Housetraining is frustrating. I totally get it, believe me. My first dog peed in the house for over a year before we finally got control of it. But it's not as complicated as it seems. In the following blog I am going to lay out my typical treatment plan for perfect house training every time.
As a trainer, when I go into a house the first part of my job is going to be making sure that all of a dog's needs have been met from the ground up.
So if we can take a moment to step back and look at this we have to address the things that keep a dog breathing and physically healthy. So when a dog is not picking up potty training we have to first look for something that could be wrong in their basic needs. I first check the dog's food and outside schedules. Please remember that a new puppy will have to pee constantly, and the younger the dog, the more frequently they need to go out. I typically tell my client's to expect their dog to hold it the same number of hours as their age in months minus 1, up to 9 months. So an 8 week old puppy (roughly 2 months) needs to be taken outside every hour! And if you truly want to set your puppy up for success you should be taking them out every 30 minutes. You will also need to take into account your dog's feeding schedule along with their outside time. When you feed your puppy that food is going to go somewhere so take them outside about 30 minutes after eating (this includes training sessions where they get a lot of treats). Again, we are setting the dog up for success. Check the nutritional quality of the food you are giving your dog. Poor quality foods can cause digestive upset and make it difficult for the dog to regulate their elimination cycles, in the same way it does humans. Please do not be fooled by pet food companies advertising strategies. Pedigree is not a "balance and complete" dog food. As a matter of fact, both Pedigree and Purina have been sued in the past for cross contamination issues showing everything from unhealthy filler ingredients to metal shards in the food. And the label "high protein" means nothing if the proteins are not sourced from digestible sources. You have to look at the ingredients. Look for a solid, grain free food, whose first ingredients come from real meat: Chicken, Beef, Liver, Lamb, Kidney, Heart, Fish, Venison. Egg Whites are a completely digestible source of protein. The first three ingredients are the most important. If the first three ingredients contain wheat, corn, soy, rice, etc than throw it out! Also, look for an AAFCO label on the food bag - this means the ingredients have been verified and the food has been tested on other dogs before going on the shelf.
We need to make sure the dog is getting enough exercise and mental stimulation. Stressed out dogs eliminate more! Anxiety causes all of one's bodily fluids to increase. Exercise and mental stimulation lowers stress and anxiety levels which will help your dog learn to control their bladder and listen to you more.
For puppies, what happens at night? Is the dog allowed to roam the house? A puppy will usually do best at night in a bed in a covered crate until they have learned to control their bladder. A crate should be no bigger than double the size of the dog - big enough for them to walk in, stand all the way up, and turn around in a full circle. I do not encourage using the crate as a "doggie daycare" while you go to work. There are other options, like a patio, an x-pen, a baby gate in a kitchen or bathroom, or even a real doggie daycare. But a a crate at night while you sleep will help curb good sleep habits and teach the dog to hold it through the night - as puppies usually won't pee near their bed. Now, bear in mind, the younger your dog the shorter they can be expected to hold it! If your puppies cries every two hours in the crate because they need to go to the bathroom than let them go to the bathroom! They will need to be taken out to pee and given a treat when they go. Young puppies are not that different from babies. They will keep you up at night, it just comes with the territory of having a young puppy. I do not recommend using potty pads. Instead I recommend taking the dog out as often as possible and giving them a treat EVERY SINGLE TIME the dog eliminated outside, while adding the cue "potty". Putting "potty" on a cue will help you later down the line with controlling your walks.
NEVER PUNISH ACCIDENTS. Let me say it again. NEVER PUNISH HOUSE ACCIDENTS. EVER.
When your dog eliminates in the house they are not trying to be bad. There are a million reasons they may have gone in the house and the most common reason is because they needed to go to the bathroom. It's that simple. The dog isn't being naughty, the dog just has to go. Your dog also is likely incapable of connecting the mess on the floor with the act of urinating. They don't get it. Dog's function on association. When you yell at them, or worse, rub their nose in it, for the pee on the floor you are creating a negative association with pee on the floor - NOT the act of peeing on the floor. They don't understand. If you want to correct the behavior you have to catch them in the act. But remember that dogs function on association. When they are yelled at for peeing in front of you they have now been taught that peeing is bad. NOT that peeing in the house is bad. This simply teaches them to hide when they have to pee and will make your issue worse. The best thing you can do if your dog has an accident is either pick them up and carry them outside as gently as possible and give them the "go potty" cue - reward them when they do - or ignore it. That's right. I said ignore it. Clean pee spots when a mixture of vinegar, warm water, dawn dish soap, and lemon (or orange) essential oil. You need the citrus enzymes to prevent the dog from going back to the same spot. First use a towel to absorb as much of the pee from the carpet as possible. Than spray the mixture all over the pee spot and scrub it really well. Cover the spot with baking soda and let it sit several hours, and then vacuum it. This will stop the cycle of the dog returning to the same spot.
If you choose to use potty pads, and sometimes they are necessary, place the pad over the spot where the dog regularly goes to pee. When the dog pees there, reward them. If the dog pees elsewhere, pick them up and put them on the pad, use the go potty cue, and reward them when they do. Every couple days move the pad about 1-2 inches closer to the door. If you need 2 pads for spots the dog always goes to, than move the two pads closer to each other until they become one, and then move that pad closer to the door. When the pad is next to the door and the dog is consistently going there, than it's time to move the pad outside. If it's possible to leave the door slightly cracked or a window open it will help. When you see the dog go toward the door you have your cue to slap a leash on them quickly and get them outside, and give them rewards. And be patient. Potty training can take months. Don't give up. It's just like training a child... don't expect a newborn to pee outside immediately. Set your dog up for success by keeping them close to you frequently where you can watch their "signals". Adding a bell to the door is a great way to set the dog up for success. Simply ring the bell every time you go outside with the dog with the cue "outside". The dog will eventually start ringing the bell when they need to go outside.
If the dog is NOT picking up the peeing outside, than it's time to get a vet check to make sure the dog does not have a medical issue. Also, dogs will eliminate in their crate is the crate is too big. Some older male dogs may not actually be trying to "pee" so much as mark their territory. One solution to this is a belly band. If you believe you have taken all these steps and you are still having a hard time with the potty training perhaps it's time to call a behaviorist.