Housebreaking Your Simple Dog

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.

The Plan

Not the brightest of hounds.
SusieQ is the simplest dog I have ever encountered. This plan worked on her.

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.

By Moretta

Moretta will take that applause. Her Twitter is

14 replies on “Housebreaking Your Simple Dog”

I realize I am late to this, but on a related note…if anybody wants to laugh themselves silly about “simple dogs,” you DEFINITELY need to read some Hyperbole and a Half. I highly recommend this entry:

But if you like it, there’s several other entries that discuss the Simple Dog. And seriously – laughed myself SILLY. Maybe because I used to have a Simple Dog, but any which way, it’s good stuff.

I can’t remember what we did with KiaOra, only that we were surprised with how fast she was with house training (it was everything else that took some time, little stubborn brat).

And I don’t know if Beagles are hounds, but this half-Beagle definitely has “But It’s Raining Why Do I have To Go Outside” issue. I wish I could learn her that the quicker you sit down – the quicker you return inside.

Beagles are definitely hounds even if people don’t refer to them as such. I have had similar talks with Maggie (half Plott hound, half beagle) that are along that line, and they never take. We actually considered putting up a small shelter so she could go potty in bad weather because we knew that she wasn’t going to budge.

We had to teach Biscotti not to pee in each individual room of the house, and he’s plenty smart. We were able to startle him in the act in each room, and he learned after 1 correction. I’m very glad I haven’t had any more trouble than that.
The hounds had to be taught that it wouldn’t kill them to go outside in bad weather, but privately, I think they had a point.

Is that a hound thing? The most prissy, persnickity dog I ever had was a hound mix, and she was such a baby about going outside in bad weather. Or if the ground was damp. Or anything other than the world’s most perfect conditions. She would lay in her crate for hours over going to the bathroom.

I think it must be, but it makes no sense.
Our friend’s redbone walks out on the porch and pokes her foot off the concrete every morning. If there is too much dew on the grass, she goes back inside and doesn’t pee until her mom gets home from work that night.

It is totally a hound thing, and it makes NO SENSE whatsoever. I’m wondering if this is a “failed hunting dog” attribute because failed hunting dogs tend to be spectacular failures (I believe I’ve mentioned Striker, the dog who only sounded once in his life, when he was being driven to the pound and he passed the local pizza parlor). Hounds, man.

One of my Bassets is JUST LIKE THIS! He’ll only do his business in the rain if we stand on the porch and watch him. Otherwise, he’ll sneak into the basement and pee/poo there. We originally thought he was still struggling with house training (and it did take a really long time), but then we looked at the lengths he would go through in order to avoid having to go outside and realized what was going on.

However, my other hound has only peed in the house twice, and both times were after major changes and we hadn’t worked out how he was to ask. (I’m not counting when he marks over where Other Dog pees/poos in the house-I know that he’s just clarifying that if anyone is going to go in the house, it’ll be him.)

I cannot even tell you how much I instinctively adore Susie Q. So glad I haven’t had to participate in house training yet. Daisy wouldn’t go outside for 14 hours last week. She decided she was tired from daycare and would rather burst than be moved from the couch. I, of course, was panicked all night, because I’ve never had her wait more than five before. Brat.

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