The Scoop on Poop: Housetraining Your Dog

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While many pet owners now seek dog-friendly methods to teach basic obedience skills, some of us are still mired in the Dark Ages when it comes to housetraining. During a recent presentation about dog care, I was stunned when the participants told me, quite earnestly, that the only way to housetrain a puppy is to wait until he makes a mess, rub his nose in it and toss him outside. Surely you jest. 

Where had they obtained this erroneous information? Most students said, "That's how my dad does it."

I hate to diss anyone's dad, but the "nose rubbing" technique was disproved long ago as ineffective and potentially damaging to the dog/owner relationship. After-the-fact punishment never works with dogs - they just don't have the capacity to make the connection between your anger and an event that took place even two minutes ago.

Pervasive Misconception

Intrigued by the students' lack of ideas for alternative housetraining methods, I decided to conduct my own personal Galloping Poll to determine the depth and breadth of this fecal phenomenon. In my focus group of friends and acquaintances, a whopping 100 percent either, a) had employed the nose-rubbing technique in the past, b) still thought it was the way to housetrain a dog or, c) had been told it worked, but never tried it. For an inadequate technique that is -- let's face it -- gross, this one certainly has legs.

It's time to shed some light on this unproductive dog-training myth and eradicate it from our collective consciousness.

Why the Myth Persists

Dogs, by their very nature, are loathe to soil their living quarters and usually make every attempt to pee/poop away from where they eat or sleep. Eventually, when the dog starts going outside to take care of business, we may incorrectly assume he's doing so as a result of the nose-stuck-in-poop sessions. Actually, these tidy denning animals gradually mature and learn to take care of toilet issues outside as soon as they realize that our homes -- where we eat, sleep, and hang out -- are just giant "dens."

This is not to say you must suffer through squishy smelly landmines on the carpet while your puppy matures. On the contrary. I consider any misplaced pee or poop a potential disaster -- one that could quickly become a habit. Instead, work with nature, not against it. Take advantage of your dog's denning instinct with the use of crate training, baby gates, and rigorous monitoring to make his inside world smaller, instilling the message, "Hey, we eat and sleep in here, potty outside."

Potty Training Pitfalls

Even savvy dog owners encounter housetraining problems by allowing a new family member full access to the house too soon. The puppy wants to keep his living quarters clean, but our homes ("dens") are HUGE in canine terms. Left to his own devices, the pup will probably avoid messing in the vicinity of his food bowl or bed. But if he eats in the kitchen, he's likely to assume the dining room is located on the outskirts of the den and designate it Canine Bathroom Zone. Of course, what makes perfect sense to him drives us nuts.

Poor timing is another culprit in housetraining missteps. Dogs, especially youngsters, have to eliminate right after they eat, right after they wake up, and after/during a period of activity. Your job is to make sure your dog is in the right place at the right time, guaranteeing success. Take a page from the Boy Scout Handbook and be prepared.

Rewards - Timing is Everything

Immediately reward your dog for going potty in the correct location. That means have his reward on your person so you can say, "gooood dog" and give him a treat the nanosecond he finishes squatting. Don't make the mistake of standing silently by while your dog executes a perfectly placed pile outside, then run inside to get a treat from the refrigerator. Keeping in mind that dogs live in the moment, which action was rewarded? Answer: the last one. In the dog's mind, he was rewarded for coming back inside! It won't take long before he skips the "going outside" part of the activity in order to stick close to his reward center. Once again, the dining room comes to mind.

Messages That Make Sense

If you catch your dog in the act of soiling the carpet, say "Yikes!" and quickly take him to his appropriate location, praising cheerfully as he resumes outside. The object is to interrupt the behavior and turn it into a learning experience. If you punish and scare the dog, he might decide going potty in front of you is dangerous and start sneaking off to eliminate in secret, say, behind the couch or in your closet.

If your dog develops the habit of soiling in the wrong place, try this: thoroughly clean the area with a commercial cleanser designed to neutralize odors. My personal favorite is Nature's Miracle. It's important to remove any residual odor so the dog will not be attracted to that spot again. Once the area is disinfected, feed your dog his next three or four meals there. That's right, simply set his bowl atop the scene of the crime as if to say, "Dude, remember? We eat here."

Removing the Training Wheels - Little by Little!

Here are a few guidelines for starting to trust Sasha and Rex in the house:

-- Proceed slowly by relaxing each of the housetraining constraints separately.
-- Practice rigorous "supervised freedom" when you expand the pup's household privileges. Keep her in your visual proximity and plan to take her outside every hour ... more often if she's active.
-- Keep it short and sweet when leaving the dog unsupervised in the house. Start with one hour in a restricted, easy to clean area. If he was successful, try increasing the time to two hours.
-- Consider the laws of nature. Is your dog less than a year old? Is she a small breed? Has she had several accidents in the house? Have the accidents been recent? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, your dog isn't housetrained.
-- Remember the big picture. You have a decade or more to grant Buddy unlimited household privileges, yet only a small window of opportunity in which to instill bombproof toilet habits.

Carla Jackson is a certified pet dog trainer who has Jackson Ranch for Dogs, a kennel-free boarding and training facility. She specializes in private training/behavior consultations. Check out Cari Bowe's and Carla's DVD, "Your Family Dog, Leadership and Training," an interactive DVD featuring over 60 locally owned dogs learning new behaviors in beautiful Shasta County locations. The DVD is available at many local veterinarian offices and through dogwise.com or jacksonranchfordogs.com.

