Housebreak a dog and keep my sanity
March 4, 2013 6:00 PM   Subscribe

The internet is full of lame gimmicks, wannabe dog whisperers, and advice on crating. Help me housebreak my poor, dumb, dog for real.

About a month ago, after lengthy deliberation, my SO and I rescued a dog. I've had dogs before as recently as two years ago; SO has experience, too. This dog is a very kind and loving hound/Beagle mix. He isn't food aggressive, he's good with the SO's 3 year old, and we like him a lot. He's two and a half and was likely part of a litter of hunting dogs. As such, he knows next to nothing. I'm working on leash training, which, with the help of a Gentle Leader, is working (sort of.) The other stuff? Not so much.

My other two dogs were rescues. One took to new skills quickly. I taught him to shake and play dead in two weeks. The other, an older Beagle, couldn't learn to save her life. This new dog is much the same. He craps in unpredictable locations and times all over the house. We do two feedings a day and a morning and night time walk, more or less like clockwork; he's not catching on at all. Sometimes he'll actually go when we go for walks. Other nights, he refuses no matter how far we go (or how much I repeat the "do your business/hurry up" mantra). Our entire house is slowly starting to smell like a barn, and I'm losing I have lost my patience.

This dog is just too large to crate. He's as tall as me when he puts his paws on my shoulders, and even though I weigh at least 190lbs he can pull me around like a rag doll with ease. I don't want to have to fight him in and out of a crate; he's afraid of elevators, so I'm sure there would be more coaxing and nonsense than I'm willing to provide.

If you're wondering about my previous dogs, my old house had a doggie door so they could come and go as they pleased. Even so, they would both hold it until the heat death of the universe if they had to. New dog can't be arsed.

What can I do that is as close to surefire as two very busy people can manage? When a routine, admonishments, treats, expensive harnesses, and all the patience in the world don't what do I do? I hate to rehome him, but it's looking like my only option.
posted by littlerobothead to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My friend paid a local trainer to keep their dog for several weeks to potty train them. After having gone through the joy of potty training a willful puppy, I though that was genius.
posted by cecic at 6:06 PM on March 4, 2013

Are you cleaning his messes as thoroughly as possible, using an enzymatic cleaner like Nature's Miracle? Beagles are scent hounds, so his sense of smell is much stronger than ordinary dogs.

Maybe the food you're using is isn't right for his system? Maybe he can't really tell when he needs to go until it's too late? A different food might give him more time to realize that he needs to go before he actually goes.

Is there any way you can confine him to a smaller space in your house, e.g. a bathroom or the kitchen, maybe by using a long gate similar to this?

I'm no expert, just trying to think of things you might not have tried yet. Good luck. I tell my beagle all the time that we love him for his looks, not his brains. Dumb as a post, that boy...
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:22 PM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

He may simply have never lived in a house before, so you're at square one. Saying "do your business" is absolutely meaningless if he hasn't been trained to respond to that phrase. You can't explain anything to him, so you're stuck with reinforcing the behavior when it happens, which in this case means you need him to crap when you and he are both outside, together, and you need a (figurative) USDA choice filet Mignon in your pocket to give him when it happens. Unfortunately the act of crapping is self-reinforcing no matter where he does it (it feels good), so you also need to prevent mistakes or at least be there at the moment they happen so you can take him outside immediately. You don't want to crate him (though I bet an appropriate crate exists), and the only real alternative is to have constant supervision, which you can't do because you're so busy. So yeah, do like cecic suggests and hire a trainer to do it for you. If the thought of that makes you reconsider finding a crate, don't ever try to force him into it; acclimate him slowly and train him to spend time in there willingly.
posted by jon1270 at 6:27 PM on March 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Just a thought on the containment, perhaps instead of a crate, get one of the pet fences/pens? I have the 48" tall one that is 8 24" wide panels. That would let you contain him without forcing him into a small space. Amazon has pretty much the best prices I've found on those.

All I can say is good luck! I have a beagle mix who is still working on the concept of "You CAN hold it, you've PROVEN you can hold it, you've gone WEEKS at a time holding it, SO WHY DID YOU JUST PEE 20 MINUTES AFTER YOU WENT OUT?!" And she's over 5 years old.
posted by HermitDog at 6:37 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine started saying "hurry up, hurry up" when the dog was actually pooping. Wasn't long before he could just say "hurry up" when they went outside and ta-da! Fascinated me to say the least, lol.
posted by PJMoore at 6:47 PM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Everything I've learned about housetraining says that crate training is the best way to go with most dogs (with some exceptions, e.g. if the dog has separation anxiety). This will work especially well if he doesn't go when you have him can come in and put him right back in the crate and keep trying every 20-30 minutes until he goes. Most dogs will not go potty in their crate.

