Housetraining, using a signal indicating need to eliminate

Boudicca Elimination Behavior

October 23, 2010

Joyce Kesling, CDBC

Housetraining, using a signal…

Unsuccessful housetraining is a leading cause why dogs end up in shelters.  House training is not an individual process, all dogs benefit from the same housetraining strategies.  However, dogs may independently learn, depending on breed, size, early exposure to acceptable substrates and beginning at the breeding location.  I am discussing training a new puppy, not training an adult dog with incomplete housetraining.  However, the same strategies apply.

If you have potty trained a child, you know, you need to be there during the early stages.  Sometimes we are there to encourage, teach the location, patience and perhaps even model the behavior.  During this process, the child had to learn to hold it or wait, at some point during the potty training.

Therefore, it seems contradictory not viewing housetraining dogs’ in the same way.  When we bring home that cute new puppy, we become its parents.  This is how our relationship living with dogs evolved.  It’s been suggested that early man, through watching early prototype dog behavior, contributed in part to our own social structure.  However, through domestication and selective breeding, we have made them dependent on us.  This is why we need good parenting skills.  It’s when we don’t accept our role as parent we get into trouble.

Successful housetraining means we are actually teaching our dogs to learn to wait.  We use schedules for opportunities to eliminate, kennel confinement, tethers and/or close supervision.  This does not mean allowing untrained dogs to roam the entire home until they are reliably housetrained!  It’s always a better policy, slowly acclimating your new pup or adult dog to its new home.  This allows setting rules, boundaries, and appropriate kennel training which all dogs need, including tiny breeds and lap dogs!

Dogs learn to wait (hold it) when we use preventative methods effectively.  They learn to wait because we establish schedules for elimination and they learn to depend on us.  This provides your dog with control over their living space by providing a predictable schedule.  Your dog, if he/she is going to grow up to be the companion you expected, needs your guidance during his/her first two years.

Steven Lindsay (2005) has suggested training a dog to indicate elimination using a signal, i.e. ringing a bell, is a questionable practice.  It seems like a good idea, but it eliminates our responsibility in the training process.  Good housetraining requires us being there when learning to eliminate, and paying close attention, especially to young puppies when not confined in the home.  A newly adopted dog with incomplete housetraining will need the same training and attention!

Additionally, this “need-to-go” signal (bell ringing) is dependent on your presence and your ability to respond to the dog’s request.  This can create future problems when you are not there to respond, causing the dog to eliminate nearby or in another location in the home.  This occurs because the dog is learning a conditioned response. It goes like this, dog gives signal, owner responds, dog goes out (hopefully) eliminates, and rewarded.  Elimination is a reward!

This is a chained and conditioned behavior.  When you are not there to respond, what is the dog going to do?  Is the dog learning to hold it?  Additionally, using such a training signal sets dogs and owners up to respond to requests other than the purpose of elimination (Lindsay, 2005).  This explains, in some instances, when owners complain their dog was just out, unsupervised, came in, and eliminated in the house!

Housetraining issues are common when, often times, the client is using doggie doors!  Do you really think, a puppy, will actually know to take itself outside to eliminate, that only outdoors is acceptable, without your help in the beginning?  Do you think your child, without your help, learned where and when to use a potty?

Finally, let us get out of the dark ages and start using housetraining instead of housebreaking.  We are not breaking the dog, nor are we attempting to break their spirit like punishment trainers often do.  The use of this old terminology should be a red flag, as you are likely not hiring a dog trainer or behavior specialist who stays current on training and behavior related issues.  Let us start using descriptions, like kennels, rather than crates or worse yet, cages!  The very people referring to the dog kennel as cages are often owners who allowed their dog to learn to eliminate in the house!  I am seeing a growing trend with owners reluctant to use kennels.  I think we are creating”crate phobia” by using our spectacles when viewing the kenneling process.

Kennel training needs to be encouraged, not discouraged.  It’s leading to other potential problems when we don’t teach dogs to love their kennels and eventually, their own dog beds.  The only time kenneling is inappropriate is when we overuse it.  Other potential problems with not teaching dogs to love kennels involve completely different issues.  I will cover those in the future.

If your dog has you frustrated with a housetraining issue contact a qualified behavior specialist, not a dog trainer.  You need someone who can assess what is going on; this is not training mechanics, it’s behavior.  A good place to start is the International Association of Behavior Consultants at . You will find qualified behavior specialists who can help you.

Additional Reading: Why Is My Dog Such a Picky Pooper?

Joyce Kesling, CDBC

Professional Dog Trainer, Certified Dog Behavior Consultant

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