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.
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?