One of the great myths passed down from generation to generation of dog owners is that toy dogs are impossible to housebreak.
Recently, I got a call from a couple who live with two dogs, one of them a toy breed. They found housebreaking the little one to be “impossible” and rationalized for years with the usual: “He’s small, so it’s only a little bit.”
Nevertheless, they eventually tore out their carpets and tiled their home because it’s easier to clean and they could no longer bear the smell.
“A little bit” goes a long way.
Now, their patience exhausted, he called to run their current solution by me: Diapers.
While his confession was sheepish and he claimed it was his wife’s idea, he again fell back on the old tried and true: “It’s impossible to housebreak toy dogs. … Right?”
The first thing you have to understand is housebreaking is a people problem, not a dog problem. Your pooch is perfectly fine with when and where he goes. You’re the one who wants it the way you want it. So you have to teach him.
The next thing you have to understand is punishment is not teaching. It’s not his fault that your grand plan for the elimination of his waste didn’t come to him in a dream.
You must first teach him what you want, and then correct — don’t punish — him when he makes a mistake. Scolding, yelling and rubbing his nose in it won’t accomplish anything, and these tactics are likely to backfire with the creation of a fearful and possibly aggressive personality.
Let’s start with some basics.
Housebreaking means the dog never eliminates in the house.
Not even a little bit. Not even once in a while. Not on paper. Not on pads. Never. Nowhere. Nada.
Housebreaking is an excellent idea, and it’s entirely possible — for all dogs, all breeds, big and small. Dogs with medical conditions or those who are on medication are the possible exceptions.
Know this going in: Housebreaking requires patience, fastidiousness and a plan.
The first part of that plan requires setting a strict Feed-Water-Walk schedule.
Nutshell: He eats, he drinks, he goes outside. This conditions your dog’s body to eliminate according to your will and pleasure, so stick to it! No slacking, no excuses. This is your chance to make the rest of your life easier, cleaner and more aromatic.
The plan must also involve confinement. Baby gates and comfy crates are great. Free rein of the house won’t work during the housebreaking phase. You can’t correct a mistake if you’re surprised by it after the fact. You have to catch him in the act.
The rest of the plan is all about correction and praise. When you catch him in the act, say “no” using a firm tone, and then immediately take him outside and praise him when you get there, whether or not he goes. Praise is the reward. It motivates your pup to do whatever it is you want him to do — in this case, eliminate outside and only outside.
For more tips on housebreaking, or for an age-specific Feed-Water-Walk schedule, check out “When Good Dogs Do Bad Things” at unclematty.com.
The goal is to get rid of the problem, not the dog. There are millions of dogs in shelters across the country simply because they were never trained. This makes the problem much bigger than stained carpets and soiled upholstery. So make your schedule, buy your gate and stick to your plan. Your pooch wants to please. Show him the way, and go heavy on the praise!
Dog trainer Matthew “Uncle Matty” Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series “WOOF! It’s a Dog’s Life!” Read all of Uncle Matty’s columns at the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com, and visit him at http://www.unclematty.com. Send your questions firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs 95619.
Copyright 2012 Creators Syndicate Inc.