We all think our dogs are smart. Some of us think our dogs are really smart. I do. I think my Pit Bull Bunch is at the top of the class. After all, after I adopted her, she learned her new name in a day. Pretty swift, huh?
Why, then, has it been really hard to teach Bunch not to pee in the house? Granted, it’s a tough situation — she is two years old, she lived on the streets a lot of that time, we live in an apartment sans yard, and her brother, Hudson (an old Pit Bull), is allowed to go to the bathroom inside on wee-wee pads because his illnesses can prevent him from going out.
Other dog owners may not have the last three issues to deal with but many, especially those who adopt, have difficulty house training an adult dog. We all know the adage, “An old dog can’t learn new tricks,” and we all know it isn’t true. But you may need to be creative to teach an adult dog where to go, so your best bet is to use a method that is both linear and instinctive.
Dogs think mostly linearly. That is, simply and step-by-step, without human traits that get in the way, such as analyzing and self-doubt. They are also instinctive, which means their behavior often follows a fixed pattern.
If you’ve adopted an adult dog, chances are you don’t know much about her previous life. If it consists of running around the streets of New York City like Bunch’s does, it means starting house training from scratch. Bear this in mind and keep your house training as positive and gentle as possible.
You’ll also have to set aside plenty of time. You need to commit to one-on-one time at home with you focusing on your dog and his training. This includes keeping your patience.
In this method, you will be attached to your dog all of the time except when she’s in the crate. Talk about bonding! I’ve found that this is one of the best ways to house train an adult dog. It is also gentle, positive, and very simple, and works well if you don’t have a yard.
Attach the leash to your dog, loop the leash handle through your belt or around your waist (if you have a small waist, which I certainly don’t), and then hang out with your dog. That’s it! Do whatever you need to — cleaning, reading, writing, etc. — with your dog at your side. You can talk to your dog about last night’s date, how work sucks, what you think about politics — it doesn’t matter. This is a time to bond, and your dog is a good listener.
During this, watch your dog for signs of peeing or pooping. These will quickly become apparent. Most dogs will start to sniff for an area to go in and, if you haven’t cleaned well, will go to the same area again and again. As soon as you suspect foul play (sorry, bad pun), speak in your best positive voice and say, “Let’s go outside!” Rather than dragging your dog to the door, distract her with a treat and encourage her to heel.
After your dog pees or poops outside, give praise and treats galore. Repeat as needed. (Usually for about two weeks.) Simple!
Bear in mind some things that the umbilical cord method doesn’t entail:
If your dog has an accident after you think the house training is complete, start over. This is very important in relation to a dog’s linear thinking — she needs to repeat a previous step in order to follow the next one.
Remember that even an “oh so smart” dog may have trouble with house training, especially if she’s an adult. Bunch and I are still working on it, but it’s been the best method I’ve tried. There’s no need to assume your dog is lacking in the brains department or to prove that your dog is still smart. Say, did I mention that Bunch learned her name?
Read more on housebreaking — and cleaning up the messes!