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Thursday, March 4, 2010

How do you teach a dog to ask to go out?

Dear Jan,
My dog is six months old and is mostly housebroken but still has accidents if I don't catch her very subtle signs that she has to go out.  I have bells hanging on my door, and would like her to learn to ask me by ringing the bells. How do I teach her to ask?

Dear Donna,
I never teach my dogs to ask, and wouldn't recommend that you do either.  Teach her, instead, to depend on you to let her out before she has to ask.

While many people want their dogs to bark, ring bells or blow whistles when they need a potty break, this behavior more often than not becomes problematic.  Young dogs quickly learn it's a great game to get you to let them out, and immediately let them back in again.  This manipulation puts the dog in charge, which is double trouble if you're trying to act like a leader.

It's your job, as leader, to take total control of your dog's elimination schedule.  She eliminates when you have time to let her out.  In all fairness, you're always going to let her out before her need becomes critical.  You know there are certain times she'll have to go potty:
  • Whenever she wakes up from a nap.
  • First thing in the morning.
  • After she eats.
  • Whenever she comes out of her crate.
  • After a play session or some other excitement.

If she doesn't go potty during the times you provide for her, then she must hold it until the next time.  How do you teach her to hold it?  Crate her during those periods when you can't watch her, or during those periods your dog commonly has an accident..  If your dog habitually leaves puddles on the floor between 9 am and 10 am, for example (when you're distracted and catching up on email), crate her so she doesn't have the option of piddling.  (She won't piddle in her crate.)  If she's been piddling on your floor in the middle of the night, crate her when you go to bed.  There isn't a healthy dog over the age of 12 weeks who can't hold her pee all night if she is forced to do so.  You do not need to get up to let her outside.  If she whines and tries to convince you otherwise, try ignoring her noises for a night or two.  She will probably adjust very quickly to spending the night in her crate, and her habit of going potty in the middle of the night will be extinguished.

My dog Lizzie goes to bed early...around 8pm.  I don't go to bed until around 11:30.  Before I turn in, I wake up Lizzie and push her outside to go potty one more time.  She doesn't like it; she would rather continue sleeping.  But she now knows the routine and gets up without argument.  She knows why she's going outside, and she knows as soon as I see her piddle, I'll let her back inside for the rest of the night.  Then we can both sleep without worry.


Merry ME said...

Jan, THis is an interesting article and leads me to my question. I recently adopted a dog from the humane society in Jax. Fl. I was told she is 4 years old but I wonder about that. We do not know her background except that she was found running loose, spent a few months in the county shelter before being at the HS.

Even though we put her outside frequently she peed in the house and seemed to mark it as her own. I've cleaned it, changed the pad, cleaned it some more. We crate her if we're going to be gone but she's learned to sleep in our room all night with peeing. I walk her morning and night.

THe thing is I never see her pee or catch her in the act, just find wet spots. I'm not sure how to "teach her when to go out. Should she be in the crate at all times when in the house?

I am at my wits end and considering "re-homing" her. The problem is we bonded so deeply and quickly I don't think I can do it. I need some help!

erin richards said...

Of course she should be in the crate if you aren't watching her. Jan just listed all the times a dog will have to go to the bathroom and said to put the dog in the crate of you aren't going to watch them. And what do you mean by "changing the pad"? If you mean you're paper training or using "training pads" then stop doing that, dogs should only ever be create trained, using newspaper or pads only teaches them they're allowed to go in your house.

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Best rgs