Carla Jackson
Carla Jackson is a professional pet dog trainer and owner of Jackson Ranch for Dogs, a kennel-free boarding and training facility. She specializes in private training, behavior consultations, puppy socialization and day training. You can find Jackson Ranch on Facebook, visit the Jackson Ranch website, or call (530)365-3800.
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15 Responses

  1. EasternShastaCounty says:

    Thanks so much, Carla. I've often wondered where in the world that idiotic rub-his-nose-in-it started. And while I'm ranting, why would anyone purchase a puppy then tie him up in the back yard for the rest of his life?

  2. david kerr says:

    When your old dog is on her last legs, adopt a new one. The old dog will teach the puppy the house rules better than you can. Take some cool photos of the two of them together.

    It is not like going to the single's bar on the way home from your husband's funeral.

  3. Charlie Price says:

    Oops. Uh oh. But it still works with children, right?

  4. Robb says:

    Great suggestions, well put.

  5. Brenda says:

    Unfortunately this does not work with my yorkie..I have caged him he potties and poops in his cage even near the food and water dishes…Don't think he will ever be house broken…He is three years old now…any other ideas are welcomed.

    • Carla Jackson Carla Jackson says:

      Yorkies and other toy breeds are notoriously difficult to housetrain, but certainly not impossible. Here are a few points you might want to consider:

      1. Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical conditions that might prevent him from being able to “hold it.”

      2. Feed him twice a day, allow him 15 minutes to eat, and then remove the bowl until his next meal. No “free choice” feeding! Snacking all day = pooping all day.

      3. Is his crate too big? When used as an effective housetraining tool, the crate is only large enough for the dog to stand up, turn around, and lie down. You don’t want him to pee/poop in one corner and hang out – all high and dry – in the opposite corner.

      4. When he’s not in his crate, keep him attached to your person so he can’t sneak off to potty in the house. I like to use a 5’ leash and affix it to my belt loop with a double-ended snap. Take him out every hour and reward with his favorite treat or game when he goes potty outside. Can’t keep him with you? Leave him outside in a securely fenced area or put him in his crate with a special chew-toy.

      Good luck.

  6. Donna Dowling says:

    Great post, Carla! I remember one time when our Australian Shepherd, Nick, was a pup. He tried to get my attention to let him out, but I was too busy at my computer and thought he was just playing around. He ended up evacuating his bowels in the living room. He felt so bad about it that he starting barking furiously at the pile, which got my attention. It was rather hilarious. Hard to be mad at him when the accident was my fault. Most dogs really don't want to soil the den.

  7. Chere McMillan, CPDT says:

    Once again, Thank You for sharing such useful information. The "old" verses the "new" techniques make dog education so much easier and so much more successful.

  8. Gay says:

    I have two big dogs a black lab (Buddy) and a mixed something(Knightin) ever once in awhile about once a month. When I wake up I have pile on the carpet I am pretty sure it is Knightin as Buddy will wake me if for some reason he needs to go out durning the night. Now since I never see this happen I have no idea how to control this. I always let both of them out just before I go to bed. Buddy will wake me if I try to sleep in. lol

  9. Gary Andresen says:

    We have taken our dog, Gracie, to Jackson Ranch several times. They are great people and care for your dog as if it were there own. They won't take dogs that don't get along with other dogs, which is good.

    Before they will accept your pet for boarding, they go through testing to see how they do with other dogs.

    Can't say enough good things about them.

  10. Lisa Lee says:

    Great post! We are in the midst of training our pug puppy. It's going slowly but fairly well. Just as soon as we think he's trained however, we find a surprise and feel like we have to start all over with the restricting freedom. I love the idea to put his food bowl at the scene of the last crime. Which is usually….under the dining room table!

  11. Valerie Valerie says:

    I have a 6 month old Chihuahua/Terrier mix that was rescued from a pound. He seems semi-paper trained, because usually he'll go on paper or a pad if one's around (or if I leave a magazine in the floor, it's toast). I thought we were doing all the right things to outdoor train him (worked like a charm with my 5 year old Westie), but he has not learned how to hold it. He'll usually go outside if put there, and we use LOTS of praise and immediate treats, but he'll also come back in after an unsuccessful 10 minute walk to pee right on the carpet. Or last night, he was sitting next to me on the sofa, stood up and without any advance warning, peed all over it. Another time he peed on the bed during the night, buI don't want to give up on this little feller, but he just doesn't get the concept of holding it. I do have a crate – the perfect size for him – he pooped in it the first time he was put in it, and am wondering how long would you recommend crating a dog…or exactly what crating approach would you recommend?

  12. Renee Reuther says:

    Help…

    We inherited a 4 year old Maltese/Shitz.. She is a sweetheart and I am in love w/ her.

    She has a great disposition…well behaved,no aggression or barking problem.Gets along w/other dogs.

    Here is the problem…she is NOT house trained.She spent most of her life out side in a small kennel, When we got her her hair was so matted we had to have her shaved.

    right now I have her in puppy diapers…she hates the and I don't like em any better.

    I have an appointment to see a vet next week to get her shots up to date and get her spayed..

    Do you have a doggy boot camp where I can leave her with you to do the training? If so…how long would I have to leave her and what am I looking at as far as price?

    i so want to give bubbles the life she deserves!!!!

    By the way she does great in the crate when we're not home..But I don't want to leave her in there any longer than

    necessary.

    Looking forward to hearing from you!!!

    Thank You,

    Renee Reuther

    cell # 530) 921-4584

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