House training

One of the worries many people have about taking on a shelter dog is in house-training it. The good news is that many dogs, including those who have been in the refuge for years, never go to the toilet in the house. Older dogs have bigger bladders and stronger habits. Many dogs wait until they are out of the enclosures before they will go to the toilet, and even in the refuge, they are ‘clean’ because they have been trained to be. It can be very hard for some dogs to break those habits. As someone who has had many foster dogs through her home, I have a few tips for you and a great video.

Toilet training is about creating good habits, and you can start those before you even get home. The great news is that it is much easier with adult dogs who know when they want to eliminate.

Adult dogs often go where they have already been. Uncastrated or castrated male dogs are often keen to go over the top of previous sites to reinforce their scent. They’ll also go where female dogs have gone to ‘over-mark’. Female dogs, on the other hand, can be very lazy and use scent much less. It can be much more difficult to housetrain a female – and that can be for medical reasons related to sterilisation, or because they are less interested in marking territory.

The best thing you can do to encourage a dog to urinate then is to take it to a spot that other dogs have been and wait until they go. You don’t need to use praise with a dog who eliminates outside because they might think you are rewarding them for eliminating rather than for eliminating outside. As Dog Rescue Carcassonne say: “- Giving treats for toileting in the garden, again the dog is being rewarded for what he did not where he did it. Whilst this is not going to be as big a problem as the reprimand, the clever dog will learn to do lots of little wees and never fully empty their bladder. The insecure dog may wee indoors to appease you if you get cross about something else because they know that this is something that pleases you and gets rewarded.”

Make sure as you leave the refuge that the dog has eliminated, especially if you have a long journey.

When you arrive home, you may be keen to get them inside, but keep them on the lead and walk them around the garden until they do their business. Make sure you stay outside for another ten minutes or so because you don’t want to reinforce that doing their business marks the end of your time outside. You don’t want a dog who holds on just so he can enjoy the garden more! A lead will ensure you can keep them in the spot that YOU want them to go, and you can check that they’ve gone properly.

When introducing them to your home, keep them on a lead for the first thirty minutes or so and if they show the remotest leg cock or lady squat, distract them, move them away and take them outside. Walk them all around your home and only when you are happy there’s been no cocking or squatting, let them off the lead. Watch them for the first hour or so to make sure they are not wandering around happily doing their business. If they do, distract, move them away and take them outside again. If a dog never pees in the house, they are never likely to. Once they’ve gone, however, it can be impossible to stop because no matter how you try, that place will still smell of pee and they will want to go again in the same spot. If they do go, a very strong smelling cleaner and some fabric spray can mask it. Bleach is essentially ammonia and the smell resembles that of urine – so no bleach!

Remember that although dogs do not generally like to urinate where they sleep or eat, they may do it where other dogs sleep or eat – thus, they might do it on another dog’s bed or near another dog’s food bowl. Not only that, dogs don’t have a real concept of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ as we do. In the house, there are ‘familiar places’ and ‘unfamiliar places’ and not all are pee-proof in a dog’s mind. Generally, the less you use a room, the more likely it might be to attract a dog’s attention as a spare toilet. Keep doors shut and supervise your dog’s movements – watch for the signs they might be about to go. Good management is crucial.

After this, treat your new rescue like a puppy. Take them outside the very first thing in the morning. Wait until they’ve done their business before going back inside, even if it means standing outside watching them in the pouring rain. Take them before and after eating. Take them if they’ve just stopped playing. Take them if they’ve just woken up. Take them before bedtime. Don’t be afraid to remove all water sources after 9pm for a couple of nights and take them out before bedtime. Empty bladders are less likely to stimulate the need to pee.

Dog poop generally comes just before or after each meal. If you feed twice a day, expect them to go twice a day and expect it to be within 30 minutes either side of regular mealtimes. It can take up to a month for their bodies to get used to a new food regime, so be patient and supervise them until you know they’ve gone.

Remember, it’s on you to supervise, not on the dog to tell you. Accidents happen because you’ve not been quite vigilant enough, so don’t be cross at the dog. Do not punish the dog or rub their nose in it. It’s up to us to teach them and accidents – though frustrating – are to be ignored.

The tough thing to work on can be when the dog is alone and unsupervised in your home, especially if you have to go out or work. A smaller, enclosed, secure space is better for this, especially if it is a place they regularly sleep or eat in. Many dog trainers recommend a crate for this very reason. As it can be very hard to stop a dog going indoors once it’s started, crate training can help with that.

This video from Zak George talks you through some of the best practices for toilet training, including crate training. Be aware – crates are not for all dogs. As he says, “crate training will never be acceptable for some dogs.”

Finally, if you are having real problems, especially if your dog seems to be trying to pee and not able to go, take them to the vet. Real struggles to keep it in may be related to a medical issue, not a behavioural issue.

Further reading:

Dr Marty Becker