Help me help my dog: Potty training edition
June 14, 2014 1:31 PM   Subscribe

I love my dog, but I am at the end of my rope. He's a sweet young chihuahua mix but can't seem to master potty training. I found him as a stray when he was about a year old. He was likely horribly abused: emaciated, terrified of people, cowered/shivered when approached, had never eaten out of a bowl, covered in ticks in a very urban area, and so on. He may have never lived inside. After three years, he's much rehabilitated but still struggles with house training.

The good: he is sweet, cuddly, and never has bitten or been aggressive. He has a great doggie personality. We love him.

But: he pees and poops in the house. He has ruined the hardwood floors in our rental apartment--this will cost thousands of dollars to fix, which I can't afford. Sometimes he's scared of his leash and won't go for walks, and hides underneath furniture. He will go for walks and not pee at all.

What we have tried: I've never yelled at him, rubbed his nose in the pee, or raised a hand (let alone hit him). We leave pee pads out for him, which he uses with mixed success. Sometimes pees on them, other times pees elsewhere. A routine schedule is not possible due to my irregular work hours, but he does go out a few times a day. I've tried treat training him when he potties outside, walking him longer, heaping praise on with each successful potty, etc., but nothing seems to help. We've even tried a dog walker, but the dog will hide under furniture when anyone comes and the dog walker can't get him out of the house. Sometimes he goes potty on command, so it doesn't seem like an issue of non-comprehension--so what gives?

We're hoping to move to a place with a yard, but live in an area with a really tight rental market and very few yards. I've also likely compromised this rental as a "good" rental reference, so I'm nervous about how we'll be perceived as applicants in future housing (or even if our current landlord will sue us for damages, as I imagine the floor refinishing will exceed the cost of our deposit). As much as I love the guy, I am struggling with the idea of dealing with the accidents and hiding for another 10+ years, and have thought about surrendering him. I don't want to do that, and never thought I would, but I'm really at the end of my rope.

Any thoughts, recommendations, experiences, etc. are greatly appreciated.
posted by stillmoving to Pets & Animals (15 answers total)
Is he crate trained? If not, try that. It is the quickest and easiest way to house train a dog.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 1:35 PM on June 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I agree that you should consider crate training. I have seen puppy crate setups where they have one "sleeping" area (that they are instinctually loathe to soil) and one "puppy pad" area, which teaches them to go on the puppy pad and not anywhere they please. That may help alleviate some of the problems with an irregular schedule.
posted by muddgirl at 1:42 PM on June 14, 2014

What does he love? Like lovelovelovelove? When he goes outside, give him that.

I've known some chihuahuas that were not terribly food motivated, so that might be your problem right there.

Crate training will also likely help with this.

As will some kind of a regular schedule. Can you make a bathroom schedule for him that doesn't depend so much on your work hours? Like if he was at least getting one solid reliable walk per day, you would at least have a place to start from. Could you commit to every morning at 7:30, period, even if you don't work till 10 or got home at midnight, or the like?

Regarding getting a walker, does he ever warm up to other people who aren't you? Could you gradually introduce someone, and let him get comfortable, and then they start coming by for walkies? Maybe even walk with them a few times?

If you're going to give up on the walks idea, what about training him to use the pads just like you would if you were training him to go outside or at a certain spot? Treat him to high heaven every time he goes on the pad. Take no notice of times he does not go on the pad. Get rid of the pee smell in other parts of the house with enzymatic cleaner so he doesn't continue to use his old favorite spots (which is probably why he sometimes uses a pad and other times doesn't -- dogs want to pee in places that already smell like pee).
posted by Sara C. at 1:57 PM on June 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

In best case scenarios, a pee pad helps a dog differentiate between where it is okay to pee inside the house and where it isn't. However, with many dogs, all it teaches them that it is okay to pee inside the house. Almost every dog can learn to differentiate between inside and outside, but dogs do not have cats' litterboxing instincts and many require regular and ongoing training to go specifically and only on pads inside the house.

I'd recommend a combination of crating and hiring a dog walker so that you can take eliminating inside the house off the agenda entirely.
posted by northernish at 2:10 PM on June 14, 2014

How small is he? Very tiny dogs have very tiny bladders. Seeing as you have irregular hours, he might seriously just be unable to hold it in. You might have some success with an inside potty patch and a week or so of intense house training- if you can get the time off work that would be ideal.

It also sounds like you're doing pretty well with his fearfulness, but it's obviously still an issue and you are feeling like it's connected to his pottying. Seeing a qualified positive trainer or behaviourist might help you take him on further and resolve some of these issues.

