Housebreaking is an absolute
Every dog is trained to his owner’s level of comfort. If it doesn’t bother you that Fido likes to watch television sitting next to you on the couch, you’re not going to make an issue of keeping him off the furniture. If it makes you crazy when Spot barks at the vacuum cleaner, you’ll be more willing to put in the effort to teach her not to.
One absolute for us is that dogs must be housebroken. It’s not the most pleasant topic of conversation, but it’s essential to us. We even teach them to urinate and defecate on command. It takes work, patience and absolute consistency, but any healthy dog can be taught to keep her house clean and be a welcome guest wherever she travels.
Puppies under six months old should not be expected to be “good” all day while you’re at work, the kids are at school and no one’s there. If someone can’t get home at mid-day to take the puppy out, exercise it and give it some lunch, it may not be the right time for a dog.
Years ago, before crate training became the norm in housebreaking, most dogs were “paper-trained” as puppies. I don’t really advise it unless you intend to make it the last stop in dog training. It’s hard to transition a dog from the paper to outside.
Small dog owners may like the option of a permanent, indoor toilet area for their dogs, a “litter box” for dogs. It solves the issues of walking the dog in inclement weather, keeping the dog warm in winter and works well for many apartment dwellers without immediate access to the outdoors. Since small dogs seem to need to eliminate more often, continuous access to a litter box may be ideal for some small dog owners.
Wherever you decide you want your dog to “do its business,” take it there at regular intervals, give it whatever command you choose to use for the behavior and be patient. I even recommend carrying the dog to the toilet area first thing in the morning, or any time you know it really has to go.
When your dog produces the behavior you want – don’t forget the praise. Let your dog know you’re happy with her. And when your dog does “mess up,” remember it’s your fault. It’s always your fault. You weren’t paying attention, you didn’t see the signs, you didn’t get the dog outside in time.
If you catch FiFi in the act, make a loud noise to distract it (I tend to scream “No,” or drop a heavy book on the floor) and hustle the dog outside. If the dog finishes its business outside, praise him to the skies; “What a wonderful, clever puppy you are!” Ideally, someone else will have cleaned up while you’re outside. If not, don’t let the pup watch you do it.
There is no punishment for messing in the house. If you don’t catch the dog in the act, it’s your fault. Just clean up and forget about it. If you take a page from prehistory and “rub his nose in it,” your dog will learn that it’s bad for him if you find messes. So he’ll hide them. Dogs don’t have a “cause and effect” memory.
A friend of mine has heard my housebreaking lecture many times and after four years his Dachshund Charlie still urinates in his dining room. Why? My friend won’t commit to paying attention to his dog, and won’t put in the effort needed. He thinks Charlie “knows” he’s bad, because Charlie runs the other way when Sam goes into the dining room. Charlie knows he gets in trouble when Sam goes into the dining room. Charlie has no idea that dried puddle is the source of Sam’s anger, and certainly has no memory of producing it. Don’t be like Sam. It’s easier to teach the behavior you want than fix mistakes later.