Dogcharmer: Housebreaking, the eternal challenge

Your consistency will give Zeke progress.

Zeke can learn to be housebroken if the training is consistent. — Courtesy Tom Shelby

I adopted Zeke, a very active poodle mix, in January. He is not my first dog, as I am 73 and have had dogs most of my adult life. I cannot seem to housebreak him. I am growing tired of walking him, and failing; at least once every couple of days he either poops or pees in the house. I fenced in a patch of grass, and he will not go down there and pee, unless I carry him, and even then he just stands and looks at me. Sometimes he pees on the wooden porch, which I can live with, but I cannot stand a dog who will spend his life peeing in my house. 

I take him for a long walk after breakfast and after supper. The other times I put him either on the front porch or the back yard. At night he is crated because he can’t be trusted not to defecate. On two or three occasions, he actually pooped in his crate and covered it up with his blanket. I am on the edge of bringing him back to the shelter, although the thought greatly upsets me. 


Dear Pat,

Thank you for being a life saving adopter. As for Zeke’s issue, believe me when I say I understand. People would laugh when I said, “It’s amazing how much of my life revolves around feces and urine!” But above all else, nobody wants to live in a house with the pee and poop of an unhousebroken dog. 

Dogs have what is called a den instinct. A wolf will not have her pups lying in their waste. She cleans the den. Housebreaking starts with the crate serving as the den, which then expands to the room the crate is in, then to the whole house. Pat, you mentioned that Zeke pooped in the crate and then covered it with his blanket. Frankly, I don’t blame him, who wants to lie in that stuff? Remove the blanket! It will incentivize him not to make if he has to lie in it! Also, make sure the crate space is not so big that he can avoid it if he has a mistake. Next, get him to love his crate. Feed one of his two meals a day in the crate, and in the course of the day, toss little people food treats in the crate as you enhance his vocabulary by telling him to go to his house. When he’s not in the crate, he’s supervised. Period. He can’t sneak around the corner unseen, take a quick pee, and come back as Mr. Innocence. He’s confined in your viewing area, be it by gates or a tie-down. 

Procure one of the many ultrasound dog trainer devices. It’s a little plastic thing that when you press a button the dog hears a very annoying, startling sound. You will hear nothing. Or you have a marine signal horn, or a bell, anything that will really startle Mr. Zeke. If you see him start walking around sniffing a lot, he’s telling you he’s looking for a place to pee. Good time to ring a little bell hanging from the exit doorknob at his nose height as you say, “Wanna go pee?” 

Then grab the five-foot leash attached to his harness that he’s been dragging around, and take him out. He’s got five to 10 minutes. If he makes, a special treat with praise the moment he’s finished. Then back in the house. If he didn’t make, he’s more closely watched when back indoors. If you catch him starting to make, you don’t want to be pointing the ultrasound device at him. Act as though you have nothing to do with it, be subtle. The key is that Zeke relates the startlement to his making, not to you or your disappointment or anger. 

However, when it happens, feel free to let Zeke know in your voice and body language that you’re not happy when cleaning his mess. He gets more freedom as he earns it. A good long walk once a day, giving him exposure to the world and the ability to sniff for gossip, will help with his socialization and get him more accustomed to making outside. Be consistent, and enjoy the progress.

Dogcharmer Tom

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