Defining House Broken

Over the years I’ve worked with many many clients on toileting concerns.  Many with puppies, and many with adult dogs.  Some who have been toileting in undesired places for years, some that just began the behavior.

Absolutely there is the foundation tenant of: rule out any medical or physical causes first and foremost.  Then there are the various environmental management techniques as well as actual behavior modification.  And in the vast majority of cases we end with client satisfaction.

But from my perspective at least, a real key though is defining what a house broken dog actually is.

My definition is, “a dog who will delay toileting despite needing to go until taken to an appropriate place.  Who will also toilet on cue both on and off-lead on various types of surface.”

For many people their definition is, “a dog that won’t toilet in the house and will signal me when they need to toilet so I can get them outside.”

In my definition, if the dog can’t hold it until you can get them out, then they aren’t fully house broken.  And ‘appropriate place’ is more specific than just the general ‘outside.’  For example, even if it’s outside I do not want them to toilet in an agility field.  Or on someone else’s lawn while we are on a walk.  Or in the middle of the trail in the woods.  Or on my deck.  I also don’t care about teaching my dogs to actively signal me when they need to go, instead I want them to trust I will anticipate their needs and take them out routinely, and that when we are outside and I cue them to toilet they should take advantage of that opportunity and go.   (and while I don’t teach them to actively signal, all of my dogs over the years have figured out ways to make clear to me they really need to go if for some reason their schedule is off due to illness or other).  And I do care that my dogs are comfortable toileting on all kinds of surfaces including gravel, dirt, sand, concrete, asphalt and the like.

I’ve learned many people don’t think about the toileting process as how to teach it in such systematic ways.  Many assume this ability to hold it will just happen.  And for many dogs it does.  Most people have this overwhelming desire to teach their dog to tell them when they need to go as early in their live’s as possible.  But I find that can complicate for some dogs the learning to hold it part.  For example Rosie the basset hound currently seems to have learned house broken means ‘I bark at the back door.’  If we don’t immediately take her out, she will then toilet in the house.  For me, that doesn’t meet the definition of a house broken dog, especially for one her age.  Her age appropriate education on the ability to delay toileting until taken to the appropriate place is incomplete.

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Rosie laying in her dog bed looking at me “What?  I barked at the door!  You humans didn’t listen fast enough!”

Many people don’t think about whether their dog toilets on or off lead, until they need the dog to toilet one way or the other and realize it’s a struggle.  They also don’t think about where their dog is going to the bathroom, until again they realize they need them to go or not go in a certain place.  Like a highway rest stop.  Or a boarding kennel run.  Or their grandmother’s house.   They don’t think about their dog toileting on cue, until the vet wants a sample.

Defining the end behavior or goal I find can be really important.  As it helps to clarify the steps you need to make sure the dog learns what you really would like them to learn.  So for me, I don’t assume a dog will automatically somehow learn to hold it.  I’ve worked with too many dogs over the years to assume that will be automatic.  I don’t assume there will always be grass available.  I’ve traveled too much to assume that.  I don’t assume I will always be able to have a safe fenced area for my dog to be off lead to toilet in.  I also don’t consider a dog housebroken just because they haven’t toileting in the house for a month, unless they can also meet the criteria of my definition.  Instead I make sure I add pieces into my toileting education of the dogs in my life to help them realize it’s more than just going outside to use the restroom.

Do you define your training goals before you embark on training a skill?

0 thoughts on “Defining House Broken

  1. I have to admit, our dogs don’t exactly go on cue. They do hold it until we take them out though.
    My brother is here visiting with a lurcher puppy. Oh. My. Gosh. She fell asleep in my lap. Her name is Basil. I am dying of adorableness.

    1. That’s a great point about how defining the goal helps to remove the pressure to try to do it all Right Now and instead really take the time it needs to help the animal be as successful as possible. Thanks!

  2. Wow, toileting on cue is something I’ve never thought about when training my dogs. I don’t think I could toilet on cue if you paid me. Maybe I could be trained, but the reward had better be pretty darned good! All joking aside, my dogs could hold it for hours upon hours, but they don’t have to. We have HUGE Great Dane dog doors and then just come and go as they please. What a life saver, but I’m very impressed that you can do the whole “on cue” thing. Kudos!

