Potty Problems

  Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.

  – William James

Um....yeah.  You're doing it wrong

Um….yeah. You’re doing it wrong

So you’ve taken the plunge.  You’ve gone to the local shelter and adopted an adult dog  who seems to fit your lifestyle perfectly.  Sweet disposition - check.  Good with your children – check.  Housebroken - check?

The shelter may have told you that your new dog is housebroken, typically what that means is the dog didn’t soil his/her cage frequently.  But here’s the rub: dogs won’t usually soil the space they are confined to.  Also, there’s more to housebreaking than just letting them know that the unsavory happens outside.  There are a bunch of nuances attached. For example, they may know that they can go outside, but that’s different than being forbidding from going inside ever.

Dogs also urinate and defecate for reasons entirely unrelated to actually having to go.  As previously discussed, dogs have an incredible sense of smell.  To them it’s probably their most important sense.  Compare it to how humans use sight: it’s that important to them.  So they do send signals and communicate occasionally using scent.  Urine can be used to claim things (you know That Dog who pees on everything).  They use it to send up a white flag of surrender, showing that they are not dominant at all  (this is usually done belly-up while trying to submit).  They do it because they are too excited (piddling).  Finally, they do it to self-soothe.  Nothing smells more like safety than your own scent.  It can be a combination of these reasons as well. Frankly, the reason doesn’t matter.  You pretty much handle the situation in the same way.

First, you must be Pilot.  If a dog has a calm, confident, benign Pilot, they are less likely to claim things because they belong to you.  They are less likely to need to self-soothe because they have Pilot to guide them through scary situations. The Pilot can “claim” their energy when they are winding themselves up to the point of almost piddling, and soothe them so they can calm themselves down. Piloting isn’t just a momentary thing…it’s an all the time thing.  So by Piloting the walk, you are putting money in your Piloting Piggy Bank for the next time Rover considers claiming your child’s bed. By claiming the door and guests when they arrive, you are helping your dog feel calm, and averting the piddling.  So in essence, by Piloting your dog in every day situations, you are actually helping to housebreak him.

Photo courtesy of Brittany Graham Photography

Photo courtesy of Brittany Graham Photography

But, down to the nitty gritty, how does your dog learn to only go to the bathroom outside, because even if we eliminate (ha!) all of the other variables, they still have to answer the call of nature. A couple of simple steps.  Your dog’s age will play a huge role in how long it takes to housebreak them.  A puppy can take a lot longer than an adult dog over 1 year (generally speaking, anyway).  But here are the steps no matter the age:

  1. Control yourself.  As with anything else, anger, rage, feeling the need to punish….none of these help, and in fact, will make the issue worse.
  2. Control your environment.  In other words, unless you can actually have eyes on your dog, put them in a contained environment.  A cage or crate will do just fine (your dog should have just enough room to stand up comfortably and turn around to adjust their position).  Sparta was trained to a specific mudroom (hey, she’s huge!).  We simply put up a baby gate.  You can also use a “monk lead” so your dog isn’t quarantined for their entire life.  Take the latch end of the leash, slip it through the hand part.  Now put the leash on like a belt and attach the latch to your dogs collar.  You’ve just created a hands-free leash.  Wear your dog around the house!  Your dog can bond with you, interact with you, but you don’t have to worry about him going off and doing his business in an unsatisfactory manner.
  3. Teach him that going outside is good!  Take your dog outside, to the same spot, frequently.  Eventually, they are going to have to do 1 or 2.  The entire time they are eliminating, repeat a word over and over (potty, potty,potty, potty,potty, potty)You are naming a behavior.  When they cease with their elimination, you cease with the word, replacing it immediately with Touch, Talk, Treat (praise, coupled with a gentle pet and a treat).  Pretty soon your dog will eliminate on command when you say Potty.

Some nits some of my clients have asked me about:

My dog will only go to the bathroom in the basement when nobody is home. Why?

Your dog is very submissive and/or nervous.  Remember, a dog’s defecation can be used in conjunction with claiming things.  If your dog is choosing to go where it absolutely can not be mistaken for his claiming something.  Dogs like that will choose to go wherever there is the least amount of competing scent: the basement, a rarely used dining room, etc.  They don’t want to cause a rift by covering your scent with theirs.  Keep calm and Pilot on.

My dog will go on my child’s bed!  How do I stop this?!

I see this a lot with adolescent dogs who are trying to find their pack order.  I saw this with Orion.  For a period of about a month, he would try to go on everyone’s bed (think about it…it’s the place that smells the most strongly of us).  Except mine.  He would try to pee on my husband’s side of the bed.  The kid’s bed.  You get the drift.  Since I had poured so much Piloting into Orion in every other instance of his life, he never bothered to try to challenge me.  We resolved this by my claiming the children’s rooms, and bed and my husband claiming our bed, by using the negative body language. We also kept Orion either on a lead attached to us or in his crate during this very trying time.  The behavior ceased with just a little time and a lot of patience.

Keep at it.  Keep a sense of humor.  And realize, just like with potty training children, accidents happen.

Photo courtesy of Brittany Graham Photography

Photo courtesy of Brittany Graham Photography

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio