By Janet McAfee
My dog, Scarlett O’Hara, was rescued from an animal hoarder in Hemet who kept 135 dogs and 35 cats in a small house. Unable to imagine the neglect these animals experienced, I named her after a famous fictional survivor. However, the process of potty training Scarlett proved to be a serious challenge as these animals relieved themselves almost exclusively inside the house, shocking as it sounds. For a while, Scarlett and I were homebound with only limited visits to friends and family. Scarlett seemed to pick the most exclusive spots to go, including the doorway of Between the Sheets, an expensive El Paseo shop. One day I happily realized, “It’s been a month with no accidents!” Luckily, most dogs are easier than Scarlett to house train.
If you adopt an adult dog from a shelter or rescue, often they are already house trained. However, if they have been confined to a concrete kennel for any length of time, they may require a “refresher” potty training session. Young puppies under 6 months of age need to relieve themselves more frequently…they are physically unable to “hold it” for long periods. A good supply of puppy pads may be helpful at this stage. “Paper training” on newspaper is a more inexpensive solution. Puppies normally need to eliminate just after eating and just after waking up from a nap, so this is the time to get them outside pronto.
DOGGY DOORS – The ideal situation is a doggy door that provides easy access to a fenced in back yard. Call your puppy enthusiastically and use treats to tempt him through the opening while holding up the doggy door flap. If you have a dog already, he is the best teacher to show the new arrival the proper procedure to go in and out of the door. Dogs are pack animals and will follow the example set by the others. A small plot of artificial grass can do the trick if you have a cement patio or balcony.
SCHEDULED WALKS – The challenge comes when you live in an apartment or condo without a fenced in yard. The challenge is greater for Coachella Valley residents on hot summer days when the dog walks feel like the death march of Bataan. Initially at least, try to keep to a set schedule. I walk my dogs 4 times a day, including first thing in the morning and the last thing before bedtime. A young puppy may need to be walked every couple hours. Make it fun by exploring different areas and include community dog parks for increased exercise.
Encourage your pet to eliminate in the same area outside. “Go potty” and “go poop” will become part of your training vocabulary, and your dog will learn to associate these words with appropriate action. When the dog pees or poops outside, make a big fuss of him with praise and petting.
ACCIDENTS – When you catch your pup in the act of going to the bathroom in the wrong place, use a firm voice “No, don’t pee there”. Immediately take him to the newspaper or outside where he is supposed to eliminate. If you become angry or punish him, he will only learn to sneak off and go where you can’t see him. If you find the mess after he’s already gone, pick up the poop with a tissue, put the dog on a leash and head outside, putting it in the spot where he should go. Praise not punishment is the key to success.
NATURE’S MIRACLE – This handy product in a white spray bottle with red lettering saves the day and the carpet. It contains enzymes that eliminate pet stains and odors, and this is important to discourage the pet from going in the same area again. For massive cleanups, use a mixture of white vinegar and water with 3 parts water to 1 part vinegar.
CRATE TRAINING – My research showed there is still some controversy over the use of crating dogs for potty training and other purposes. A future article will examine crate training in more detail. In any case, an animal should not be crated for longer than 4 or 5 hours.
MORE TIPS – Get an expandable “baby gate” available at Home Depot or PetSmart, and block the dog off in the tiled kitchen or bathroom area. This works well for those occasions when you leave the house for an extended time. The animal can see out and does not feel so confined. Usually the dog won’t relieve himself in a small room, thinking of the area as his “den”. Dogs are naturally denning animals. If he should have an accident, it will be on the tile and easily mopped up.
Another idea is to put an untrained dog on a long leash and hook the leash handle under a heavy coffee table or dining room table. The dog will feel like he’s still part of the family, but won’t go potty within the confined area. For challenging cases, the umbilical method where you keep the dog on a harness and lead attached to your waist may work.
What if you’re going to visit fastidious Aunt Mary who has white carpet and no patience if Benji has an accident? For those occasions, you can get a “male wrap”, a cloth garment with Velcro and place a pad inside for extra absorbency. Male wraps and diapers for female dogs are available in various sizes at PetCo and PetSmart.
Be patient and diligent and success will come. The internet is full of additional advice on this and other dog training issues. You will soon enjoy a “puddle free” home!