My last post on this topic had to do with the general idea of the “system” and the four essential elements of puppy training. (If you didn’t catch that post, then go back and read it first.) As time goes on, I’ll be putting out more of these systems articles. Today I want to talk about a system that probably affects you: house training your dog.
This is a tough topic, and it’s not just one that affects puppy owners. I was speaking this morning with the owner of a two-year-old German Shepherd who still wasn’t house trained, and I talk to people with four-year-old Shi Tzus and six-year old Chihuahuas who aren’t house trained. It’s obviously a difficult process—so why not use a system? Why try to reinvent the wheel and come up with your own strategy when you could opt for a system that has been proven to work, time and time again? My house training system has been used thousands of times, both with my own personal clients and with the people who use my DVDs and books. I know that this system always works quickly and effectively.
To explain further, let’s outline the four components of my house training system. Now, some of these components may turn more important than others, while you may not end up using some of them at all. But every dog, on some level, needs these elements to be present in order to be properly house trained. Your dog’s temperament will determine whether you need to enforce all of them or not.
The first systematic element is supervision, or prevention. Dogs are creatures of habit, so if you allow them to sneak around your house and go to the bathroom that will become habitual. In the beginning stages of house training, you must practice 100% supervision. Not 95%, not 93%, and definitely not 50%, which is what most owners unfortunately do. It needs to be one hundred percent. When people say that they can’t watch their dog all the time, my response is always: “Sorry—you have to!” You do have options: if you cannot watch your dog, then you can crate him. And then when you are around, keep our dog on a leash (this “tether” him) so he can’t sneak around the house and use the bathroom.
The second element is very easy: encourage good behavior. When you take your dog outside, walk him back and forth, tell him to use the bathroom, and then praise him when he does so. Tell him that he made a great decision and reward him with a treat or a toy.
Now, the third element of this system is the exact opposite of the second. When you catch your dog using the bathroom in the house, you need to correct it. I know this is becoming politically incorrect, and a lot of trainers will tell you that correction will “confuse” your dog. I’m sorry to inform you that they have no idea what they’re talking about! You absolutely can correct your dog—it’s how you let him know that going to the bathroom in the house is wrong. Your correction should never be harsh, but it should be unpleasant. When your dog is tethered, he is easy to correct. If I’m cooking dinner with my dog leashed next to my side and he starts to squat, I‘ll grab the leash and give it a few quick tugs. Then we head for the backdoor as quickly as we possibly can. It’s that simple. You can’t correct a dog after the fact—whether twenty seconds or two minutes later—because he won’t be able to create the proper association. But you can correct in the moment, and help your dog realize that going to the bathroom inside isn’t cool.
If you do this well, it doesn’t need to be difficult. The last dog that I raised only had to be corrected once for going to the bathroom in the house. When my other dog Honey was a puppy, she only had to be corrected three or four times. My other dog Rocco had to be corrected two times as a puppy, and my brother’s dog only two or three times. So between the last four dogs that I’ve raised, I can count on two hands the total amount of times that I’ve needed to correct them. If you’re supervising correctly, then the opportunity to go to the bathroom indoors is almost eliminated. If your dog does screw up, then correct it and take him outdoors quickly. He’ll start to realize that every time he uses the bathroom outside it’s like a little party, and that when he goes indoors that you don’t like it very much. If you’re supervising well, then your dog won’t get any positive reinforcement from using the bathroom indoors.
The fourth and final element of the house training system is getting your dog on a schedule. This doesn’t need to be set in stone, but you do want certain things (such as food, water, and the bathroom) to be routine. I don’t schedule water, but I will cut it off in the evening for dogs who struggle to make it through the night. You want your dog on a food schedule as well—don’t free-feed! Take your dog out to the bathroom first thing in the morning, last thing at night, an hour after he eats, after playtime, and anytime you take him out of the crate.
If you do all these things, you’ll have your dog house trained. It works every time! There is no exception, as long as you work the system. If this is a problem you’re dealing with, there is no reason to figure out your own new way to house train your dog. Instead, just follow these four steps, and it will happen. Best of luck!