheese! No matter how much you might like broccoli, I'd bet you like cookies more, and I'd bet you'd consider a cookie a heck of a lot more of a reward than a bit of broccoli!)
posted by biscotti at 3:52 PM on August 10, 2011

Response by poster: ...from the dog's perspective you've just made some nonsense noises that have nothing to do with anything.

Yeah, pretty much. I've read a lot of conflicting information (including scolding/not scolding when you catch them in the act), so we're probably not doing it right. We use the commands when we take her to the places where she's supposed to pee/poo, and praise afterwards if she does it.

biscotti: thanks for the book recommendation and the reward tip. We taught her to sit and lay down using just kibble, so I wonder: if we give her a better prize for potty training, will she also expect the same kind of prize for other kind of tricks?

An update of sorts: we changed her sleeping areas, started crating her (we feared her current crate was too tiny but it's working well), and kept taking her outside frequently. She is starting to eliminate outside successfully (although not every time). We realized the leash inhibits her and she pees when she's off-leash, but it's something we should work on as I'd rather have her leashed for her safety.
posted by clearlydemon at 11:23 AM on August 11, 2011

Best answer: Most dogs will work just fine for kibble at home, but you need to change it up to something better for more demanding and distracting things (I usually use a mixture of really good treats like steak, chicken, cheese and kibble when I'm working on things my dogs already know, but I ALWAYS use something super-good when I am first training a behavior, or when I am "proofing" a behavior (when I am teaching my dog that "sit" doesn't just mean "sit down in the living room at home", but also outside, and at PetSmart, and at the vet's, and at agility trials). I don't work for free or for a pat on the back, I don't expect my dogs to. You will be much more successful with your training if you choose to look at rewards as beneficial to you, to help you train your dog, as well as as something your dog deserves for a job well done. If you are concerned about calories, just feed her a bit less kibble, but don't be stingy with rewards, especially food rewards, food tends to be the strongest motivator for dogs.

There is a tendency to worry about what your dog will "expect", but really, as long as you are training using food as rewards (and not as lures or bribes), you should embrace the motivating power good cookies gives you. It's a feature, not a bug.

I would really recommend you find a good positive puppy class that uses modern, science based methods, this will help you learn how to train your dog using rewards in ways that don't mean the dog ONLY works when you have a piece of cheese in your hand. Good luck!
posted by biscotti at 5:26 PM on August 11, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks biscotti, that makes sense. I've known many dogs that beg or steal food, so I was wary of depending too much on human food.

I know it's bad form to give best answers to everybody, but every answer had something that we are incorporating in our relationship with our dog. We're not quite there yet, but we are doing much better.
posted by clearlydemon at 10:37 AM on August 15, 2011

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