Have you checked to see if you can find a crate that he will fit in? I'm sure there are some out there. If he doesn't like to go in, throw some treats in there so he will go in willingly and then shut the door behind him. If you throw a frozen peanut butter kong in, he'll be able to keep himself busy for quite a while and may not even notice he's in there. The goal is to start to associate going into the crate with a fun treat and he'll start to go in willingly. The crate is meant to be a good, safe place for a dog - like their little den. So always try to make it a positive experience with treats and praise. He may not like it at first but just let him be, make sure he's not uncomfortable in any way and he'll get used to it. Neither of my dogs liked the crate at first but they both got comfortable enough with it because they learned that it was fun treat time. Alternatively, do you have a small bathroom or laundry room you could put him in while you're gone? The key is to not let him have unsupervised access to the house while you are away.

When you're there, I would (and did) use the umbilical cord method. One of my dogs was recused from an abusive situation where he had never been potty trained and learned to go wherever and whenever he wanted to in the house. I had him crated when I wasn't home and when I was home I took him out roughly every two hours (more often at first, so he could learn where to go) and kept him leashed to me (his leash attached to my belt loop) when we were in the house, so he went everywhere I went. This was KEY because he couldn't sneak off and go in a corner and he wouldn't go potty where he or I were sitting. I was actually able to potty train him relatively quickly this way (within two weeks). He had a couple minor relapses over the following months, but one year on and he is absolutely perfect.

This site (The Housebreaking Bible) also has some good tips. Good luck!
posted by young sister beacon at 6:53 PM on March 4, 2013 [7 favorites]

A couple things I would recommend:

- Do not let the dog out of your sight when you are at home. Yes, I know, easier said than done. You may need doggie doors or the like. But it's a lot easier to train a dog when you can keep your eye on him!
- In terms of crating, one very reliable way to get the dog to like it is to feed them in it. Also any other time the dog is crated, it gets a treat. If you say "kennel," both of my dogs (neither of whom are the most obedient, but they are very Pavlovian) will run to their crates. You also don't have to lock the dog in the crate at the beginning, just make it very attractive.
- When you're on walks, treat (with a tasty training treat, not just a Milkbone) every time they eliminate. And praise the hell out of them. My Corgi grew up as a mostly outdoor dog and when she moved in to my apartment it took her a little bit of time to figure out that walks meant potty time. Fortunately she didn't eliminate in the house, but she would take *forever* to get her business done outside because she was so excited to be on a walk!
- If you are having difficulty talking walks (which I'm getting from your references to him dragging you when he's on a leash), I highly recommend the Gentle Leader. It's made things so much better with my rescue Terrier!
- Even if you have a lot of experience with dogs, taking the new guy to obeience class is a great experience for you both. The structure is really helpful, and it's nice to have a professional's opinion. I was surprised at how quickly my Terrier became basically a totally different dog after even a few sessions, and this was going to classes at Petco ($100 for 6 weeks).

Also, it's customary to share pictures when you post an AskMe about a pet. I mean, how can we possibly give good advice without knowing how adorable he is? :)
posted by radioamy at 7:29 PM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Before crates, this is how we housetrained dogs. First off, until he's housetrained, doggie doesn't go anywhere in the house without you and when I say, with you, I mean he can never be more than three feet away. If you're not right there, then doggie is gated into a non carpeted space. Ideally, this is a small space, like a pantry or a corner of the kitchen but in a pinch the whole kitchen will work. It also really really helps if there is a door to this space outside. You can buy baby gates relatively cheaply; for a big dog, you might need to stack two. You want gates and not doors because you want the dog to a) feel like part of the family, not isolated and b) realize that he too could be part of that space - that doesn't smell like poo - once he gets himself under control.

Then, you will need either lots of newspaper or puppy pads. Start off with the entire space covered with the newspaper or puppy pads - these work better. Your dog will soon enough choose a favorite location for bathroom functions. Great! Now start eliminating the rest of the newspapers and praising, praising, praising your dog for doing his business in the same space each time. Slowly, bit by bit, move the papers towards the door. Slowly, slowly, they will move outside and so, ideally, will the entire process. No door? You're going to be taking the soiled pads outside on walks. Yes, it's gross, but the smell reinforces that hey, this is the place I poo! And every time he poos or pees, he gets a treat and a hug and a lot of verbal praise. Praise praise praise. And good luck. Beagles are not the easiest dogs in the world.

