Pro Tips for Housetraining

I am often asked for advice about housetraining by clients who haven’t had a puppy in the house for several years. I give a brief refresher on positive reinforcement, a basic explanation of crate training, and discuss timing of the visits outside. This seems to be adequate for most situations, but a few pups hang on to their old habits for somewhat longer than anyone expects. For those troublesome dogs, here are a few pro tips:

Take your dog to the exact same spot every time you go outdoors, and the scent of a previous elimination will help to remind her why she’s there. If you are cleaning up accidents indoors, consider bringing those scented objects out to “the spot” to ratchet up the odor there. Dogs normally sniff around and pace from side to side as they prepare to urinate or defecate. Be sure to allow your pup time to complete this behavior sequence before expecting him to do his business. If he’s too busy playing, you might try pacing back and forth with a short leash on him in order to mimic this pre-elimination ritual.

Make sure you are dressed and ready to take your pet out before making an appearance in front of her crate. She might not be able to wait while you perform your own pre-elimination rituals, such as donning a coat, lacing your shoes, or locating your house key under the couch cushions. Every indoor accident is an opportunity lost, and every success is one step closer to a reliably housetrained dog.

You know the best time to take a puppy out is 15-40 minutes after eating, but did you know that chewing on rawhides and toys can initiate the same sequence? He may need to eliminate after gnawing on his favorite plaything, so watch for the cues. One source recommends placing a bell on your pup’s collar so that you’ll know when he abruptly stops his playful movements to focus on squatting. When the bell goes silent, that’s the signal to scoop him up and rapidly move to an appropriate spot outside. Remember not to make a fuss when mistakes are made. Remain silent until you have tricked your pup into doing the right thing.

Do you know someone with a dependable older dog who can loan her out to you? Allowing your pup the opportunity to admire an older dog at work may be just the thing you need.

When it’s time to dole out treats, remember to think like a dog. In order to fully grasp the connection between the two events, your student must receive his reward within one second or so of the desired behavior. Don’t make the classic mistake of waiting too long; this just fosters confusion.

When you have a dog that seems especially slow to house train, the most important key to success is remaining positive. As tempting as it may be to lose your cool, remind yourself that negative reinforcement (punishment for failure) has no place here because it just doesn’t work.

Dr. M.S. Regan