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How to Housetrain an Adult Dog

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Although it is quite easy to housetrain a puppy, things can and do go wrong if the process is not carried out correctly. Some pet dogs reach adulthood having not been fully housetrained. Luckily, in most cases, it is a relatively simple matter to housetrain an adult dog and new habits can be established fairly quickly. It does require time and patience and a dedicated owner who is determined to succeed. How long it will take depends on:

How well the owner keeps to the routine
How quickly the dog learns
How old the dog is
And what experience the dog has had in the past
Reasons for not being clean in the house

There are many other reasons why a dog will go to the toilet in the house besides not being housetrained. Some of these are:

Stress and tension in the household
Anxiety about being left alone
Territory marking
You have been given this leaflet because simple lack of housetraining is the most likely cause of your dog wetting and/or messing in the house.

Symptoms of lack of housetraining
Usually just a few areas in the house are used as the ‘toilet.’ The dog will return to these sites again and again. These areas are not usually near the exit/entry points of the rooms used.

Some dogs may urinate and defecate in the house. Others may urinate in the house only and defecate outside, while others will defecate in the house but not urinate.

Usually, but not always, the dog will sneak away to go to the toilet, rather than go in front of humans. However, the dog may go to the toilet at any time, not just when it is left alone in the house.

What to do
Before starting the new routine, carefully clean all areas your dog has previously soiled using biological washing powder solution or a specially formulated product from your veterinary surgeon which will remove all traces of the smell from your house.

To housetrain an adult dog, it is important that, for a few weeks, he is kept under constant supervision so that he cannot go to the toilet in the house. During moments when you cannot supervise him or when you go to sleep, he needs to be confined so that he cannot get out of the bed where he sleeps. This will ensure that whenever he goes to the toilet, he has no alternative but to go in your presence and you can start to teach him where you want him to go.

Very few dogs will soil their own bed and, if confined to their bed, they are unlikely to relieve themselves. Although it is unfair to confine them there for long periods, this does give you a way of preventing them from soiling the house, thereby perpetuating bad habits, at times when you need to concentrate on other things.

You will need to find a suitable way to do this, either by barricading them into their bed or tying them so they cannot move off their bed (do not use a check chain and ensure there is no possibility of their injuring themselves if you do this). Better still, borrow or invest in an indoor kennel or crate. You may need to get your dog accustomed to being left in this way: leave him there for short periods of time at first so that he accepts it without making a noise or trying to break out, especially if you intend to leave him in this way all night. See the Denver Dumb Friend's Leage Crate Training article.

When you first wake up, last thing at night and every two hours during the day, take your dog outside to the place in your garden that you have chosen and let him walk up and down or run about and sniff the area (both exercise and sniffing helps stimulate elimination.) Put any soiled newspaper or feces in this area so that the smell will tell him where to go next time. Stay out with him (take a coat or umbrella with you if necessary so you are not in a hurry to get back in yourself.) Be patient and walk him up and down for at least 5 minutes. If he starts to relieve himself, praise quietly until he is finished, then praise him very enthusiastically and reward him with a game or food treat.

Between trips to the garden, supervise your dog continuously when he is in the house. By keeping him in a view at all times and being aware of what he is doing. When you are unable to supervise him, confine him to his bed, but do not leave him there for long periods of time.

If you see your dog about to relieve himself indoors, say ‘NO’ loudly and take him immediately to your chosen place in the garden and praise him. Although he has done nothing to be praised for, it is essential that he associate going to that place with reward. You will have caught him in time so he will still need to go. Wait until he has relaxed and praise him well if he relieves himself.

Do not punish your dog for any ‘accidents’ that you may discover too late. It may make you feel better but it is most unpleasant for your dog and worst of all does not teach him anything. These accidents are now your fault rather than his since you were not supervising him closely enough.

You will need to continue with the routine for at least two weeks. During this time, your dog will then learn that he gets praised for going to the toilet outside and, since he cannot go inside, he will develop the habit of going outside. Throughout these first two weeks and for a while afterwards, continue to go out with him to the garden in order to praise him, until the training is firmly fixed in his mind.

After two weeks, gradually increase the time between visits to the garden. Your dog will eventually want to relieve himself at a time other than the one you select. At this time he will probably become more active or may wander over to the door. Watch for a change in his behavior and take him out quickly. Gradually, as you begin to take him out less often, and you begin to be able to recognize the signs that mean he needs to go, you can relax your supervision of him while he is in the house.

Eventually, you will be able to watch for specific signals that indicate that he wants to go out, such as running to the door or standing beside it whining. Reinforce these by letting him out and he will soon be asking to go out whenever he needs to go to the toilet.

Housetraining will happen more easily
if you keep to the same pattern of feeding and exercising each day

What to do at night
The easiest solution is to position your dog’s bed somewhere outside your bedroom door and confine him to it in the usual way. Leave your bedroom door open so that if he wakes up and needs to relieve himself in the night, you will hear him whine or bark. Get up, release him and take him outside, following all the daytime procedures. Confine him to his bed once more when you bring him in.

DO NOT LEAVE HIM CONFINED TO HIS BED ALL NIGHT without being available to take him out when he really needs to go. Not only would this be unkind but also if you force him to mess in his bed, he may develop a habit of doing this and you will have lost the chance of teaching him to be clean.

If he is likely to bark as soon as you leave him confined to his bed at night, either allow for this for a few nights (he will eventually learn that barking is not rewarded and will cease to do it) or teach him to get used to being confined to his bed more slowly during the day so he can tolerate it at night.

What to do when you go out
If you are going for less than two hours, you could leave him confined to his bed in the usual way. Ensure he has a chance to exercise and relieve himself before doing so.

If you will be out for two hours or longer, do not confine him. Leave him in one room only and cover as many of the floor area as possible with a large sheet of polythene, laying newspaper on top of this. This will not teach him to be clean but it will make any messes easier to clean up and prevent the house becoming soiled. Do not scold or punish if you find that your dog has gone to the toilet on the floor when you return. It may make you feel better, but it is unpleasant for your dog and will have no effect on his future behavior.

“He knows he’s done wrong!”
Some owners will say, “Oh, but he knows he has done wrong because if I show him the mess he looks guilty.” The dog has simply learned that if humans are present and there is a mess on the floor, he is likely to be told off or punished. Your dog is actually showing his submission to you, hoping that you will obey the law of the pack and stop your aggression. Unfortunately, a submissive posture can look like a guilty one to us and we will often mistakenly believe that the dog knows it is doing wrong. We then conclude that any messes in the house are done on purpose or because the dog is too lazy to go outside and we are likely to punish more as a result.

“Don’t go when humans are around”
Some dogs will have learned just one thing about housetraining – that it is wrong to go to the toilet in the house in front of their owners. This is because they would have been scolded or punished if they were caught in the act of relieving themselves in the house. They may then have been put out in the garden and left there. Once outside, the puppy, to whom being alone is very uncomfortable, would have turned its attention to getting back inside to its owner, rather than concentrating on going to the toilet.

Hence, the puppy would have been taught that it is wrong to go in the presence of humans but it has never learned that it is wrong to go in the house. Consequently, the only option is to wait until its owners are not looking, or sneak away into another room when it wants to relieve itself.


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