Also, you're going to lose your shit at him at least once - probably when you've just spent an hour outside and then you come back in and he immediately trots over and pisses on the couch - and I think that's okay. Just don't make a habit out of it. Scaring him but good one time by shouting and cursing and throwing things isn't going to kill either one of you and it may even help. But it will be okay. I have only ever known one dog who could not be housetrained and he was a puppy mill Shih Tzu, so this is really doable. But it probably will take at least six weeks and maybe more. so settle in for the long haul. You've only had this dog a month or so? That's really hardly any time at all.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:02 PM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

This dog is just too large to crate.

I wonder if the dog's size is part of the problem with getting the rhythm and figuring out that walkies = potty time.

I also recently rescued a dog, and while I'm unbelievably lucky that he has housetrained easily, one of the challenging parts is that he can hold it a long time and doesn't necessarily need to go right after eating. I mean, he will go most anytime I take him outside, but getting him to go isn't as simple as feeding him then taking him outside an hour later.

Can you tell when he's about to go? Not so much like he barks near the door or whatever communication system people establish with their dogs, but like, does he start circling and sniffing and doing the dog version of the peepee dance? When you see him sniffing around for a good spot, can you rush him out the door?
posted by Sara C. at 8:16 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, I didn't want to crate my dog (especially since he came pretty much housetrained), but people kept telling me to get a crate for some other problems I was having. I had a lot of concerns that the crate itself was going to be a huge source of conflict and stress which would simply add to the problems that already existed. But so many people told me to crate that I got a crate, set it up in the apartment, put Alvy's bed inside, and figured we'd deal with whatever drama arose.

My dog took one look at the crate and was like FUCK YEAH I'M HOME NOW BABY. It hasn't solved all our problems, but it has made certain things a lot easier and definitely sped up his ability to adjust to his new life.

I mean, could you obtain a crate and see if your dog maybe took to it? And if he didn't, no big deal?

Re crate sizes in general -- when I bought mine Petco had crates for dogs up to Mastiff/Great Dane size. My 60 lb lab mix has the second largest and frankly could have gone down a size. I could lounge comfortably in there and I'm a 5 foot tall woman.
posted by Sara C. at 8:22 PM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you have tried all those methods in just the past month no wonder the dog is a little confused. It sounds like to me you are on the right track, I really would suggest picking one set of rules and sticking to it for more than a month. Two months at least, three would be better. I would avoid telling the dog off as you may end up with a secret poopper who will hide to avoid being told off and leave you presents in weird places.

My favorite method is what I like to call the crapping gold method. When the dog stays to go, the very second it starts you praise the dog like it's poopping gold, use your key word in with all the praise as this will help train that. When it's finished more praise and even as treat may be in order.

I know it's a pain to train an untrained older dog this from scratch. If you can't crate, would keeping the dog in an easier to clean area while you are out be possible?
posted by wwax at 8:49 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

This dog is just too large to crate

Just a comment on this, my parents had difficulty training their 140lb black lab (who also looks me in the eye when he stands up on my shoulders...I'm 6'1), and they were able to find a crate large enough for him. Bodie can stand up, turn around and sprawl to his heart's content and loves his crate. Worked like magic for some food issues they were having. I believe they had to go to a couple different stores and special ordered the crate, but they do exist if you do decide to crate train! Might be a bit more work trying to find one in the right size.
posted by snowysoul at 8:50 PM on March 4, 2013

We used a baby gate (the brand we used is called Regalo). For insurance, we used a waterproof mattress pad on the floor in the area that our dogs was confined to. I got a fanny pack and kept super yummy treats in it. When walking, the dogs got treats popped right into their mouths immediately after they went pee or poop.
posted by dottiechang at 9:38 PM on March 4, 2013

I've had lots of rescue labradors and I've crated each one. You can do it -find a huge crate (look in used ads) and bribe him with food until he gets inside. Most labs at least are morons when it comes to hot dogs. I tried the newspaper method years ago and its a pain. Not to mention they still go in the house and you still have to clean up. I've rarely had a dog that does anything in his crate.

