Housetraining Your GSP:
Common Myths and Misconceptions
Indoor accidents are an inevitable part of raising a puppy or rescuing a dog. I am currently going through this with my own puppy, and it is not fun. But this too will pass (pun unintended). When owners ask me about house-training issues, the following questions and complaints are the most common:
I take my dog outside every hour, and he still goes to the bathroom inside. Taking a puppy outside every hour on the hour is a common recommendation. Unfortunately, your pup has not read the manual. Even our own body doesn’t behave like clockwork. Puppies often don’t “empty out” on the first try. Both of my dogs need to go out before and after eating breakfast, and sometimes my puppy needs to go out every 20 or 30 minutes, depending on his activity at the time. I don’t get much done, but I’ve stepped in enough puddles and piles to make some temporary sacrifices in my schedule.
My puppy sleeps through the night without eliminating, so he should be able to hold it during the day. Not true. The body’s metabolism is slower during sleep. I can usually sleep 8 hours through the night, but I most certainly can’t hold it for very long during the day. I know, TMI.
My dog knows he shouldn’t poop (or pee) inside because he looks guilty. That guilty look is his attempt to make peace with you (appeasement). Dogs are much better at reading human body language that we are, even when we are faking it. When an accident occurs, the guilty one is you because you weren’t watching him. Your dog needs lots of gentle guidance from you to establish good habits. Holding poop is harder than holding pee (can you relate?).
My dog sneaks off to another room to pee or poop. He has learned that you startle or scare him if he eliminates in front of you. Many dogs like a little privacy, especially when they poop. A dog should earn his freedom, one room at a time. My 6 month old has yet to earn her freedom to roam from room to room. She won’t earn that privilege until she is at least 12 months old and all goes well. When she is not crated, she is confined to one room with a hard floor, under supervision.
My dog doesn’t tell me when he has to go. I hung bells on the door but he doesn’t ring them. In my experience, many young dogs don’t behave in an obvious way (like scratching or barking at the door) to tell you they have to go outside. You have to be on the lookout for subtle changes in activity like increased wandering, sniffing or whining. My puppy just recently started scratching the back door (I didn’t teach her to). I have to be observant or I’ll miss it. My husband never notices it while he is watching TV or focused on his computer!
In the past few days, I transferred the pawing to touching a bell with her nose. I presented the bell from behind my back, and when she investigated it, I praised profusely and quickly opened the door to let her out. She now lightly touches the bell to go out. I know I will soon be annoyed that I taught her this because she will ring the bell every 30 minutes to go out and play, just like my older GSP did during his adolescence.
I take my dog for long walks to get him to go, but he holds it until we get home. Change the order. Walk him immediately after he eliminates in the yard. If he doesn’t go, take him back inside. No potty, no walk. Confine him or watch him like a hawk. Take him back out in about 20 minutes. Repeat until he produces. If you don’t go out in the yard with him, you aren’t doing your part as his teacher.
I tell my dog “go potty”/“do your business”/“hurry up”, but he won’t go. That’s because English is not his first language. Dogs are triggered to eliminate by scent and a full bladder/bowel. You can quietly say your chosen phrase as your dog is going, not before. Eventually he will associate the phrase with the action, but this takes time. If you just keep saying it hoping he will go, he will think the phrase means “Walk around while Mom/Dad babbles”.
I thought crates house-trained dogs, but mine goes to the bathroom in his crate. A crate is just one house-training tool (and a useful one if introduced correctly at a very young age). People house-train dogs. Crates can easily be misused because it’s easier to crate than to supervise. If a puppy is crated too long and is forced to eliminate there (common in puppy mills or pet stores), crate soiling is going to be a hard or even impossible habit to break. You will need a different system of confinement. Limit him to a small gated area with a hard floor (bathroom, empty closet, laundry room, or exercise pen). Place a dog bed on one end and a potty area (real/fake grass or potty pads) at the other end. When he is consistently eliminating on the designated spot proceed gradually with house-training, making sure that the new habit of keeping his bedding clean is solid established.
The rescue organization told me my dog is house-trained. They lied. Not necessarily. Just because your newly acquired dog didn’t have accidents in the shelter or foster family’s home doesn’t mean he was fully house-trained. Many dogs do not generalize house-training to new buildings. Have you ever been to a big box pet store and found urine stains on the edges of display shelves? The stress of re-homing can cause accidents, too. Treat him as you would an 8 week old puppy and start at square one.
The bottom line is supervise, supervise, and supervise some more. Keep treats readily accessible by the door to tuck in your pocket before you take your pup outside. If you can’t watch your dog, confine him. If you are going to be gone longer than he can hold it, provide a potty spot in a confinement area (not a crate). Better yet, leave him with a sitter who can carry on the training in your absence. Never pull your dog over to his waste to point out his transgression. All you are teaching him is that you act scary around waste products. The reward your dog experiences for eliminating is immediate relief. Whatever you do after the act doesn’t hold a candle to the relief he feels when he is going (can you relate?). If you set things up so you don’t give him the opportunity to eliminate indoors, house-training will go more smoothly.