    1. It’s very useful especially when traveling or at dog shows. When zora was a pup she would sometimes fake pee when she didn’t have to go, but I asked her to “hurry, go busy” I likened it to a little kid when the parents say “we are going to be in the car, you need to at least try to go before we leave!” Lol. As adults, if I cue the dogs to toilet and they don’t have to go, they both will sit instead and that’s a clear cue for me that they don’t need to go and we can now play or go in the house or for our walk or whatever.

      1. I actually love this idea, now that you’ve explained it a bit more. I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve tried to get our dogs to go before a vet appointment and they will never comply! This would be especially helpful with Walter as he will pee when he’s overly excited. He’s better about it now that he’s almost grown, but when he was a small-medium sized puppy it was something to be aware of. We took him in for a vet check after his neutering and he peed on the vet’s head!

        1. Oh Walter! LOL. It is a super useful cue to teach, and usually not that hard. ie you are outside with your dog, you know it’s a time they are likely to go, so you watch carefully, as they start to go add your verbal cue mine used to be just ‘hurry up’ then Tom came and the guide dog program trained him to the cue ‘go busy’ but I had dogs already living with me trained to ‘hurry up’ so now my cue is ‘hurry up, go busy’. Then praise and give a treat as they finish. To further, I restrict the level of ‘fun’ the dog can have (ie I keep them on lead and to a small square footage) until they have toileted then they get to romp and play, so toileting fast and as I cue becomes further reinforced because it not only gets the bladder relief and praise and a small treat but also the ability to go play and romp and sniff and all of that fun stuff.

          1. I love ‘hurry up, go busy’ I always used ‘hurry up’ when I was housebreaking dogs, but I haven’t had to do that in a while. Levi was trained before he was 9 weeks old because our other dog at the time, a Berger des Pyrenees, trained him for us. It was done in a week! Walter was pretty quick to catch on, too…except when he’s excited! With Levi’s health on the decline, may have another puppy sooner than I’d like. I think I’m going to start with Walter and then try to do this ongoing. Great info, Katrin. Thanks so much!

          2. I have a new plan. He has megaesophagus and is always regurgitating his kibble. I’m going to blend it and see if drinking it makes a difference. Oh the things we do for our dogs!

          3. Yeah, I don’t know what to do except experiment. When he has good days he’s as playful as a puppy but he easily gets aspirated pneumonia and he’s losing so much weight. Do you have any experience with holistic vets? My vet doesn’t go that route but she encouraged me to try it if nothing else works.

          4. I’ve worked with acupuncture and chiropractic vets with oth my own and client dogs. Not sure what they would recommend for such but might be worth a shot. Good luck!

          5. Did you have good luck with them? They didn’t suggest really, they understood why I would want to seek another option. Any other option. I’m not giving up on my boy until I see in his eyes that he wants to go. He has wonderful days, he’s just so thin. We used to have a dog with EPI. I’m going to order a sample of digestive enzymes and see if that helps.

          6. My dogs see a chiro every couple of months and in the past I’ve used acupuncture with my allergy dog with positive results and for pain management with my dog that had bone cancer with positive results. I’ve not much experience with ME dogs but chatted with my vet friend this morning and she said all she really knows is probably what you and your vet do: Bailey chair to feed upright and stay upright for 30min after, certain meds, high calorie food. you know the recipient for satin balls correct? those and canned beaver are in the dog show world go tos for putting weight on dogs. I did Just come across this article on a treatment that I’d never heard about have you seen this? https://phys.org/news/2016-10-team-treatment-canine-megaesophagus.html hoping for the best for Levi

          7. Just getting caught up and wanted to thank you for the information. I’d never heard of satin balls before. I certainly hadn’t heard about canned beaver. You are a font of information! I got in contact with the Bailey chair people to see if they would make a Dane-sized chair and they will! Thanks so much for your suggestions and help.

          8. Yay! Glad that info was helpful! On the canned beaver, because it is so high fat if you feed too much at once or it stand alone it can give dogs the runs so just a caution about that. Many many years ago I had a dog get super sick and stop eating for over a week, satin balls and canned beaver were a life saver as he had lost so much weight. Good luck to you and Levi! I hope the Bailey chair is a positive addition to your kitchen ;-). I’ve heard great things about them

      1. They don’t, we had them custom made out of wood. They work on the same premise as the rubbery ones so they have a good seal, but they stay put due to heavy spring hinges. I don’t know what we would have done without them when we were working. I know I’m probably overly concerned, but I hate the idea of leaving a dog for 10 hours without being able to go.

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