House training is easy, but it can take time

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 March, 2012, 12:00am


House training a new dog is a top priority. Whether it's a playful puppy or an adult, it requires time, energy and discipline.

Trainer and animal behaviour therapist Rosemarie Tang, at the Animal Behaviour Veterinary Practice, provides some tips on training your dog to relieve itself at the right time and place.

'House training is very easy, but it's all about committing your time,' says Tang, a certified trainer from the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

According to Tang, dogs don't understand what is right or wrong, but can quickly learn the concept of safety and danger. If you punish them during house training, the dog or puppy may end up negatively associating relieving itself with you. 'This is very effective at teaching the dog to hide and pee somewhere you can't see, like behind the bed,' Tang explains.

Before starting a house training routine, Tang recommends equipping the home with a crate that is sufficiently small to prevent the dog using it as a toilet, but large enough for it to comfortably stand, lie down and turn around in. The pet will also need a collar and leash, treats, poop bags, newspaper, and a puppy pen. Baby gates are also useful.

Training can be divided into four main issues. Marking is done by both male and female dogs, and dogs that have not been spayed or neutered are more prone to marking on vertical surfaces, new objects, such as a handbag or shoes, during a neighbourhood walk, a new environment or conflicts between animals at home.

To counter marking, Tang suggests making the area or object inaccessible. Alternatively, owners could play with or feed the dog where it's inclined to mark. If you catch the dog marking, interrupt it with a loud 'no'.

Second, urination can occur when the dog is behaving submissively from being scolded or when it feels punished or threatened. In this situation, Tang suggests improving an anxious or timid dog's confidence by encouraging and rewarding confident postures. Many puppies can't help themselves but pee when they are excited. To prevent or decrease this, Tang says it's best to 'keep your greeting very low key', and only give attention after the dog's excitement has subsided.

Tang uses a crate-training method by American dog trainer Pat Miller. In the eight-week programme, a puppy first spends most of its time in a crate filled with a few toys. It's taken out consistently to the same spot, whether it's a pee-pad in the bathroom or outside, every hour on the hour, to relieve itself.

As the puppy relieves itself, Tang tells it to 'go potty'! or 'hurry up'! Then, when the puppy is finished, she says in a happy voice, 'yes' or 'good', followed by a reward. By the end of the programme, crating time stretches to a maximum of every four hours.

At night, the crate should be placed in the owner's bedroom, so the puppy is not isolated or lonely.

For retraining an adult dog, Tang says start from scratch. 'First, establish a good toilet routine by taking it out at the same time, every day. Use top-value treats, such as grilled chicken, and supervise, supervise, supervise. We always try to minimise a mistake by giving them plenty of chances to win rewards.'

For dogs that don't like going out in the rain, Tang recommends desensitising the animal with short, rainy trips that are fun and full of treats. Another trick is to play rain, wind or thunder sounds indoors through downloaded apps.

When an 'accident' does occur, most owners have traditionally used soap, vinegar or soda to clean up the mess. However, Vada Chung, founder of Whiskers 'n' Paws, says these products are not efficient in breaking down biological material.

'There's a lot of rubbing and scrubbing, but what you end up doing is damaging your carpet or sofa,' she says. 'A much better and safer way is to use bio-enzymatic formula cleaner that targets bio-material and treats the root of the problem.'