Canine housetraining challenges - Veterinary Medicine
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Canine housetraining challenges
From dogs soiling in their crates to dogs afraid of eliminating in front of people, this behaviorist gives you tips to help owners handle their difficult-to-housetrain dogs.


Rather than confining a dog to a crate when it cannot be supervised, the owner may find it convenient to tether the dog (if it is not too large, making this potentially unsafe) to himself or herself so that the dog stays with the owner as he or she moves around the house. During this time, the owner can practice frequent command-reward sessions, asking the dog to perform a simple task such as "sit" and rewarding it with praise, food treats, or a toy. Punishment for a lack of response should be completely avoided. The worst thing that should happen to the dog for noncompliance is that it is ignored. In this manner, the dog learns to associate the owner's presence and the sound of the owner's voice with a pleasant outcome. Learning what behaviors earn rewards without any unpleasant consequences may also help a fearful or anxious dog become more confident.

If the owner has a safe, fenced yard, he or she can first try allowing the dog to go outside off leash while the owner quietly watches the dog from the doorway. If the dog eliminates, the owner should quietly praise the dog. If the sound of the owner's voice causes the dog to stop what it is doing, on future excursions outside, the owner should wait until the dog finishes eliminating before calmly praising the dog.

If the home does not have a yard and the owner is limited to walking the fearful dog on a leash, he or she should first try walking the dog with the longest lead available, taking it to the same location every time the dog goes out, and standing as far from the dog as possible while completely ignoring it. Instruct the owner to stand quietly in this manner for about two to five minutes or until the dog eliminates. The dog can be walked to several different spots and allowed to investigate each, with the owner stopping for two to five minutes at each spot. If the dog does not eliminate in this time, then the owner should return home and either confine the dog to a crate or, ideally, keep it tethered to himself or herself. About 15 minutes later, the dog should be taken outside again, and the above procedure should be repeated. Once the dog appears to select an area for urination, that area can be revisited each time the dog is walked, but the dog may still need to sniff and investigate nearby areas to be stimulated to eliminate. With patience, the dog should eventually eliminate outside and learn that it will be rewarded for this behavior.

In cases of extreme fearfulness, the dog may eliminate in the crate after an unsuccessful walk outdoors. If this occurs, tell the owner to follow the protocol for training a dog that soils the crate. Once the dog learns to limit its eliminations to the provided papers or pads, the owner can begin trying to change the dog's preferred substrate to one that is more acceptable, such as grass or soil.


For a variety of reasons, many dog owners find it easier to first train a dog to eliminate indoors on papers or pads. When a dog has matured and can wait longer between eliminations, the owner may wish to change the dog's substrate preference to grass or soil. This change can be most easily accomplished if the owner can first move the pads or paper closer to the door through which the dog will go outside to eliminate. Once the dog is regularly eliminating near the door on the paper or pads, the owner can begin observing the dog for signs that it needs to eliminate, interrupting the behavior, and taking the dog outside to a slightly urine-soiled pad. The pad can be laid down immediately and the dog allowed to eliminate on it. The odor and the familiar surface should encourage the dog to eliminate outside.

Once the dog becomes accustomed to going outside and eliminating on the familiar surface, the owner can move the pads or paper outside to a location and surface where the owner would like the dog to eliminate. Eventually, the paper or pad presented for elimination can be reduced in size by cutting or folding. The dog will become accustomed to walking across the grass toward the pad and, as the pad gets smaller, the dog will start eliminating on the grass. Eventually, the owner can cease providing the pad entirely.

You should make the owner aware that changing substrate preferences can be time- and labor-intensive. For this reason, warn owners of new puppies against choosing paper- or pad-training unless their schedules require it.


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