House breaking adult dogs

So, maybe you have a dog you just never quite got housebroken. Or maybe you have a dog who only pees outside when it’s pleasant to do so. Or maybe you just got a rescue, and they were never housebroken. Or maybe you just moved, and your formerly-housebroken dog has suddenly forgotten how to be housebroken.

Clearly, there are a lot of reasons why your adult dog might not be housebroken. Whatever the reason, this is for you.

Steps to housebreak an adult dog:

1. If he ever pees overnight/early morning, he needs to sleep in a crate. (“But he’s not crate trained!” I hear you cry. No problem! Check out this post. Crate train before you housebreak.) If he holds it overnight/early morning, then he can continue sleeping wherever he normally sleeps.
2. In the morning, take her from her crate (or bed) and take her outside. Give her the potty command. If she potties, yay! Big praise and treats, and she can have the run of the house for as long as you think is safe. For a dog who’s only pottying inside occasionally (less than once a day), that’s usually 2 hours. For a dog pottying inside multiple times a day, that’s 20-40 minutes. Whatever the time is, she gets that long “free.” After that, she gets the same amount of time supervised. Lock her in a room with you or put her on her leash and tie her to you. If you don’t have supervision time, she can go back in her crate.
2. Okay, so his “free” time and “supervised” time are both up. Put him in his crate for two or more hours. This is the time he’s learning to hold his bladder, strengthening muscles, and figuring out he can’t just relieve himself when he wants to. You can even give him water in his crate if you’re for sure going to be letting him out to pee in a few hours. He can stay in there for 4 hours. (If he’s going to be in there for 4 hours, I would limit the water to just a little.)
3. When the four hours are up, take her out of her crate and outside to potty. If she does, go back to “free” time and then “supervised” time, and keep repeating that pattern. If she doesn’t, put her back in her crate. She has a choice: pee when told, or go back in her crate. She can have toys in her crate, and food and treats in her crate, and a little bit of water if she hasn’t been drinking (or a lot of water if you want to make her pee sooner!). I’ve often fed dogs in their crates.
4. After an hour or so, take him out of his crate and outside to potty. If he goes, yay! If not, back into his crate.
5. As she starts to figure it out and gets better at holding it, increase the amount of time allowed out.
6. Watch for him heading to the door, and let him out when he does, OR put him back in his crate. One will teach him to signal that he needs out, the other will teach him to hold it until you remember to let him out. If I have a dog constantly signalling, then I let them out and, if they don’t potty, I put them back in their crate. They figure out pretty quick to just go to the door when they need to potty, and not simply to get attention.*
Continue until she figures it out. The usual pattern is this:
Day 1-5: He’s learning, he gets it, yay our dog is smart!
Day 5-7: She says, “FORGET THIS, PEOPLE, YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!” and proceeds to refuse to go potty outside. She’s not pottying inside, either, because you keep putting her back in her crate, so this means she’s just holding it. Forever. It’s pretty common for dogs to hold it for 15-20 hours. Don’t panic. Don’t feel guilty because your dog has basically spent 15-20 hours in the crate, consequently letting her out so she pees in the house. Around day 6 or 7 she’ll decide that, yeah, it’s better to go potty when told and then have that 4 hours free than to refuse to go potty and be stuck in her crate. Worst case scenario: they pee in their crate. You have to clean it up, but they’re not likely to do it again.
Day 7-14: Continue the pattern. You’ll notice he now spends most of his time outside of the crate, because he’s gotten awesome at going on command. Start lengthening the time he gets to stay out under supervision, and lengthening the time in between letting him out to potty (so he has to hold it longer). Most dogs, like most people, go comfortably every 6 hours. Start there and you can build up! My dogs can hold it for 12 hours during the day if they have to (though obviously this is not ideal — and we don’t do it often — so if I’m home I let them out more frequently).
Day 14-28: Continue the pattern. You’re now creating habit; she knows what to do, but she’ll forget easily, so either crate her or supervise her. After a month you’re in the clear!
Trouble shooting:
My dog pees in the crate. What now?
 If this is happening regularly, your crate is too big. You can make it smaller by putting a box in the back. If your dog destroys the box, it was clearly a great toy! Just get another.
I’m letting my dog out every 40 minutes/2 hours to start,but I don’t think he actually needs to pee that often. What should I do when he doesn’t pee? 
You’re right: your dog doesn’t need to pee that often. It’ll take him about 2-4 days to figure out that he’s supposed to pee when you let him out, even if he doesn’t really need to. The big goal here is just teaching him to pee on command, so that we know when his bladder’s empty and when we need to watch him. So, know that you’re going to feel guilty for a few days, and when he doesn’t pee, PUT HIM BACK IN HIS CRATE. After 2-4 days he’ll figure it out and pee most of the time when you let him out. Just in time for the testing phase to start a day or two later…
My dog pees outside, but I have to stand there with him for ten minutes. How long should I wait? 
Not ten minutes. I let a dog out, and for the first few days, I’ll give them several minutes. After they show the slightest glimmering of understanding, I let them out and I count to thirty. If they aren’t going by then, they go back in their crate. This way, they learn not just to go when they’re let out, but to go quickly.
That should do it!
*I taught my dogs to pee when I let them out, and hold it otherwise, and didn’t teach them to signal. Here’s how this works: When I wake up, I let them out. Around mid-afternoon and/or when I get home from work or errands, I let them out again. Before bed, I let them out again. Other than that, they hold it. Now, they did sort of learn to signal: if they want to go out to the yard to play or potty, they looking longingly out the door. If I feel like it, I let them out. Lily seems to lack a bladder entirely, but occasionally Cash needs out. Then he wanders to me and the door and back again, looking progressively more stressed or whining until I pay attention. Then he goes out!

Peeing (or marking) on walks

One of the things my clients are often surprised to discover is that their dogs really shouldn’t be peeing on their walks.

Now, don’t get me wrong: if I take my dogs on a long walk, we will probably stop to pee once. But no more than that. A dog is like a person: they can easily hold it for 3-4 hours even when they’re out walking. Most likely, your dog holds it for 3-4 hours in the house: why would they suddenly need to constantly pee outside? If your dog is peeing more than once on a walk, their either have a bladder infection (highly unlikely, and then they would also need to pee frequently in the house) or they’re marking. Both male and female dogs mark; male dogs lift their leg, while most female dogs squat.

Dogs mark when they want to establish that something is part of their territory. There’s no reason for them to think that the lamp post down the street is their territory! If you want to stop your dog from marking, every time they pause to mark just give them a quick tug and keep walking. Once during your walk, stop and let them pee.

There are many reasons to teach your dog not to mark:

1. If your dog doesn’t mark, you can take him into dog-friendly stores fearlessly.

2. If you teach your dog to hold it, it will strengthen the muscles and help her hold it in the house and delay or avoid elderly incontinence.

3. If your dog knows that they need to fully empty their bladder when you tell them to, they are much less likely to have an accident in the house. (Or in other words, if you let them mark they will always hold urine in reserve, and their bladder will fill back up faster so they have to pee sooner!)

Is your dog marking? There’s an easy way to tell: if she pees more than once on your walk, she’s marking!


Puppy Schedule

Every so often, people will ask me something like, “What’s a good puppy schedule?” or “What should I expect in everyday life if I have a puppy?”

People are often surprised at A) how much puppies should sleep (a young puppy — 3 or 4 months — should be sleeping 18-20 hours a day. We keep them up longer, but it’s unnatural! They get worn out and manic, don’t learn as quickly and act up more! Think about babies and toddlers: they don’t want to sleep, but if we put them down they sleep anyway and they behave better. Puppies are the same) and B) how much time you spend playing with them.

This is my personal puppy schedule, when I either own or board a puppy. It might give you an idea of what life is like! This applies most to puppies 4 months and older; younger puppies need more frequent potty breaks, and less time out. Those “Tie her to you” moments should be “Back in the crate to nap” moments! Older puppies might get more freedom, if they’ve figured out not to chew and pee for the most part!

6am: get up, let the puppy out. Potty, breakfast, play time. All together, expect this to take an hour, with play and potty time taking up the bulk of that. (Play time always means “playing with my human,” not “playing by myself.”) This is your chance to wear your puppy out so you can get some work done. When your puppy is old enough to walk, walks are a good way to wear them out and can be substituted for any and all play times. Training times can also be substituted for most play times, because training (learning to sit, stay, come, down, etc) is a fun time for them, too.
7am: Puppy gets crated with some good chew toys (and/or breakfast, if you’d like to feed them later. In that case, they’ll need to go out to potty 1 hour after they eat) to keep them occupied while you dress. If you’re working from home, then they can have a nap while you start work.
10am: Puppy needs to come out! First they need to potty, then half an hour of playtime with you. Then she can, if you want, sit near your desk, on leash, and chew on her toys, drink water, and get petted for another hour. (Toys and water should be near your desk, so she can reach them even though she’s tied to your desk.) (If you don’t work at a desk, tie her to you. We are eliminating the possibility that she’ll go off and pee somewhere or chew something!) Some puppies need lunch around now.
11:30: Puppy can go back in the crate for a nap. Include toys.
2pm: Potty time! After she potties, she needs half an hour of play time, then an hour of sitting by you, with toys.
3:30: Crate and nap time.
6:30: Potty time! She can also have dinner.
7:00 After potty and dinner, it’s play time! Another half an hour.
7:30: She can wind down with you in the living room, while you eat or watch TV or whatever you’d like to do. Make sure she has toys and water.
8pm: Pick up her water, but she can stay out.
9pm: Crate time!
10pm: Take her out for one last potty, then back in her crate for the night. (Or in bed with you.) This will give her 8 hours to hold it before 6am. If you let her out earlier in the morning than that, then of course you can put her to bed earlier, too. Very young puppies can’t hold it for 8 hours; try 4, and built up gradually.
(Times are approximate, assuming a 9-5 job. Adjust as needed.)
6am: get up, let the puppy out. Potty, breakfast, play time. Same as above, really. As soon as they’re old enough, a 30-45 minute walk is a priority to wear them out so they can rest while you’re gone. Playing is not as good as walking for wearing a dog out. Playing gets them ramped up and excited; walking burns energy while calming them down.
7am: Puppy gets crated with some good chew toys (and/or breakfast, if you’d like to feed them later. In that case, they’ll need to go out to potty 1 hour after they eat) to keep them occupied while you dress. If you’re working from home, then they can have a nap while you start work.
8am: (Just before you leave. I’m assuming you leave around 8 for the purposes of scheduling; adjust wake-up and potty times as needed.) Potty, back in crate.
11:30:  Puppy needs to come out! First they need to potty, then 20-30 minutes of play time with you. She’ll need water, as it shouldn’t be in her crate, and lots of attention and love. (Make sure to offer her water first, so you can let her out to pee before you crate her again.)
12:30: Back in the crate so you can go back to work!
5:30: Out to potty! Out for another 30-45 minute walk.
6:30: Entertain herself in the room with you while you put together dinner for animals and people. Dinner.
7:30: She can wind down with you in the living room, while you eat or watch TV or whatever you’d like to do. Make sure she has toys and water.
8pm: Pick up her water, but she can stay out.
9pm: Crate time!
10pm: Take her out for one last potty, then back in her crate for the night. (Or in bed with you.) This will give her 8 hours to hold it before 6am. If you let her out earlier in the morning than that, then of course you can put her to bed earlier, too. Young puppies cannot hold it for 8 hours; adjust accordingly.
The difference between a 4 month (or younger) puppy and a 9 month puppy is that a 4-6 month puppy will try and get you to play while they’re sitting at the desk (or while you’re making dinner, relaxing, etc), and must constantly be re-directed toward their toys or asked to settle down. As they get older, that gets less and less, until a 9 month old puppy has the possibility of being re-directed and entertaining themselves. That doesn’t mean they WILL be re-directed to entertain themselves: it means that if you’ve been working on it the whole time, they’ll probably have learned it by then. An older puppy will also need less focused playtime, so you can either have fewer long sessions of playtime, or just as many short sessions.
If you’re really careful about chewing and pottying, you can start trusting your dog to wander around a little bit as they get older. My dog, Cash, came to me at 3 months (12 weeks) and was allowed the run of the house by the time he was 5-6 months old, as long as I remembered to take him out to potty regularly. By the time he was 7 months old, he was as trustworthy as most adult dogs, and could entertain himself. However:
1. Cash is highly trainable.
2. I’m a dog trainer.
3. I was RELIGIOUS about making sure I followed the above schedule TO THE LETTER.
The above schedule would have to be adjusted slightly to better fit each dog and owner combination, but it’ll at least give you a place to start!J

Crate Training

Ohhh, puppies. I’m boarding a puppy at the moment, a 9-month old welsh terrier who has some issues her owner needs help with. One of those issues is housebreaking.

I’ve forgotten what it’s like to get up EARLY because the puppy can’t hold it like my adult dogs can — 10 hours regularly overnight, and 12-16 if it’s my day off and I’m feeling really lazy! At 9 months, it’s possible for a puppy to hold it that long if you’ve worked on it. But a dog that isn’t housebroken and isn’t used to holding it — even an adult dog — can’t do that!

The best way to potty train any dog, regardless of age, is crate training. I know, I know — it’s MUCH easier to get puppy pads, if your dog will use them, and do it that way. And if you have a job where you work 8 hours and can’t get away, and no neighbor to let your puppy out after 4 hours, then that might be your only solution. However, puppy pads teach your dog something else: to pee in the house. It’s very common for a dog to look for the next thing closest to a puppy pad when you take the pads away: carpet. Small dogs are especially prone to peeing in the house when they don’t like it outside because it’s too cold or too wet. (Another option is to litter train them, so you never have to worry about it. Yes, they make litter boxes for small dogs!)

If you want your dog to potty outside, the best best best way is crate training. Let’s talk about crate training.

There are some common concerns I hear:

1. It seems cruel.

I know people have a hard time believing this, but a crate for a dog is like their den. Unless your dog has had some major trauma in a crate, and I mean major trauma, once they get used to it they’re not going to have any qualms about spending large amounts of time in one. Puppies especially should be sleeping 15-20 hours a day, depending on the age of the puppy. We keep our puppies awake MUCH longer than is healthy for them, assuming that’s normal. A crate gives your puppy a chance to calm down long enough to get the sleep they need in a quiet, dark, undisturbed place. This will make everyone’s life much easier, and your puppy happier, healthier, and easier to train!

2. My dog/puppy barks and whines and I CAN’T STAND IT!

Okay, I can’t blame you, there. I can’t stand it, either! There are two easy solutions, though, other than the usual “just ignore it and they’ll stop” solution you normally hear. (Trust me, I understand that frustration — I’m a dog trainer, and I can’t ignore it until it stops! I’m very noise sensitive, and it drives me bonkers!)

The first solution is to say, “Quiet,” and then tap the crate on the side. If it doesn’t work, tap a little harder. You can tap hard enough to jiggle the crate just a bit. (I’ve been known to hook the lip with my fingers and pluck the near edge off the ground by a finger’s width.) You’re creating a mini-earthquake, so the dog learns that barking or whining will make the world shake a tiny bit. It’s not comfortable!

Concerns: I have heard other trainers say, “This will make a dog feel unsafe or scared of his crate.” In ten years, I’ve never seen that happen.

The second solution is to get a squirt bottle. I don’t mean a little mister, I mean a bottle from Lowe’s that’s meant to have cleaner or something in it! Something with a powerful stream on it. This stream needs to get through the air, the bars of the crate, and hit your dog with enough force for your dog to feel it! A mist won’t do. You need a squirt! Don’t aim for your dogs face if you can avoid it; we don’t want to hit the eyes. And DON’T put anything but water in it!

Concerns: From trainers, I occasionally hear the same concern as above, and the answer is also the same! From owners, I hear: “But my dog LIKES water.” My dogs both LOVE water! They hate, however, the squirt bottle. There’s a big difference between getting into water willingly and getting squirted with something cold and wet surprisingly. It startles them out of their bad behavior, and that’s all we really want. Even dogs who aren’t particularly bothered by a squirt bottle will usually stop barking; it annoys them into good behavior!

Now that we’ve stopped the barking issue, let’s talk about making the crate an okay place to be. When I start crating dogs, I make sure they have at least two toys in their crate that they like. Every time they go in their crate, they get a treat. I feed them in their crates as well. I also put their bed in their crate (or piles of old towels, if you’re afraid they’ll chew up their bed out of boredom) so it’s comfy. Think of it as a kid’s bedroom: it needs all the stuff in it they might want so they can hang out and ignore their parents!

Once you have all that good stuff in their crate, start tossing treats in there. Leave the door open until they’re comfortable to go in, get the treats, sniff around for more, and come back out. You can give them more treats while they’re in there, too. Once they can do that, start closing the door for a few seconds at a time, giving them more treats while they’re in there. Once they can do that, start leaving them in there for a few minutes at a time. If they’re comfortable eating in there, give them dinner with the door closed and leave them in for ten minutes after they finish.

Build up the time slowly; when they get comfortable, add more time. It generally takes a day or two if you’re home all day and can devote time to it. If you aren’t, or if your dog has some trauma associated with crate training that needs to be overcome, it could take up to a week. I hate to say it, but usually if it takes longer than that, someone is letting them out when they cry — though the person may not even be aware of it!

All right, all that said… I’m going back to bed! All this getting up early to let the puppy out has worn me down!

(Not quite what you were looking for? Wondering how to potty train once Fido’s crate trained? Have no fear, just click here!)


Potty training: Redux

I can already tell I’m going to have a lot of titles with words like “Redux” in them. Oh boy. 😉

One of my clients has a 8 month old puppy that doesn’t want to go potty outside. This is a moment when we have to out-stubborn our dogs. To tell you the truth, out-stubborning a dog is half of successful dog training. (The other half is knowing when to praise and when to correct.)

When you have a dog that is refusing to be housebroken, and the dog is crate trained, then this is what I recommend:

1. Take your dog out in the morning and ask it to go potty.

1a. It goes potty. Praise him or her and bring them inside for  breakfast.

1b. It doesn’t go potty.

2. Take your dog back inside and put them back in the crate. Try again in half an hour. Eventually, your dog will decide it’s tired of crossing its legs, and it’s time to go potty outside — at which point, refer back to 1!

Most people go wrong because they feel bad about putting their puppy back in the crate. They feel like it “should” eat breakfast (it can eat in the crate), or it “should” come out to play. While I understand that we want our dogs to be able to stretch their legs and have fun before we leave for work, tell me which is better: a dog who, within a month, is allowed to romp around the house when people are home, playing and enjoying themselves with no one worried about accidents, or a dog who, a year into its life, is still restricted to one room, being on-leash, tied to a piece of furniture or left outside because it STILL isn’t housebroken?

Sometimes, being a good owner means a little bit of tough love. A few days of tough love can positively impact a dog for the rest of its life. And let’s be honest, here: the puppy isn’t going to be more than upset in passing at being put back in the crate. Then it’s going to chew on a toy or take a nap, and it isn’t going to feel bad. We might; we’re human. But for a moment, put aside your human tendencies and put the puppy in the crate. It’ll thank you when it’s older.

…No it won’t. But your family, friends, and everyone else who interacts with your dog will!


Potty training

It has been 24 hours since Cash went to the bathroom. Cash is a 2.5 year old king shepherd with a stubborn streak almost as wide as mine. We’re in a stalemate.

When people ask me how to get a dog to go potty in a specific point in the yard, the answer is always, “Pen them up, take them out to that specific place when it’s time to go, and if they don’t go, pen them back up.”

Well, watch as the dog trainer follows her own advice. 😉 I live in an apartment building, and I would really like the dogs to go potty on the woodchips right under the stairs so I don’t have to take them way out at night. Lily has no problem with this. Cash, on the other hand, would rather pee in the ivy. He and I are now in stand-off mode.

Let me first tell you, I messed up. The other night I was leaving, and when he refused to go under the stairs I gave in and took him out to the ivy. Now, he thinks he can outwait me — it worked before! Yesterday afternoon around 2:00 I took them out to play. That was the last time he peed. After that I started taking them to the woodchips. When Lily goes potty there, I praise her enthusiastically and tell her she’s wonderful. (I think she thinks I’ve lost my mind, but that’s okay!) Cash looks at me, extremely unimpressed, and refuses to go.

That’s fine. I can wait him out.

I let him out last night. I let him out this morning. He’s been out every few hours. He’s still refusing. He did finally sniff where Lily peed, and I praised him for that, but otherwise he just looks mournful. That’s okay, too! He has a choice: it’s his choice to hold it and be mournful.

Sometimes, people ask me if it’s good for a dog to hold it this long. No! Of course not! But you know what would be worse? If I broke down, and tried again tomorrow, and once more he holds it for 24 hours. Better that he holds it for 30 now and then stops than have him hold it, regularly, for as long as he can.

Now, Cash isn’t penned up. My apartment is verrrrry small, so he really can’t sneak off to go pee somewhere, but if you’re doing this with your dog, it’s VERY IMPORTANT to make sure they can’t go off and relieve themselves in the house. You don’t want that habit to develop! Either pen them somewhere small enough they won’t soil it, or keep them with you at all time. I recommend putting a leash on them and just tying it to your belt; it only takes them a few minutes of you being distracted to go pee, after all.

Now, I think it’s time to take Cash back out. Cross your fingers that he’ll stop crossing his legs. 😉