And yeah, get a crate or at least contain him in a tiled/lino room when you move house! You don't need that financial trouble on top of everything else.
posted by mymbleth at 2:41 PM on June 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have you tried high value treats? Like 'Perdue chicken nugget for peeing appropriately'?

We have found that to be tremendously effective.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:41 PM on June 14, 2014

Does your dog go in the house when you are home? It only when you are at work?

Some of it may be separation anxiety during the day. We house trained our puppy without crating her by setting alarms at night to take her out. We'd wake her up every 3 hours or so (since that's how big her bladder was at the time) and took her outside to go potty in the middle of the night. Once she went to the bathroom outside, she came right back in and went to sleep. It definitely made it easier for us in the long run (but sucked so so badly for the first two months). She was house trained at about 4 months old with that method. She's 7 months now and we haven't had any problems.

Maybe doing something like this during the night where going back to sleep is kind of a reward?
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 2:51 PM on June 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Is your dog neutered? Marking can take the form of both pee and poop.

It is harder to house train small dogs, in my experience. You have to undo set bad habits.

This is what I did:
No unsupervised freedom. Leashed, in an expen or crated.

I learned to time my dogs intake and output...45 min within eating he will poop..every dog is different.

First sign of anything, dog goes to spot you want him to do his thing. Praise and treat. Over and over and over again.

It is time consuming to do this and may not result in a 100% housebroken dog but it will improve your hardword floor problems.

Doggie diaper or belly bands if all else fails.
posted by cairnoflore at 4:41 PM on June 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

If he's a Chihuahua mix, is he small enough you could try litterbox training instead?
posted by dilettante at 5:34 PM on June 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sometimes certain dogs are not compatible with certain living situations. It's not a failure on anyone's part, but some dogs have behaviors that are immutable. Considering that this dog has already put you thousands of dollars in the hole, it would not be unreasonable to consider rehoming him.
posted by DWRoelands at 6:25 PM on June 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Nthing crate training. Pee pads are terrible; they give dogs inconsistent messages about what is and is not ok when it comes to potty and the indoors unless you can be present at all times to reward the dog for using the pee pad. So your dog is going.... wait... sometimes it's ok to pee inside around all these indoor smells and sights... sometimes I have to do it outside with all the outdoor smells and sights.. so I guess I can just go WHENEVER I FEEL LIKE IT!! WHEE!!!

I know that like, no other country in the world does crate training, and lots of people find it weird. But it *really works.* We have never failed to fully housebreak a dog in a couple of weeks of consistent crate training. This requires you to become aware of your dog's "I hafta pee or poop" signals, too.
posted by xyzzy at 6:54 PM on June 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

no other country in the world does crate training
Exactly! But I brought my pup with me to work, and he had to stay in the car most days, because a colleague was allergic. I guess that might as well be crating. He would not pee in the car, so he learnt to wait till I came to walk him. In the beginning every 90 minutes, but in the end up to 6 hours. (Car parked in the shade, water and air available).
Now he is happy to stay at home, and doesn't protest at all when I leave, nor does he pee when he is alone. But I still close off most of the apartment, so he only has the kitchen and hallway (linoleum floor in kitchen, hallway floor already a disaster when I moved in). Could you do something similar? Maybe with those little children's gates, or something similar made to measure?

About the floor - could you post a little more about the qualities of the floor and why you think it will be so outlandishly expensive to repair it? I am going to need to repair some floors in my home because of dog-stains when I move at some point, but it will cost me max 1000 dollars. And repairs are normally cheaper in the US than here.
posted by mumimor at 1:00 PM on June 15, 2014

Someone suggested Belly Bands, particularly for male dogs. They help a lot in the process, as does limiting where the dog can go while you're gone. Reinforcing the command with high-value treats has also worked with many of my tiny foster dogs.
posted by answergrape at 10:38 AM on June 16, 2014

Thanks everyone! We will try a combination of crate training and chicken nugget bribes, and hope for the best. (And for a yard to move into soon).
posted by stillmoving at 12:11 PM on June 16, 2014

And to reply to the questions above:
- Yes, he is neutered
- Mumimor: the floor is in an old apartment building, and we've been told that because of the damage to the floor (and possibly floor boards), the spots will need to be sanded and refinished. I have no idea why it is so expensive, except that we live in one of the most expensive areas in the US.
posted by stillmoving at 12:48 PM on June 16, 2014

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