One thing about advice is, it’s easy to give.
Don’t like something your pet is doing? Simply train them not to! Just be patient and diligent and consistent and committed and loving and educated and firm-but-gentle and perfect! Easy peasy!
But the truth is, there is a messy side of dog training. Blogs like this can give good general guidelines, advice, and we hope it can help you. But it can’t cover all the possibilities and it’s easy to feel like you’re doing something wrong if all the stuff you read doesn’t really work for you. So this week, instead of (frankly, excellent) general advice, I’m bringing you an account of some of the ways it can all be a lot more complicated than it seems.
One month ago today, I adopted a dog. He’s ten years old and grew up without the benefit of much-if-any training or exercise and woefully inadequate socialization. We’re facing a LOT of challenges. There are some that I think will ease with some time and love and some that I can adapt to just deal with. But there’s one big one that I can’t just let go, and that’s housebreaking.
I’m not expecting miracles. I’m not expecting perfection right away… or possibly ever. I’m going to keep him and love him no matter what. But pee and poop all over my floor or on my furniture is just not really cool with me. So the solution? Housebreaking boot camp.
We’re following a plan similar
to this one from Chewy. To summarize, we use a crate overnight, when I’m not home, and for meals. He goes directly outside every time he comes out of his crate. He goes outside every time the other dog goes outside (she’s even older than she is and peeing is her favorite activity). He goes outside every time he touches or brushes against the bells I have hanging from the door. During the day, he’s restricted to the kitchen and living room, where I can keep an eye on him.
When he pees or poops outside, he gets a lot of praise and a piece of his kibble (he’s on a restricted diet, so no treats).
Sounds pretty straightforward, right?
But our first big problem was that part of the point of using a crate is that the dog’s supposed to not want to pee or poop in such a confined space. My little lad had no such aversion. He spent about four years of his life living in a kennel and had no problem peeing in his crate. I didn’t love waking up to a mess, but more than that, I hated knowing my little guy was sitting in his own mess for any period of time.
So I removed all bedding and blankets from in and around the crate (which you’re supposed to do anyway, but… he just looked so sad in that bare little crate). I put his crate in a spare bedroom and put down pee pads. Normally, I’m not a big fan of pee pads, especially for housebreaking. I think it just confuses the issue if your goal is to get them to learn to go outside. But in this case, I was just trying to teach him that there were more comfortable places for him to go than in his crate. And it worked. We spent lots of time outside, he wasn’t going in his crate, we were making real progress.
And then, well…
About two weeks in, we got hit with a snowstorm with subzero temperatures and winds. Standing out in the chilly weather begging your little dog to pee is really unpleasant when it’s 26 degrees out. When it’s -4, it’s painful and can get dangerous, especially for a little senior dog. And for his part, he wanted nothing to do with it. He absolutely would not move or walk in it. Even if I carried him to the snowy grass, he just stood there staring balefully back at me and shivering until I gave in and took him back inside. We did not make any housebreaking progress that week. I put down pee pads and just let him go in the house. And, at some point, probably sat down and wrote a blog that included the phrase “consistency is key.”
I’m doing my best, but
Neither he nor I are robots. It’s not just a matter of changing a line of code or replacing a part. We’re both living beings. I can have every intention of supervising him and feel very much like I’m keeping an eye on him, but then I run to the other room to grab my phone charger or turn around to fill the water bowl or look down to respond to a text and BAM! When we’re outside, you could do your taxes in the time it takes him to take his leisurely poops, but the second you take your eye off him indoors, he does it with such speed and stealth that you wonder if he’s got some kind of superpowers (pooperpowers?).
We’re working against a lot of factors.
He’s got ten years of ingrained habits. Dogs learn, even when you’re not teaching them. It’s just that they may not be learning what you intended. He’s a private pooper, so he doesn’t really want to go with me watching him outside. It’s still the dead of winter and my dainty little lad doesn’t like being on wet, cold, or muddy ground, so we’ve got to work on desensitization and overcoming that little problem. He’s prone to pancreatitis and stomach issues, so I can’t just shower him in treats the way you’re supposed to when training something like this.
In the end, I just have to take my own advice…
And keep at it. Be as patient and consistent as I possibly can. Praise him when he does it right and just move on when he doesn’t. We’ve reached the point where, when I’m at home and with him, he rings the bell to go outside unless it’s raining. He’s still not perfect about keeping his crate clean when I go out, but he does overnight. I’ve got a stockpile of paper towels, potty pads, and Nature’s Miracle on hand. We’re nowhere near perfect and we may never be, but we have seen a lot of progress! The messy side of dog training is such a learning but also bonding experience between you and your furry kid. And at the end of the day, the important thing is that he’s healthy, safe, and loved.
Whether it’s for idealistic advice or nitty-gritty real-life help, we’re here for you! A mid-day potty walk can help form good habits and keep your pet comfortable and your floors clean. Have you checked out our services page lately? Well, go do it!
Janie founded 4-Legged Kids, Inc in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1997 and provides education through her PetBizHIVE podcast and her PetBizMBA membership and courses. She is a Certified Professional Animal Care Operator, Fear Free certified and a Certified Professional Pet Sitter. Learn more about the Founder, Janie Budnick.