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Dogs

Housebreaking

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Housebreaking is the process of training a domesticated animal that lives with its human owners in a house to urinate and defecate outdoors, or in a designated indoor area, rather than all over the house. The pet owner's desire is to break the habit of eliminating in the house, hence the term. House-training or sometimes even potty training are common synonyms for housebreaking. The term "housebreaking" is most often applied to dogs, but it can also be used for cats, birds, ferrets, rabbits, or any other animal that lives in a house.

Common Methods

One of the most popular methods of housebreaking dogs today is the use of crate training. Like most animals, dogs instinctively try to avoid soiling their own dens. The crate training method makes use of this instinct by confining the dog in an artificial "den" when it cannot be closely supervised. Because the den instinct is common to all canids, this method of housebreaking is highly effective for all dog breeds and even for wolf-dog hybrids.

The "crate" is most often a plastic dog carrier, although other kinds of small, comfortable enclosures can be used. It must be large enough for the puppy to stand and turn around comfortably, but not much bigger; if the crate is too large, the puppy will simply eliminate in one end and sleep in the other end, defeating the purpose. As long as the crate is comfortable and the puppy is introduced to it gradually and is taken out to receive plenty of attention every day, most puppies will not only grow accustomed to the crate but actually become fond of it. Many dogs voluntarily continue sleeping in their crates long after they have been fully house-trained and no longer require confinement.

The puppy must not be confined in the crate for long periods of time. Most puppies under the age of about six months are incapable of waiting long periods of time for a chance to eliminate. If the puppy repeatedly finds itself forced to eliminate in the crate, it will eventually lose the inhibition against soiling its den entirely - making house-training much more difficult. The puppy must be taken outside to eliminate at least once every two to four hours during the day. In addition, it will almost always need to eliminate shortly after eating a meal or drinking water, after waking from sleep, after being removed from its crate, and after play or exercise. The owners also closely observe the puppy's body language and take it outside every time it shows signs of being ready to eliminate, such as squatting, walking in small tight circles, or sniffing the ground as though searching for the ideal spot. They only use this body language for a few seconds before they eliminate, so careful watch on the owner's part is needed.

If the owner catches the puppy in the process of urinating or defecating indoors, they make a sharp, loud noise. The purpose of this is not to punish or frighten the puppy, but to startle it so that it will stop. The owner then takes the puppy outside or wherever they want them to go to finish eliminating. Usually the puppy is already done, but the owner should try to catch the puppy in the act. If he relieves itself, they should praise it very much, to make going outside seem like a very good act to do.

In order to teach the puppy where to go, the owner always takes it outside through the same door. When the puppy does eliminate outdoors in the correct spot, the owner praises it and offers a food treat. If the puppy does not eliminate after 15 or 20 minutes outside, the owner should return it to its crate, and try again later.

In the wild, all the dogs or wolves in a pack urinate and defecate in a designated area, away from the den. Because of that instinct, with this training the puppy comes to understand that the designated area for elimination is outside. The puppy will begin going to the door when it feels the urge to eliminate. The owners watch for this behavior and, when they see it, praise the puppy and immediately let it outside. Most puppies will spontaneously whine, bark or scratch at the door to get their owners' attention if the door is not opened quickly; some owners even train the dog to ring a bell when it needs to relieve itself. As the puppy grows older, it gains the ability to control its bowels and bladder for longer periods of time, and becomes increasingly able to wait long periods without requiring confinement.

It is usually good to think of the amount of time a puppy can hold it as one hour per month of its age. For example, if the puppy is 5 months old, then it can usually hold it in for 5 hours. This is true until the puppy is 10 months old, when 10 hours is the maximum for any age. However, some breeds, especially the basset hound and many of the toy breeds are harder to housebreak than others. If a puppy seems not to be able to hold it very long (e.g. only 1 hour when they are 1 year old), then the puppy should be examined for bladder problems by a vet.

Common Mistakes

Most experts advise against punishing dogs when they eliminate indoors, at least during the early part of the housebreaking process. This is not because they believe all punishment is necessarily inhumane, but because when it comes to housebreaking, punishment can very easily create more problems than it solves. If a dog is punished for urinating or defecating, especially before it really understands where it is supposed to eliminate, quite often it will simply learn not to eliminate when people are watching. It may actually begin to avoid eliminating when its owners bring it outside. Then, when the dog is indoors, it will look for an opportunity to hide and relieve itself, creating a mess in a place where the owners may not find it until hours or even days later. This can make house-training much more difficult than it needs to be.

Another extremely common mistake is for owners to punish a dog for eliminating in the house when they have not actually caught the dog in the act. If the owner finds a mess on the floor and goes to find the dog and scold it, the dog will believe it is being punished for whatever it was doing when the owner found it. Dogs are totally incapable of associating the punishment with their eariler actions, even if their owner drags them to the mess and points it out to them. Punishing a dog when it cannot understand what the punishment is for only makes it confused and upset, possibly creating entirely new behavioral problems.

One traditional method of punishment - rubbing the dog's nose in its own mess - is particularly counter-productive. As noted above, dogs and wolves have a natural urge to eliminate where the rest of their pack does. They locate the spot by scent; this is why dogs will generally spend some time sniffing the ground before they relieve themselves. Thus, rubbing the dog's nose in its urine or feces actually reinforces to the dog that it should continue eliminating in that particular spot.

Other Problems

Formerly housebroken dogs may develop problems with eliminating indoors due to emotional stress from changes in the dog's schedule, or due to medical problems.

Some dogs, especially puppies, may urinate when extremely excited, such as when an owner comes home after being gone all day. In this case, the dog genuinely cannot control the urination. Rather than attempting to teach the dog not to urinate, the owner must focus on training the dog to stay calm and not get excited enough to lose control. Dogs - again, especially puppies - also urinate to show extreme submission to a more dominant pack member. This is an instinct, and cannot be trained away. Punishing a dog for submissive urination only causes it to urinate more in a desperate attempt to appease the punisher; if the cycle continues long enough, the confused and frightened dog may eventually begin to display fear-induced aggression. The solution must involve training the dog to feel more secure, so that it no longer feels the need to perform extreme submission displays.

Dogs may also begin urinating in the house to mark their territory, as a way of challenging for dominance in the pack. Both male and female dogs may do this, even if they are spayed or neutered. Again, this should not be understood as a housebreaking problem, but a dominance problem. The solution must focus on teaching the dog to accept a subordinate position in the household. A professional trainer or behaviourist should be contacted to solve this kind of problem.


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