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— November 5, 2013 —

House Training for the Difficult Dog
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

One of the common issues I am asked about is house training. While house training a puppy is challenging, house training an older dog can be particularly challenging.

Capone is at my house right now. He’s a two year old shepherd mix that we are fostering until he finds a home to call his own. He’s been with our rescue for a while now and we’re hoping the right place comes along soon. He has lived mostly in a kennel and at a vet’s office for the majority of his life, so as you can imagine, house training Capone has been a challenge.

Capone was rescued from an accidental breeding where two neighbors had unaltered dogs. Capone ended up with parvo, and fortunately he survived. He stayed at a vet for a while before he made his way to us. While living at a vet with parvo, he basically had no choice but to stay in a kennel all the time. Parvo gives a dog serious diarrhea, so he would just eliminate in his cage. Since he learned to eliminate in the cage, his house training was made that much harder.

When I think of house training a puppy, I generally think of crating the puppy, both for his safety when I can’t watch him and to encourage the pup to hold his bowel and bladder. Puppies (usually) have an instinctive resistance to eliminating where they have to sleep, so the crate facilitates this. I make sure to take the puppy out every couple of hours, with a sigh of relief when the puppy can finally hold it through the night.

Once the pup makes the connection, we give more and more freedom as we realize the pup is learning to hold himself. The idea is to avoid giving the puppy any opportunity to eliminate in the house. If it happens, we make no big deal about it and clean it up. Make a mental note and try to figure out what the time limit or situation was that caused it. Of course, we know we need to take a puppy out as soon as he wakes up from a nap, after eating or drinking and after vigorous play sessions. All of these things can make the puppy “go.”

(As a side note, I cannot over-stress the importance of NOT punishing your puppy if he has an accident. Your puppy most likely won’t figure out that it is because he is inside. He will just figure that he shouldn’t go in front of you. Therefore when you walk him, he’ll think he shouldn’t go in front of you. Dogs that have been punished often run in back the house and hide to do their business, even after a very long walk. You will make your house training that much more difficult if you punish your puppy for “accidents.”)

There are a few things that can screw up the puppies natural desire to not soil his sleeping area. Living in a pet store cage is one of them. Hopefully you don’t plan to buy a dog from a pet store, but if you do, know that living in a kennel at a store forces a puppy to eliminate where it sleeps. This can really make the house training difficult since they have overcome the desire to have a clean sleeping area.

Capone basically had the same situation with the added challenge of having lots of messes in his cage. It was unavoidable due to his illness and we’re making significant progress.

I mentioned before that certain things trigger the dog to have to go. Eating and playing can get even an older dog to have to go. I have observed also, that in a well house trained dog, the simple act of going out can have a similar triggering effect. My older male rottie can pretty much hold it forever, but will go number 2 every time I take him out, even if he has gone pretty recently and he hasn’t had anything to eat. He just has to do it. Capone has a similar reaction to going in a kennel. It makes him poop, even if he doesn’t really have to.

Going to the bathroom on a leash was also a challenge for Capone. He just didn’t know what to do when he was outside on a leash. We have overcome this through the use of treats. He goes outside and if he does his business, he gets a treat. He’s figured out how to make the treats appear by doing his business. He even tries to get an extra treat occasionally, by squatting after he’s completely finished.

Capone is about 3/4 of the way there. He is now going to the bathroom outside with consistency. He seems to know what he is out there for. While he’s not completely against the idea of going in the house, he is getting better. He sleeps in bed (yes, we allow that and I don’t care what the “old wives tails” say about him dominating me for it) and will hold it all night. Also, we have been waiting a bit to take him out in the mornings. As long as we make him stay in bed, he will hold it. It’s like using a kennel. He doesn’t go where he sleeps, but we can’t use an actual kennel as I noted earlier.

We don’t give Capone him a lot of freedom. If he doesn’t do his business on a walk, he is leashed to Amy or me and kept very close. I have a few times not taken him out after 30 minutes inside and the next walk was successful. Also, we make a point to take him out every 2-3 hours. As a rule, I don’t depend on my dogs to tell me when they need to go out. I have an idea when they need to go and I take them. In general, if they have to tell me, I feel like I’ve made them wait too long. When we can’t keep Capone tethered to us, he is confined to a bedroom where we have piddle pads. He tends to have his accidents in one corner, so that corned is covered in piddle pads. After going through a case and a half of piddle pads, I can say that our piddle pad usage does seem to be declining. So that’s good.

House training a dog like Capone is difficult, but it can be done. If you understand how not to make the job harder, you can get good success. Capone has been with us for about 4 weeks and he has made major progress. I really think that if we stay consistent for a couple more weeks, he’ll figure it out.


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