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Stressed by Housetraining? So Is Your Dog. Here’s How You Can Both Be Successful

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Want your dog to potty on command? Fear Free wants you to have a better attitude toward teaching your dog house manners.

When it comes to potty training a puppy or adult dog, dog trainer Irith Bloom, CPDT-KSA, CBCC-KA, CDBC, CSAT, CBATI, FFCP, owner of The Sophisticated Dog Pet Training Service in Los Angeles, California, and faculty at the Victoria Stilwell Academy, stresses that dogs don’t naturally understand the phrase “Go pee.” Yelling at a dog when you want them to potty isn’t likely to help matters.

“It can get really out of control if someone tries to regulate their dog’s bathroom habits on a command basis. It leads to stressful situations. I can’t imagine having someone yell ‘Go pee. Now!’ when I walk into a bathroom. 

Instead, she likes dogs to learn that pottying outdoors is a good thing, teaching them to respond to a cue of encouragement to squat or lift a leg. Humans, in turn, must learn to understand their dogs’ “pre-potty” body language so they don’t miss the signals that a dog needs to go out. Rewarding dogs with a treat after every pee or poop encourages them to feel safe pottying in front of their people. When the two lessons come together, everybody is happy.

“With time, when you see that body language, and give your potty cue (“go potty”), and you reward as usual, you’ll be able to say your cue a little sooner when you know the dog needs to potty, and the dog will perform sooner so that it appears that it’s ‘on command’,” she says.

How Long Does It Take?

Housetraining is more than pups learning where and when to potty. It requires physical maturity as well.

Bloom points out that puppies have tiny bladders and bowels, as well as muscles that still aren’t quite under control. Developing strength and muscle memory takes time, as anyone who studies yoga or works out in a gym knows.

Typically, it takes at least a few weeks to teach either a puppy or an adult dog the idea of housetraining. And while complete sphincter control develops by four months of age, puppies may not be fully housetrained until they are at least six months old.  However, it’s not unusual for puppies who seem to be fully trained to have accidents during their first year.

Most adult dogs can be housetrained in two or three weeks if you are thoughtful and consistent about training. It may take longer if there are medical factors in play or there is a long history of potty accidents to overcome.

No Yelling!

Yelling at a dog who’s had a potty accident just teaches them that humans can be scary. And rubbing their nose in accidents is an old wives’ tale with a detrimental effect. Often, dogs subjected to such treatment won’t go potty in front of their people, and this can lead to accidents in hidden places where dogs feel safe eliminating.

“Patience is key to housetraining,” Bloom says. “Dogs were born knowing the whole world is a bathroom; we’re trying to teach them something quite foreign, so it can take time.”

Housetraining Management

There’s no reason for dogs to have to wait for someone to come home and take them out to pee, especially if they’re home alone for long hours. And there can be other reasons for teaching a dog to use an indoor location for elimination. It can be helpful for dogs with mobility issues or who are no longer able to hold their urine for long periods. For instance, that can be the case with dogs taking diuretics to help manage certain types of heart disease. They urinate much more frequently throughout the day and at night. Dogs recovering from orthopedic or other surgery may be under doctors’ orders to move as little as possible. An indoor potty option can help facilitate the requirement to keep dogs confined.

A host of training techniques and indoor potty options can help you address the issue in a positive way.

“I like to teach an alternative indoor bathroom option for older dogs,” Bloom says. “A good way to do this is to take a potty pad on walks with you and get the dog to potty on the pad outdoors first.  Once they’re pretty used to pottying on the pad outdoors, you can put the pad down closer and closer to home. In time, you should be able to put a pad indoors and take the dog there instead of on a walk. 

“I recommend doing this on leash first.  Start by guiding the dog to the indoor potty area and then wait quietly for several minutes until they potty. It may take multiple attempts until your dog understands that the indoor option is okay too. Remember, lots of treats and praise!”

Absorbent pee pads can be a great indoor solution for dogs with incontinence issues as well as to help out pets who don’t get sufficient bathroom breaks during a workday. A very absorbent pad will stop urine being tracked throughout the home.

In any case, if you find an accident, figure out where your management failed. Does the dog need to be gated away from that area? Did you fail to take the dog out often enough? Did the dog not finish pottying before you brought them back indoors? Then adjust what you are doing accordingly. Bloom says to consider dogs housetrained when they’ve had no accidents for at least a month, even when left loose in the house.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Sandy Robins is an award-winning pet lifestyle journalist and author of For the Love of Cats, Fabulous Felines: Health and Beauty Secrets for the Pampered Cat, The Original Cat Bible, and Making the Most of All Nine Lives: The Extraordinary Life of Buffy The Cat.

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