What should we do to help make this apartment potty training experience work best?
April 7, 2006 10:33 AM   Subscribe

How should we modify housetraining if we live in an apartment building?

Nine days ago, we added a eight week Border Terrier to our pack (gratuitous puppy shots here). Everything is going as expected. Ollie (the puppy) is a great dog: smart and engaging and we enjoy discovering more of his personality each day. We've been working hard on housetraining and done a bunch of research. My partner and I have housetrained dogs before, but both time we were living in a house. My earlier puppy learned to signal that he needed to relieve himself by going to the door. Now, we live on the fifth floor of an apartment building. We're dutiful to pick Ollie up in our arms hourly, ask him "Is it potty time?" and walk him downstairs to the patch of grass outside the apartment building. We tell him to "Go potty" and he does. This is fantastic. He seems to get that this is where he needs to go "potty". There are accidents in the house (to be expected at his age and always of the urine variety). One of us picks Ollie up and take him outside, while the other cleans the accident up.

So, to the heart of my question. Because this is the first time we're apartment housetraining a dog, I'm a little concerned that he's not going to "get" that he needs to signal to go out (the caveat being that I may totally be over-analyzing this). Since he's always being picked up, I'm a little worried that he's just learning that we're always going to take him out. I'm not expecting him to be accident free at this point, I just want to make sure we're making the best decisions to help him achieve some reliability and inter-species communication in the housetraining department.

We wondered about walking him to the elevator and out to his grassy area, but he can't really make it that far without a pee.

We've also decided that we want to housetrain straight to the outdoors (vs. paper training or litter box training).

So: What should we do to help make this apartment potty training experience work best?
posted by gavia to Pets & Animals (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Maybe bell train him? We bell-trained one dog by just using her paw to poke a bell on our way out the door. She pretty quickly associated the bell with going out. If she touched the bell by herself, even accidentally, we'd *instantly* take her right outside. The fact that she was carried didn't early on didn't seem to inhibit anything. If Ollie associates going out with potty, then it might be fairly easy to incorporate the additional signal.

We did take down the bell eventually - she learned to use it as a 'butler pull' to summon us to the door for treats rather than going outside. Who's training who, anyway?
posted by cairnish at 10:54 AM on April 7, 2006

Does he know that going to the door of the apartment means "going outside?"
posted by agregoli at 10:55 AM on April 7, 2006

As you've already suspected, the only modification I'd really suggest to what you're already doing is to start letting him walk at least out into the hallway (to avoid accidents in common areas), so that he learns to associate going out with going through the front door. I would also not say "is it potty time?" when you go to take him out, there's possibility for confusion there (since you use "go potty" as the actual cue that here and now is the time and place to let 'er rip), I'd suggest that instead you use something like "wanna go out?", or anything that doesn't actually contain "potty". At eight weeks, he not ready to understand that he needs to ask to go out, he still needs you to take him out on a schedule (after every sleep, meal, playtime and at least every 2-3 hours otherwise in most cases). What he needs to learn right now is that "go potty" means "go potty" (using a cue for this is an excellent idea and the single most useful thing I trained my current dog), and that going potty where you tell him to means that good things happen for him (in addition to the relief he gets from just going, you should praise him gently while he's going, and then have a little party when he's done, so he absolutely understands that you are VERY happy with him for going where he should). If he gets used to the idea that the bathroom is through the front door, he will naturally start going to the door when he needs to go (and is a bit older and better able to understand this), but he needs to get there under his own power, on his own feet, to start making this connection.

You are 100% absolutely right to want to avoid paper training or anything at all that encourages a dog to relieve itself inside. Paper training is one of the fastest and easiest ways to make proper housetraining incredibly difficult for a dog to understand. In my house, the dog's bathroom is always outside, the less you let a dog relieve itself inside, the easier it is for the dog to never learn that it CAN relieve itself inside. A few accidents are pretty usual, but housetraining can be incredibly easy if you just follow the basics (which you seem to be doing already, so good for you): every 2-3 hours without fail; after every sleep, meal or play; when not crated, keep the puppy attached to you with a leash (this is called "umbilical cord training" and also makes all kinds of other training easier) so that he can't sneak off and relieve himself, and so that you can more easily see when he looks like he might need to go. Sounds like you're well on the right track and are making a great home for this little guy, Border Terriers are real characters (and he has a lovely, correct "otter head", what a cutie!), enjoy him.
posted by biscotti at 11:02 AM on April 7, 2006

Response by poster: Agregoli: I would say that Ollie does not equate going to the door with going outside.
posted by gavia at 11:03 AM on April 7, 2006

I think pretty much any dog will eventually make the connection between the door and outside, probably within a month or two, without you really trying. My dogs all learned "outside" just because I talked about going there and then went there, and we had to start spelling o-u-t to prevent a 5-dog pileup at the door if we were just talking about it and not planning to go. The dog that lived in my room with me went to the door every time my laptop clicked shut, which was completely unintentional but pretty accurate at the time.

Bell training seems like a great idea, though. You'll want to take the bell away when you're not home, which will reinforce to the dog that just ringing the bell doesn't make outside happen, and will help him learn to hold it as long as he can. It's also preferable to learning to scratch at the door.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:13 PM on April 7, 2006

Are you absolutely against crate training? In all of my experience with housetraining dogs, I've never been able to be really successful without it.
posted by pazazygeek at 1:16 PM on April 7, 2006

Response by poster: Pazazygeek: Ollie has a crate and sleeps in it, and is beginning to hang out inside it. If we have to leave him, he's in the crate too. So no, we're all for crate training.
posted by gavia at 2:37 PM on April 7, 2006

Doggy litter box.

Stella loves hers, and training was a snap. She has not intentionally peed or pooped anywhere else in either apartment in the last two years, with one minor exception. We've even downgraded her into the smallest box (for dogs up to 6 pounds) even though she's a 20 pound pug, just to save space.
posted by MrZero at 3:24 PM on April 7, 2006

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