Although correction is a very small part of a good housebreaking program, you’re probably going to need it if you want to get the job done. Finding the proper level of correction and figuring out what type of correction to use is a critical part of any housebreaking program.
Remember, no matter how tempting it may be to do so, never correct your dog for an accident unless you catch him in the act! You should be supervising him carefully, so if you find the accident later, it’s your mistake, not your dog’s!
To effectively housebreak your puppy, you want him to think that going potty in the house feels bad and going in his potty area feels oh-so-good. Make sure he can clearly distinguish the experience of going in the house from the experience of going in his potty area by using appropriate correction and praise at the right times.
If your dog isn’t corrected when he’s having an accident, going potty on your carpet will feel just as good as going in his potty area. Think about it… he’s uncomfortable because his bladder or bowels are full, then when he releases them on your favorite antique rug, he feels a great sense of relief. Aaaaaah… what a feeling! In the process, he’ll learn something you don’t want him to know. He’ll learn that he doesn’t need to wait around feeling uncomfortable until someone decides to let him outside, or that he doesn’t have to go all the way downstairs to use his potty pads. He can just go potty right where he is…how convenient!
You’ll correct your dog in a way that teaches him that going potty in the wrong place isn’t fun, but you need to be sure that you don’t correct him in a way that scares or confuses him. If you correct your dog too harshly, you may make problems worse, since some dogs begin to associate the correction with pottying in front of you, not with pottying in the wrong place. This can cause your dog to hold it when you take him to his potty area because he’s afraid to let you see him go. The poor boy will likely wait for a moment when he can sneak off alone to pee behind the couch where nobody can see him – or he may start going potty when left alone in his crate or confinement area.
Correction for having an accident should startle your puppy, not terrify him. We want a quick correction that will shut off the plumbing so you can stop the accident and get your do to his potty area to finish up. For most dogs, a loud, sharp “NO!” accompanied by stomping your foot on the floor or clapping your hands loudly will do the trick.
Remember, we’re going for shock value here, so you may need to use a pretty sharp voice, especially if your dog isn’t the sensitive type. Determine how loud to be and whether you need to stomp or clap by how he reacts to correction. If your dog’s timid or skittish, you’ll need less volume to make your point; if he’s more the rough-and-tumble type, you’ll need to turn up the volume.
To decide if your correction is working, look at your dog’s response. Ideally, he should stop what he’s doing and look startled and possibly a bit worried. He should not cower, shake or cry. If you see any of those reactions, ease up on the corrections immediately. If you find that your puppy ignores your corrections or becomes playful when you correct him, please read our article on correcting resistant dogs.
If your dog’s very young or very sensitive and any verbal correction seems too harsh for him, you may find it effective to just grab him and get him outside by picking him up or leading him by the leash or collar.
As you correct your puppy using any of these methods, you should be hustling over to rush him outside. When you get there, you can pick him up (if he’s a little guy) or grab his leash or collar to lead him to his designated potty area. Go FAST… we want this whole experience to be dramatic and unpleasant.
Once your dog is in the right place, with any luck at all, he’ll finish up. If he does, praise him so he can see how much better it feels to do the right thing! Sometimes, however, your puppy will be so startled that he’s not ready to go potty again when you get to the right spot. Give him a couple of minutes, and if he doesn’t go, take him back into the house and supervise him very carefully to be sure he doesn’t try to go in the house again. Remember, at this point we’re pretty sure there’s something in there waiting to come out; if you’re not right on top of your dog, it’s likely he’ll have an accident, so be extra-vigilant at this time. Give him another chance at his potty area after 2-5 minutes if he’s a puppy under 6 months, 10-30 minutes if he’s a more mature guy. You may need to do this a few times before he gets the job done. Once he does, go back to your regular supervision schedule.
Like all dog training, housebreaking is a matter of consistency, repetition and time. Don’t expect a single correction (or even a bunch of them) to cure your dog of his housebreaking issues. Fair correction, along with all the other elements of a good housebreaking program, will yield good results – so be patient! A perfectly housebroken dog will be well worth it!
If you try all of the above techniques and you’re still having problems, read the next correction article, “Correcting Resistant Dogs.”
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