Oh, this is a tough one. Many of you probably grew up watching your parents drag your family dog over to a puddle they found on the floor to rub his nose in it, telling him what a BAD DOG he was. It may be tempting to correct your dog because you feel like it’s the only way he’ll learn. Or you may correct him out of frustration caused by not knowing what else to do. Or just because you’re MAD. It can be hard to keep your cool when you find another pile or puddle on the floor, but correcting your dog when you find his mistake instead of when he made the mistake isn’t part of a good housebreaking program.
Properly timed correction is an important part of any good housebreaking program. (See our housebreaking corrections article for the full scoop on appropriate housebreaking corrections.) If you catch your puppy as he’s about to have an accident or as he’s having an accident, a sharp, quick correction will "shut off the plumbing" and give you a chance to get him to the right place to potty.
Improperly timed correction, however, can make a bad situation even worse. Dogs associate correction with whatever they’re doing at the moment they’re corrected. Here’s a common scenario: You come home and your puppy runs happily to greet you at the door. You immediately see that your dog has used your favorite imported rug as a toilet again, so you grab him by his collar, drag him to the rug, push his face into the rug and yell at him. You’re thinking that if you show him what you’re correcting him for and scare the heck out of him, he’ll never do it again.
WRONG. When you’re correcting your dog, he’s not thinking, "Man, I really shouldn’t have peed on that rug 4 hours ago." He’s thinking that it’s scary when you come home. Remember, going potty on the rug felt good, since he got relief when he emptied his bladder… that part worked out well for him. Things got ugly only when he happily greeted you at the door. So what happens then? He stops greeting you at the door, since he’s worried you’ll drag him across the room and yell at him for doing it.
Things get even worse from there. Now when you come home, there’s a puddle on the floor and Your puppy’s slinking around the house instead of running to greet you at the door, so you think, "A-HA!! He looks guilty… that’s proof he knows peeing on the floor is wrong!" But your poor dog isn’t slinking because he feels guilty, he’s doing it because he’s worried about what’s going to happen when you come in the door. Your belief that he "knows he’s done something wrong" makes you even more convinced that he deserves a correction, and the cycle continues and worsens. Now you not only have a stained carpet, you have a dog that’s a nervous wreck!
Your dog may eventually figure out that you are only unhappy when you come home and there’s a pile or puddle on the floor. But the vast majority of dogs simply aren’t mentally sophisticated enough to learn that the act of putting the pee or poo there causes a problem 4 hours later.
Please don’t assume that your dog understands your corrections just because you think he looks guilty… he may not know WHY you’re mad, he just knows THAT you’re mad. I know it’s tempting to try to teach your puppy a lesson when you find that he’s had an accident, but remember, you can only correct him if you catch him in the act. As outlined in Commandment #7, you’re supposed to supervise your dog’s free time in the house, so if your dog has an accident and you find it later, it’s YOUR mistake, not his!