Wednesday March 10th
Today, we’re tackling a topic most dog owners are too embarrassed to talk about – what to do when our adult dogs are still having accidents at home. When clients talk to me about this, their eyes sometimes tear up. They feel as if they’ve tried everything, but nothing seems to work. They’re exhausted, and frankly, fed up. What’s worse – they love their dogs so much, they’ve given up trying and have resigned themselves to being the resident pee and pooper scooper forever.
Believe me, I get it. I have so been there. Potty training issues are actually one of the top reasons dogs are surrendered to shelters, so you definitely aren’t alone. Working in rescue, I’ve certainly had my fair share of untrained dogs trot into our home and then attempt to use our flooring or furniture as their personal pee space. This can be hard cycle to change but I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to stay that way. Adult dogs can be house trained, even if they’ve been peeing and pooping inside their entire life. But how?
Last year, a very good friend of mine passed away. She was young, talented and brilliant, with her whole life ahead of her. She also lived with dogs her entire adult life. She, like most people, felt as though she had the experience needed to deal with unwanted or challenging dog behaviors. She felt confident that her exposure to dogs translated to an understanding of dogs. She was also one of those people who just did not feel comfortable asking for help.
About 3 years before she passed away, she adopted a young male terrier mix. My goodness, let me tell you – he was the sweetest, funniest, most adorable little thing. Unfortunately, he also urinated all over the back of her beautiful and expensive red couch. Oh, and every other piece of furniture he could get his paws on – (I do mean every piece)! She never complained or asked for help, she just dealt with it.
Being an attentive dog owner, she made sure to take him to the vet to rule out any underlying medical issues. When nothing of note came up, she was stumped. A totally clean bill of health. And thus, she just dealt with it. She loved that little guy, so pee all over the furniture simply became the norm. You know how Dory sings ‘Just Keep Swimming?’. Well, my friend just kept on cleaning.
I’m sure you all know someone like this – someone who loves their dog so much they’re willing to turn a blind eye to unwanted behaviors. Perhaps it’s you. Does any of this ring true? If so, don’t beat yourself up. I completely understand. The love we have for our dogs trumps everything, and the despair of struggling to find a solution can be overwhelming to the point of giving up. This leads us nicely to todays’ topic – the top 4 mistakes people make when potty training their adult dogs.
- Teaching no before yes – it’s of paramount importance that we teach our dogs what it is we want from them before teaching them what we don’t. Failure to do so can lead to a host of behavioral problems later down the line.
- Allowing undesirable behaviors to continue – every time a dog pees or poops inside the house, they’re creating a habit. The longer this habit is left unchecked, the harder it is to break. Think about how hard it is for a lifelong smoker to give up smoking compared to a smoker of 3 weeks… those neural pathways are deeply embedded, and rewiring them is no easy task!
- Not confining an untrained dog – granting an untrained dog full access to your home before they’re house trained can cause a myriad of issues. That’s why it’s important to confine them to a dog-safe area while working through the simple step-by-step training process.
- Increased outings – a pee and poop schedule is not the same thing as housetraining your dog. We need to take it one step further and help them learn how to ‘hold it’ by slowly and incrementally increasing the time between outings.
So, back to my friend and her troublesome terrier mix. When her friends and family were taking care of her final affairs, the question loomed – what to do with the dog? She loved that little guy, and so did everyone else, but nobody was willing to take him home for obvious reasons. What to do? Where to go?
Honestly, I found the whole thing so upsetting. I desperately wished she’d confided in me with her issues earlier, but she was proud, independent and preferred to handle it herself. I only wish I could have been there to help. Around the time she passed away, I had a full house, several rescues, and two terriers I had inherited from my mom when she herself passed away. I was also confident that with time and effort (plus a clean bill of health) that yes, this dog could be successfully potty trained.
So, true story, he came to live with us. It’s not difficult to house train a dog, but it does take time and consistency. And happen it did. Once he was reliably house trained, we began looking for a home for him. It didn’t take long for us to find the perfect one! We armed his new family with all the tools they’d need to ensure he kept up his new-found potty routine. They loved that little dog. And they loved their pee-free home too!
Kathleen McClure is a Certified Trainer and Counselor and Fear Free Trainer. She lives with her husband and the large menagerie of foster and rescue dogs and cats.