by Healey Lockett
House training, or house manners are critically important. Soiling the house is the number one reason people surrender pets to shelters. No one wants a dog that constantly makes a mess in the house.
If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a dog owner say: “He’s doing it on purpose.” Or, “She’s knows she’s not supposed to make a mess in the house, but she does it anyway.” Or, “I found a spot of pee on the carpet and he looked so guilty, he knew he’d done wrong.” I could quit my day job; I’d be rich already.
If your dog is routinely ‘having accidents’ in your house, your dog is NOT housetrained. You can re-train, but I’m not going to sugar coat this: It will take time and dedication on your part. The first thing you have to understand is:
Your dog is not doing this on purpose.
Dogs don’t comprehend revenge, or guilt. Those are purely human constructs.
If you’re finding spots or piles, your dog doesn’t know he’s not supposed to urinate or defecate in your house.
He probably knows that the pee and the poop in the house are bad. Especially if you’ve found it and scolded him. Because we’re humans, with big brains we’re able to make the logical leap between action and product. But your dog does not. Dogs live in the moment, so this next piece of information is essential to forming your housetraining plan.
Your dog does not connect the action (urination, defecation) to the product (pee, poop) after the mechanics of elimination are finished.
Once he’s done, the dog’s brain moves on. This is why it is so essential to catch your dog in the act. Yes, your dog ‘knows’ it’s his pee, he can smell that it’s his. What he doesn’t ‘know’ is where he’s supposed to pee.
What your dog does know is that when you come home, he is going to be in big trouble. So when you walk through the door, and he’s hiding, and ‘looks guilty’ yes, he ‘knows’ he’s going to get in trouble. Here’s why.
You haven’t paired the action with the proper location, you’ve paired the results with being punished.
Your dog doesn’t feel guilty. He’s terrified because he’s anticipating punishment, and is trying to placate you won’t be so harsh on him. Is that really the best way to try and teach any creature? Of course not.
There are two keys to teaching your dog proper location for elimination.
Constant vigilance. I really mean constant. Either you are watching your dog every minute, or you have her in a place where it’s safe for her eliminate and you can easily clean it up.
Frequent, supervised trips potty trips. For puppies, new dogs, or dogs you’re trying to re-train, I recommend potty trips every 15-20 minutes. Supervised means you stand out there with your dog, and praise like crazy when she goes. A few treats will really help cement in her brain where the potty spot is.
- You have to show your dog where the potty spot is.
- You have to get your dog to the potty spot.
- You have to praise your dog for using the potty spot.
Leave out any of the items I’ve mentioned and you are setting your dog up to fail. The single biggest mistake dog parents make is assuming a dog is trained when the dog is successful at going outside once or twice. They stop watching the dog as closely, they stop praising the dog for being successful.
Have you ever heard it takes about 21 days to establish a new habit? Like, if you’re trying to exercise more, or eat healthy. Wrong! It actually takes 66 days to establish a new habit – for humans! Dogs are smart, and some are very fast learners, but to really set you and your dog up for success, plan on spending at least 2-3 months actively watching your dog, taking her out to potty, and praising when she does.
I cover all aspects of housetraining in my book, Dog Care and Training for the GENIUS. I give you all the details on how to set up a plan, set up your house, and set up your dog for success.
Visit my website, healeylockett.com and click on the Dog Care and Training for the GENIUS link at the top. That page has a link that will take you directly to my publisher, and gives you a coupon for 15% off.
Healey has 20 years of experience training dogs and 10+ years of exotic animal training at the San Diego Zoo and other institutions to draw upon. “I’ve trained wolves, cheetahs, and sea lions – and even taught a porcupine to walk on a leash! I’ve found that any animal is trainable; it’s the humans who need the help.”
She is the author of Dog Care and Training for the GENIUS, and her goal is to teach people how to craft a training program that suits their dog.