Whether you’ve adopted a puppy or an adult dog, the key is to treat him like you have a toddler in your care. Good training begins with good management!
Positive reinforcement training is similar to holistic type of wellness practices and as such we want to put the emphasis on the prevention of ‘bad’ behavior rather than trying to cure an unwanted behavior, whenever possible.
So when it comes to housebreaking and other behaviors for your dog, let’s look at some ways of managing our pups.
Keep to a schedule starting with an early morning time to take Pup out to do his business, and that means before you get dressed, make coffee or do anything else
Have a few rewards stashed in your jacket pocket and be prepared to let him know that he just eliminated in the right area, and that’s anywhere that is NOT in your home
It’s important to stimulate your dog’s brain by giving him problems to solve. Figuring out how to get kibble from a puzzle toy or that his good behavior brings rewards are ways to give him mental enrichment. Take a portion of Pup’s breakfast kibble and serve it in a Kong, a puzzle toy; (or make a puzzle toy from an empty cereal box by putting his kibble inside and then watch as he has fun destroying the cardboard to get to his food!) Use the remainder of kibble for training. While on walks, for example give Pup some kibble when he’s walking nicely on his leash and after he pees or poops.
Monitor Pup when you are at home to keep him safe and to prevent him from eliminating indoors. Restrict access to the entire home by putting him in an exercise pen, similar to a toddler’s playpen or you can find a small room and install a gate. Make sure this area is near you so you can monitor his activities. Pup can wear a light-weight line which you can tethered to your belt. This is an excellent way of observing Pup and reinforcing him when he does desirable behaviors as well as noticing when he begins to sniff around in search of a place to eliminate. Now you can get him out BEFORE he eliminates indoors, and just as important, you can reinforce him outdoors.
Be aware that dogs and puppies will eliminate upon waking from sleep, after playtime, after eating or drinking or anytime they get excited such as when you have house-guests, so be prepared to take them out at those times as well as the scheduled times.
Prior to taking Pup outdoors, try to elicit an excited behavior by being enthused, grabbing his leash and asking, “Do you want to go out?” The excitement will be associated with running to the door and ideally this will be his new cue to “tell” you he needs to potty. But regardless, don’t wait for him to tell you, just take him out on schedule.
Make a “potty plan chart” to gage your progress, by keeping track of when you’ve taken him outdoors and whether he peed and or pooped, because if for example, he has only peed in the morning, a poop will soon follow and you don’t want to leave him home alone with a full belly.
If he does have an accident, use an enzyme product such as Nature’s Miracle to clean the area. Follow the instructions on the bottle.
Take him out right before bedtime and restrict his water intake for the night. You should relax this rule when he’s housebroken, but for now we are trying to set him up to win.
As mentioned before, use your extra kibble for reinforcement of desirable behaviors.
Secure Pup’s area before you leave the house. Remember this is a toddler who has the ability of being destructive.
Make sure that you have a good understanding of the length of time your puppy or dog can be left alone without eliminating. If you’re going to be gone all day, you should have a dog walker or a doggie daycare lined up. If that is cost prohibitive, then you need to make an indoor toilet area for your pup or adult dog. And NEVER punish your pup or adult dog if you come home to a “mess”, no matter how “guilty” you think he looks. Not only is the onus on you to provide adequate toilet opportunities as well as a “puppy proofed” environment, but should you punish you dog after the fact, he won’t understand why and he’ll learn to fear you! That is counter to any healthy relationship.
Prior to leaving the home, give Pup a safe toy (i.e., something he cannot swallow or break into tiny pieces). An appropriately sized Kong stuffed with his kibble or other treats is ideal. Now, walk out without any fanfare. Upon returning, hopefully to a calm dog, he’s going to be excited to see you, but watch for a moment when he has all four paws on the floor and then pet him calmly, as opposed to when he’d jumping all over you.
Remember puppies and adult dogs are always learning, even when they are not in school, so it is up to the human to make sure that they are learning desirable behaviors: Never miss an opportunity to reward good behavior when you see it and make sure that you are preventing the bad behavior with good management!
© Fran Berry, all rights reserved 2012
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