No matter what life brings you, always take a lesson from your dog: kick some dirt over that s**t and walk away. – Anon
So many phone calls I receive start out with, “HEEEEEEELP!!!!!”. Then a series of problems repeated quickly, like the small print of a lease option on a car being read by a radio announcer. Somewhere in the explosion of problems, I hear “not even housebroken!”.
Most people assume that if their dog is going to the bathroom in the house, their dog isn’t housebroken. But going to the bathroom in the house is a symptom of the problem, not the problem.
Look at it like this: imagine you have a headache, so you go to the doctor. The headache is the symptom of the problem, not the problem. You could have a sinus infection, head injury, or cancer. Or did you drink too much last night? Do you have allergies? So many reasons for the same problem – a headache. Sometimes it could be more than one of these issues. Maybe you have a cold and drank too much last night. Same thing with housebreaking. So what causes a dog to do “it” in the house? Let’s take a look at common problems:
The dog isn’t housebroken. This is rather obvious, but sometimes overlooked, especially in shelter dogs. Most dogs will naturally refuse to eliminate in their cage, crate, den, etc. Most shelters dogs are either in their cage or taken outside for breaks. That doesn’t mean they are necessarily housebroken simply because they never go in their cage – it means that they were never given an opportunity to do otherwise.
The dog is stressed. Scent is a very important thing for humans. We bond through scent. We cradle babies by our armpits so they can smell us and be relaxed. We hug for the same reason – sharing scent. How often has a crying baby been brought in to snuggle with mom, and then, without nursing or anything, instantly falls alseep? They smell mom and feel soothed.
For a dog, nothing smells safer than pack. Pack is like a security blanket, and the bigger that blanket is, the better it smells. A dog’s own scent is mingled into the pack scent. In times of stress (read: separation from pack) they may try to self-soothe. That’s why you frequently see dogs urinating in their crate. It’s the equivalent of an infant sucking their thumb – they need to be soothed, and their doing it the best way they know how.
They are claiming something. Yesterday I had a training session with two gorgeous whippet mixes, Wyatt and Willow. About five minutes after I walked into the house, Wyatt (the dominant being in the house) lifted his leg and peed on a chair nearby. His owners were horrified! He had never done anything like that before. What happened?
Well, Wyatt was in charge of his pack, humans included. I walked in with strong, confident body language which he (correctly) read as my taking over the pack. This was his last ditch effort to claim something from me. It was, in essence a pissing contest (no, I did not participate). It was the same reaction a guy will give if he sees another guy across the bar eyeing his girlfriend – what does he do? Calmly places his arm around his girlfriend, stating to the world: she’s mine.
They know that going outside is good, but they don’t realize that going inside is completely undesired. It’s a simple mistake. They think that outside is merely preferred to inside.
They’re scared to go outside. So many of my clients tell me that their dogs will go No. 1 outside, but No. 2 is done in the basement or some unused corner of the house, almost exclusively. Why? Well, let me ask you this: why do you close the door when you go to the bathroom? “Privacy” is the answer I usually get. But what is privacy? Privacy is when you are doing something that leaves you slightly vulnerable. That’s why (ahem) certain activities typically take place at night with the lights off. That’s why we close the door when we shower or, even more likely, go to the bathroom. We’re vulnerable. A dog is so much more vulnerable when they are going No. 2 rather than No. 1. Think about what they do the whole time they are going No. 2: scouting for threats. Looking all around to make sure there’s nothing about to pounce them while they are indisposed. Typically dogs who are not very self confident, or small dogs who are so much more vulnerable than their larger counterparts, have this problem. Orion 7 lbs. of nightmare to housebreak for this very reason. Sparta (all 100 lbs of her) was a dream to housebreak).
These are just a few of the many reasons why dogs will eliminate in the house. Your dog may have more than one reason for going in the house. Just remember, your dog is a dog – perfect! They are trying to live, as a dog, in a human world.
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio