Dogcharmer: Alex hits the Terrible 14s

There’s been backsliding.

14-week-old golden retriever Alex, sitting with 4-year-old Brady. — Courtesy Tom Shelby

Hey Tom,

This is my 14-week-old golden retriever, Alex sitting on my 4 year old, Brady. You could say he’s been a bit of a problem child (Alex and Brady). In general he’s (Alex now) a great pup, but as most pups his age, he seems to be rebelling and regressing in a few areas. The main thing we are concerned about is him still not being housebroken. He was doing so well up until about a week and a half ago. Since then he has been having accidents (No. 1) in the house about three to four times a day — especially when the whole family is home. We are being consistent and firm. Not sure what we are missing. Your expertise is certainly welcome and appreciated. I look forward to hearing your response as we need to nip this in the bud immediately!

Thanks, Tom!


Dear Dennis, 

People think it’s funny when I say, “It’s amazing how much of my life revolves around feces and urine!” But, even if the dog loads the dishwasher, takes out the garbage and does the laundry, if he’s pooping or peeing in the house, it gets real old real fast!

Dogs, like wolves, have what’s called “den instinct”, meaning they don’t make where they eat and sleep. The expression “dirty dog” comes from the dog that will pee or poop in his crate and not care about lying in it. So the goal is to make the crate his den, which quickly expands to the room the crate is in, followed by the whole house becoming the den. Dennis, you want Alex to love his crate, which is accomplished by feeding one or two of his meals in it, and luring him into it several times a day by saying “go to your house” (or whatever) and tossing treats into the crate. The crate is never to be used as a punishment!

Whenever Alex is not in the crate he needs to be observed. Always! An eight-paneled three-foot-high metal exercise pen will make it easy to keep him confined with somebody when he’s not in the crate. If he makes in the house without being caught in the act, you took a half step backwards. If you see him all of a sudden start to sniff intently, he’s likely looking for the right place to pee. If he starts kind of darting back and forth, he’s about to poop. Seeing either, it’s time to say, “Alex, wanna go out?” and immediately take him out. The moment he finishes his business, tell him what a good boy he is with a treat. Then bring him back in the house. Ideally, the moment you see him start to relieve himself indoors you want to stop him with a firm “Uh-uh,” or some kind of noisemaker, stopping him by startling him. In the housebreaking mode, it might be a good idea to let him drag a flat four-foot nylon leash on a harness with the handle cut off (less likely to get caught on things) that you can quickly pick up and head outside. When he can’t be observed he’s lured into his den with treats.

Dogs are very attracted to make where they smell it — and Alex has 200 million olfactory cells in his nose, compared to our 5 million. So eliminating the odor of a mistake is important. Use and odor neutralizer like white vinegar or Nature’s Miracle to clean. Just as we don’t have meals in the bathroom, if Alex keeps making on the same spot, try feeding him several meals on that spot, incorporating that area as an eating area, as opposed to a toilet. If you’re diligent, reliable housebreaking will follow quickly. 

Good luck, and congrats on your new family member,

Dogcharmer Tom

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