Now, cryin’ won’t help you Prayin’ won’t do you no good When the levee breaks Mama, you got to move - Led Zepplin, When The Levee Breaks
This post was originally published in 2020. Updated March 2022.
So many questions have been pouring in from my clients regarding housebreaking. There are some fallacies regarding training your dog to be housebroken: they're doing it to spite you, they know better, they can hold it longer, but are choosing to pee in the house.
Housebreaking isn't always about teaching a dog to go outside. There can be a lot more to it, and an old post that popped up regarding Orion shows some of the other reasons a dog may be urinating in the house. For more information on other reasons your dog is eliminating in the house, check out this link.
Orion peed on the floor last week.
I’m not going to say it’s my fault, because I let him out, I saw him go, and I let him back in. Besides, I’m not a big fan of blame. I’m surely not going to blame Orion. He’s a dog. What happened was this:
I took Sparta for a walk.
I know what you’re thinking. How on earth could taking Sparta for a walk result in a mess on the floor from Orion. Was Orion trying to get back at me? Answer: No. Dogs don’t work that way. Here’s the blow-by-blow.
1) I know Orion is a super-hyper dog with a lot of energy. If I don’t help him get rid of that energy in productive ways, it turns into nervous energy.
That’s a bad thing. Orion had a lot of energy that morning. I’ve been pretty busy, and haven’t been giving him quite enough outlets during the day. Yes, we still hiked, but he’s a dog who needs a LOT of physical activity to be at his best. And while each day he had enough exercise to skim the energy off the top, I didn’t empty his cup, if you will. Unfortunately, that builds up over time, and then the cup spilleth over.
2) Orion has a nervous temperament as well. He’s like a skittish racehorse. And when he has some shock to his system (like my taking Sparta for a walk before him, which is our usual MO), he literally can’t hold it anymore Like a 4 year old on Christmas morning. Yes, the child has been potty trained, but if you add too much excitement, nothing is stopping the flood.
3) I forgot who my dog was. Orion has a bit of separation anxiety, especially with Sparta. I know Orion initially self-soothed by, uh, eliminating in a high stress situation. Yes, we worked on that, and he’s been amazing these past few years. But this is a behavior you manage, rather than cure. Orion hasn’t eliminated in the house in a very, very long time. I just happened to create the perfect storm for him.
So what should I have done?
1) Paid more attention to his need for activity. Yes, I was busy, but that’s a reason, not an excuse.
If I blow the engine on my car because I was too busy to change the oil, I don’t get a pass from the mechanic who has to replace my engine.
I’m the one who got the car/dog. It’s my responsibility to change the oil/exercise the dog. No excuses. Figure something out, or, in my case, clean something up.
2) Control the situation. So the amount of activity in our house has been down, meaning I was already setting Orion up for failure. So I added on top of it. I know he’s used to going for the walk first, and was ready to go! Except, I reneged on him. And rocked his little world. That merely added to the stress he already had from lack of activity.
3) Dog training starts with knowing your dog. This is Orion, not Sparta, who hasn’t gone in the house since, like, ever! I know his triggers, and as I work with him, they trigger him less and less, but still, he has them.
So this week I’ve been proactive. His amount of activity per day has been increased. I’ve gotten him accustomed to being along in the house first, while I take Sparta for very brief walks, (like out the front door, down the driveway and then back) so he gets used to the idea and isn’t traumatized by it.
So now when I’m presented with two dogs who are each waiting for their (separate) walks, each with a lot of energy, I’m able to manage the situation better. I hold up a leash and let them know I’m ready for my first solo dog walk of the day with one of them. And rather than this reaction from each of them:
I control the situation, and ensure calm ensues, so while whoever doesn't get to walk first is disappointed, they know that they will still get their walk. Just not right now.
Orion knows now that just because he isn’t first doesn’t mean he isn’t skipping his walk. And I know now that good enough is only good enough for so long. Now I’m very careful to make sure I get rid of all of Orion’s energy. He's a dog, who does dog things.
If I'm going to ask a dog to give me human behaviors, such as housebreaking him, it's up to me to set him up for success.
Creating calm in most situations in the house, such as calmness before I let them outside to play, to calmness before I put down their enrichment toys, creates a general vibe in the house for everything: calm. The more situations I paint with a calm brush, the more often that's the automatic reaction I get. And when you have a dog who has anxiety urination, or "glee pee", that's an important part of elimination that behavior. Reconnect with your dog. Remember that they need to love and trust you, and you'll be well on your way to communicating calm in your house, no matter what the unexpected change in routine may be.
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio