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Every day, dog owners call us with questions about housebreaking. Too often we hear that a dog acquired to be an indoor pet animal has been relegated to a life in the yard because he soils in the house. Our goal at the Dog Trainers Workshop is to help train dogs to be welcome and enjoyable members of the family. To do this, one of our first jobs is to help you get your dog housebroken.

Housebreaking a dog can be quite simple, if you understand some basic principles and follow some simple rules.

Dogs are naturally den animals, so a dog does not want to soil in the area where he lives. Unfortunately, most of us live in homes that are so big that the dog does not consider our entire house as his den. Therefore, it is important to keep a dog that is not housebroken in the room you are in. If you let him leave the room, he will believe that he’s left the den and that it is acceptable to soil in the room. If you are in the bedroom, shut him in the bedroom with you. If you go to the kitchen, take him with you. If it is not possible to shut a door, put up a gate, or tie him in the room with you.

Don’t watch the clock to determine when your dog needs to go outside, it is his activity that creates the need to relieve himself. It is not just how much time has elapsed. Take your dog outside every time he changes activities. If he wakes up, take him out; if he stops playing, out he goes; once he’s done eating, out again. Don’t wait, take him out before the accident occurs.

Do not think it is the dog’s responsibility to let you know when he needs to go out. Try to watch for how he signals to you that he needs to go outside. The signals may be subtle like walking toward the door or sniffing and walking in circles.

If you see your dog soil in your home in, make an exclamation of disgust and take him outside. (“No” or “Bad Dog” is sufficient.) It is not necessary to drag him to the mess or to rub his nose in it.

If your dog does soil in the house while you are not watching, there is absolutely nothing that you can do to correct the dog. Why? Dogs do not remember and feel responsible for actions in the past. If you drag a dog to an old mess and make a fuss, he does not say to himself, “I relieved myself there 20 minutes ago, that is why my owner is upset.” Instead, he records the situation in his mind, and makes sure the situation does not occur again. In this case, the dog records, “If my owner is present, and I am present, and a mess is present, I will get scolded.” The next time there is a mess on the floor and he hears you coming, he will run. Our tendency is to attribute human reasoning and emotions to our dogs. Owners call me and say, “But I know my dog knew he was bad, he ran from me and he looked guilty.” He is not running from you because he understands that he is responsible for the mess, but because he realizes that if he stays in the situation that includes himself, you, and the mess, that he will be scolded.

If you question whether this is true, pour a glass of water on the floor and talk to the dog in the same tone of voice you use when you find a mess on the floor. He will undoubtedly slink away from you just as he does when the mess is his. This should prove to you that it is not his guilt that makes him leave, but your reaction to the situation.

Your dog needs to be confined to a small area when you cannot be with him because dogs do not want to soil in the area where they live. You might try a laundry room or small bathroom, but we recommend a dog crate. A crate provides your dog with a small den of his own that he will be motivated to keep clean. Furthermore, if you leave him in a crate when you are away from him, you can be sure that nothing you care about will be chewed or destroyed while you are gone.
You may be thinking that if you keep your dog in a crate while you are at work, and again while you are sleeping, he will spend two-thirds of his life in a crate. That may be the case with a new dog who is not housebroken, but this situation won’t last long. Soon you will trust him and allow him more freedom when you are not around. Once he keeps his crate clean in your absence, try leaving him in a slightly larger space like a laundry room, porch, or kitchen. If he keeps that clean, again enlarge his space. Eventually, he will understand that your entire house is his den, and he will work to keep your home clean. Being confined for a few months of training is a small price to pay for the ability to live with a trained dog!

A few final thoughts . . .
If your dog consistently soils in one location in your home, this is a sign that he is attempting to keep your home clean, however he has established an indoor bathroom. Try feeding him in that location for a few days. This will cause him to reconsider his established bathroom. Most dogs will not soil where they eat.

When you let your dog out of his crate, or confined space, immediately take him outside. If he does not relieve himself outside, bring him back inside and confine him again. Wait 20-30 minutes and take him out again. Do not bring a dog inside and allow him to be loose in your house unless he has just relieved himself outside.

We often hear the complaint that an owner has put his dog out in the yard for 20-30 minutes, and as soon as they let the dog in, he has an accident. Odds are that the dog relieved himself as soon as you put him out, then sat outside the door waiting for you. Thirty minutes later, when you let him in, he needed to go again. Do not let a dog loose in your house unless he has just finished relieving himself outside.

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