The minute you let him out of that crate, make him go outside and use a strong tie out if need be until that dog goes. If he eats, he goes outside after, if he wakes up after, he goes outside, if he has been inside for more then one hour, he goes outside. Use a can filled with quarters and shake it the minute you see him lift his leg or squat. Keep a leash on him so you can drag him outside or out a room where you don't want him to be. Confine that dog until he learns how to behave indoors.

If it makes you feel better, friend had a pointer that was a hunting dog that was adopted at about 1 year. It took a long time to get him housebroken simply because hunting dogs just aren't trained to do any indoor stuff.
posted by lasamana at 3:36 AM on March 5, 2013

Best answer: The nice thing about dumb dogs is that it takes them a little bit of time to catch on to what you're trying to train, but once they've got it, they've GOT IT. (Owner of an unbelievably sweet but not-very-bright rescue hound here.)

Are you using a clicker? I highly recommend the clicker, especially for slow dogs, since their poor little brains might not be quick enough to connect the treat they get 30 seconds after peeing/pooping outside with the act. Clicking him as soon as he squats down to do his business (after you've done the initial work to show him that click = yummy treat) makes it easier to understand that going potty outside is a fast road to reward. Still might take him a few days or a week to get it, but I've found it remarkably effective in re-training my not-so-smart dog to toilet outside the house after she gets into the habit of peeing inside (e.g., after a bladder infection she can't hold it, and then she keeps smelling that same spot on the rug as an okay place to pee again).

I picked up The Other End of the Leash on a metafilter recommendation when we first adopted our rescue pup, and it definitely influenced me to do positive-reinforcement clicker training, and I'm so glad for that. My partner and I had both grown up in families with dogs, but those dogs had been relatively bright (in my case, a husky mix that was willful and intelligent) and I was very surprised how much a clicker made communicating with a not-so-bright dog a million times easier--even for things like "poop outside not inside."
posted by iminurmefi at 6:43 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

My dog took a year of solid work to house train plus an additional 6 months of close watching before I felt comfortable saying, "he will NOT go to the bathroom in the house." Was it a giant pain in the ass? yes. Was is worth it? yes.

- Kept in my sight line or in his crate, at all times.
- Walked on an extremely strict schedule. 8am, 12 pm, 5pm, 9pm, 2am (he did start sleeping through the night after a couple months and we could cut out the 2am)
- If he went by the door we took him out immediately.
- The walking routes were very specific. We had two, a normal route for the scheduled walks and a shorter route for the sitting by the door walks. The point was that he would learn that he needed to to go the bathroom within this time frame and we wouldn't just be wandering all over kingdom come waiting for pee. Walks were not for fun, they were for doing business.
- Tons of praise for going to the bathroom outside.
posted by magnetsphere at 7:43 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "Also, you're going to lose your shit at him at least once - probably when you've just spent an hour outside and then you come back in and he immediately trots over and pisses on the couch - and I think that's okay. Just don't make a habit out of it. Scaring him but good one time by shouting and cursing and throwing things isn't going to kill either one of you and it may even help."

Please, don't do this. It is not okay to "lose your shit" on your dog, to scream, curse or, dear god, throw things at him. No, not even once. This is not only beyond the pale of acceptable behavior (and it really, really is), it will also not help you housebreak your dog. Positive reinforcement, consistency, and patience will.
posted by MeadowlarkMaude at 9:36 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I hope you get something to work for you. Beagles are adorable, but man, are they stubborn.
posted by Doohickie at 10:23 AM on March 5, 2013

You need to "set him up for success." Until he's housebroken, you should to walk him far more often than twice per day, and not let him out of your site when he's inside. When housebreaking both of my dogs (one from puppyhood, one adopted as a 3yr old), I walked them once per hour, every hour (except overnight), for at least a week. Then down to every two hours, three hours, etc. They currently get 3 walks per day. When I'm not at home, they stay in the bathroom -- puppy was crated until we got the second dog (the bathroom has a tiled floor about the same sq footage as 2 dog crates would be). He'll learn to do his business outside, because that is the only place he'll be doing his business (that is, you'll walk him often enough that he won't ever have the opportunity to go inside; he'll be conditioned to going outside). If you don't have time for this, then you should hire a dog walker.

I repeat the "do your business/hurry up" mantra

He's a dog. He doesn't speak English. Unless you've taught him that command, he's not going to have any idea what it means.
posted by melissasaurus at 10:39 AM on March 5, 2013

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