There are all kinds of canine intelligence. There are some dogs who are brilliant problem-solvers. There are some dogs who are quick to learn commands. There are other dogs who are highly obedient. There are some dogs who are extremely emotionally intelligent.
The dogs I’m talking about aren’t intelligent in any of those ways. They take a long time to learn things. They are easily confused. They are constantly distracted. I’m talking about these dogs. Simple dogs. There’s no disgrace in their lack of intelligence — we love them just as much as their clever counterparts.
However, if you live with a dog like this, you face some challenges when it comes to training. Specifically, it can be really hard to get your simple dog to learn anything, even really important things, like housebreaking. I have fostered some blockhead dogs before, and I’ve had to introduce them to even the most basic skills. Here’s what has worked well for me in the housebreaking department.
Read this carefully. You are going to need three weeks of time to commit to this plan. You will need to adhere to it completely. COMPLETELY. At the end, though, your dog should be housebroken.
Here’s what you’ll need: A crate. A leash. A dog. A patch of green outside where you want the dog to relieve him or herself. If you don’t have a crate, you will not be able to use this plan. A pen is not an acceptable alternative, nor is a small room. No crate, no work.
Why the crate? First, let’s understand how dogs work. Dogs are programmed to want to keep their living area (you can think of it as a den if you want) clean. However, dogs that are new to housebreaking tend to think of their den as encompassing a very small area only. Everything else is a potential potty area. This means that until you have redefined what constitutes a den for your dog, you need to keep your dog in his crate unless you have your eyes on him at at all times.
When you aren’t watching your dog, put him in the crate. Make sure the crate is the right size, but NOT too big (Google how to determine this). On the hour, every hour, put your dog on leash and take him outside to the elimination spot — the patch of green where you’d like him to relieve himself. Stand at the elimination spot and wait until your dog goes potty. When that happens, praise him loudly and excessively, then allow him to have fun, either by letting him off-leash to run around the yard, or by taking him on a walk. I don’t recommend administering treats, though, because the dog might become so focused on the smelly goodness that he will forget to go potty.
So, your dog has gone potty, and now he gets to have fun. Great! When you bring him in, tether his leash to you and let him walk around or stay close to you for 10-15 minutes. Keep him on leash. Pay close attention to him during that time. If he starts to lift his leg, interrupt him and rush him outside to go potty (that’s why you need the leash). Once the ten minutes are up, put him back in the crate. You are on your way.
Now what if your dog won’t go potty and just stands there sniffing the air, oblivious? You just have to wait it out, my friend. Bring a chair if you need to, or some reading matter. Don’t pay ANY attention to your dog until he eliminates. This should be the most boring experience imaginable for the dog. For the same reason, make sure that the elimination area isn’t too stimulating. It should be quiet and somewhat secluded, if possible. I had one foster dog who made me wait up to 45 minutes before she would go.
So, whether it happened quickly or slowly, your dog has gone potty and has now been introduced to two concepts: 1. You want him to go outside in this one spot. 2. Until he goes, he doesn’t get to do anything fun, or get any of your attention.
Keep repeating this process, eventually lengthening the time that the dog goes between trips outside as you see that he is starting to get the idea. At the same time, you can keep the dog out of the crate longer and longer, AGAIN SUPERVISING HIM EVERY SINGLE SECOND AND KEEPING HIM ON A FAIRLY SHORT LEASH. If he makes a mistake, go back to shorter intervals. Eventually, you can start letting the dog walk around with the leash trailing in a small area. Be ready to grab the leash if you need to. The big thing is you must dedicate yourself to watching your dog at all times. If you can’t watch for even a minute, into the crate he should go.
Up the intervals by 10-15 minutes as your dog shows more and more competence. Eventually you’ll have him up to a few hours of time between potty breaks, and then you are good. If you are going to be gone longer, you’ll need to make sure that your dog empties his bladder immediately before you leave, and immediately after you get home. Your going home routine should be door, leash, dog, OUT. Then you can come in and go over the mail. Also, remember that dogs’ bladders can only hold so much liquid for so long, so it’s not realistic to expect him to hold it more than a certain number of hours (Google it for the moment — we’ll be writing an article on this at some point). Keep using the crate until you are comfortable that your dog won’t go in the house, then you can start leaving him in a small gated room, or in a pen. Remember, gradual steps. Provide access to the rest of the house gradually — the slower the better.
Here are some other things to help make this process a success.
- Watch your dog to see if you can learn the signs that he wants to go outside. When you see these signs, acknowledge them and take your dog outside, STAT.
- Sometimes there will be accidents. That’s life. It can be caused by a variety of things, including excitement or a UTI (dogs can get UTIs in a matter of hours, it seems). Don’t be daunted — it will happen. Also, please tell me you know NOT to get angry at your dog if you find he’s had an accident, right? If you see your dog in the middle of having an accident, you can try to startle him by shouting or clapping your hands to see if he’ll stop long enough for you to get him outside; however, the simple dogs tend to be really “in the moment” when they relieve themselves, so chances are they’ll just look at you confused while they continue peeing.
- Carpeted rooms can confuse the simple dog (soft absorbent stuff=grass substitute), so those should be the absolute last rooms that the dog gets to go into off-leash.
Good luck! You can do this. Remember, your simple dog loves you with all of his great big heart. He wants to please you, but it will take him a lot longer to learn how to do this.