Q: I read about your panel and I am desperate for help with my dog. He is an 11½-year-old miniature poodle. My late father adopted him from the pound and I inherited him about 7 years ago.
Although he is basically housebroken and goes to the door to be let out, I think he has separation anxiety issues and at times is very nervous. If he is upset or if I leave him he wets on my furniture and carpet. I now lock him in my office when I leave and he does nothing. I let him out when I return and he goes outside. However, when I am not looking or step outside for a moment he will wet on the carpet or the furniture.
He has ruined our family room carpet and we can’t replace it as long as we have him. We are animal lovers, have always had dogs, and are very attached to him but I don’t know how much longer I can handle this problem. I would appreciate any advice your panel could give.
— J.W., Hartville
A: A number of years ago I read that more dogs are relinquished due to housebreaking issues than any other reason. That is why I take housebreaking so seriously.
First of all, if there is a sudden regression in housebreaking, one must make sure there is nothing physical going on with the dog. One such issue is a bladder infection. So the first step is a complete physical with your vet. Especially at 11 years old, that must be the first step.
Second, either a dog is housebroken or it is not. It’s like being pregnant — either you are or you are not. One thing I noticed right off is if the dog is confined then he does not go. That is important.
Dogs must earn the right to be allowed to be loose in the house — it is not a privilege. That means if you cannot keep an active eye on the dog it must be in a crate, or in your case your office. We often give dogs way too much freedom that they have not earned. They learn by conditioned response, which means if he’s gone in the house without any consequences he could continue to do so.
When I am housebreaking a dog, or there is regression, they are in the same room as I am. Period! I have known people who actually tether the dog to their waist so they know what the dog is doing and are able to let it out if it acts like it has to go.
If the dog has regressed and there is nothing going on physically, approach it just like original housebreaking. Go outside with the dog, using whatever word to cue it, and reward the dog for going outside (not when it comes back in the house, because the way a dog thinks, it would think it is being rewarded for coming in the house and not going potty).
If the dog does not go potty, then it is back in the crate or you keep an active eye on the dog. A little while later, take him out again. Some dogs learn to go potty outside by simply rewarding for it and taking it out on a regular basis. Some dogs need to be shown the spot where they have gone potty in the house, lowering the voice and telling them they are a bad dog. I do not advocate hitting the dog. You are lowering your voice and telling him he is bad.
If you catch him going, scoop him up and tell him “Outside!” or whatever your cue word is and take him out. If I find a spot I will bring the dog to it and tell them they are bad after I have let them smell what I am upset about. I believe the dog can learn that the scent is unacceptable within the confines of a building.
Again, some learn just fine by just taking them out and rewarding them for going outside. Some do not. Depends on the dog. Always start with the easy and work one’s way up the scale of correction needed. Note: correction and not punishment. Huge difference between the two concepts, but that is for another time.
Because the behavior has been going on for some time, it will take time to re-condition the behavior. It takes humans a minimum of three weeks to begin to develop a new behavior. It takes a dog a minimum of six. That is why you will find most training classes in six- or eight-week sessions.
Because the dog is 11 years old, it will take longer to recondition the behavior, but it is possible. We are such an instant society that if does not happen right away, we think there is something wrong with the dog or we just give up. They are animals, not machines that one can program. We know the behavior can be modified/changed because of all the dogs that come into rescue situations that have been housebroken and successfully re-homed. It will take work!
Next, clean and disinfect the spot, but the important step is neutralizing the scent. Dogs will always go where they smell they have gone before. There are many products on the market that claim to be very effective. I personally use white vinegar and spray it down well.
I have had intact males and traveled all over, staying in hotels, being in convention centers, as well as doing therapy dog work without my dogs marking or going in a building. Marking is a housebreaking issue, and I treat it as such.
— Susan Jenkins, owner of Papp’s Dog Services in Akron and a member of the National Association of Obedience Instructors and the International Association of Canine Professionals.
Please send questions about your pet to Kathy Antoniotti at the Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640; or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your full name and address and a daytime phone number where you can be reached. I will forward your questions to the expert I think is best suited to answer your particular problem. Phoned-in messages will not be taken.