There are three kinds of dogs that must learn, or relearn, house rules: puppies coming into your home; somewhat older dogs that have always lived outside; and previously well-mannered dogs that have been housed in a kennel (let’s say for professional training). The latter two, watched closely and corrected appropriately, often adapt or readapt quickly. Puppies, require a longer commitment.
You should begin acclimating your pup to its crate as soon as you bring it home. If you buy an adult-sized crate, block off all but enough room for the pup to turn around and lie down—dogs are reluctant to soil their own space, so housebreaking will go faster if a pup can’t poop in the back of its crate and sleep in the front.
Dogs are creatures of habit; therefore, you should establish a routine for feeding and eliminating body waste. Take your pup out to relieve itself as soon as you release it from its crate in the morning, immediately after each meal, and just before bedding down at night. Ideally, it should go out an additional time or two during the day for a few months.
When your pup needs to go out, pick it up and carry it—this avoids deposits en route—to the same area each time. After it takes care of business, tell your dog it’s the best thing since canned peaches.
During housebreaking, praise for outdoor “jobs” goes a lot further than poorly timed punishment for indoor accidents. You should correct a youngster only if you catch it in the act. Give it a scolding—“No” is usually enough—then pick it up and carry it to its area. Pups have limited attention spans; thus, after-the-fact discipline accomplishes nothing positive. A pup must associate correction (or praise) with the act itself.
Here are two tips: Clip a lead on your pup each time you carry it out, and when it’s on the ground give it an elimination command—I use “Hurry up.” A lead confines a pup to a specific area and prevents it from wandering and becoming distracted. These trips outside are first and foremost for waste elimination, not play. Use of the lead and the command also conditions a pup to relieve itself when you tell it, even when restrained—at times a necessity for a traveling hunter.
Most puppies quickly catch on to reserving their piles and puddles for the out-of-doors, others take longer, while a few try the patience of the most saintly owner. Housebreaking isn’t pleasant, but when handled with thought and consistency, the period will soon be over.
Although housebreaking is a big piece of the housetraining whole, “counter-surfing” runs a close second for many dog owners. Food theft is not only an aggravating habit, it’s a dangerous one. Each year dogs are injured or killed by eating sharp bones, burning their feet on stovetops, and tipping the boiling contents of pots onto their heads.
“Opportunity creates the thief,” is an adage that accurately describes dogs and food. If food is left out, a dog will try to take it when it’s big enough to reach a countertop. Each time it’s successful, the behavior has been reinforced and will be more difficult to correct. There are three effective ways to deal with counter-surfing: never leave food out or unattended; never allow a dog into a kitchen or dining room unsupervised; or eliminate the behavior.
The first two approaches to food theft are simple, but they’re also prone to slip-ups. If you decide to end counter-surfing, there are two ground rules to follow. Never give a pup food from a counter or table; if you do, you’re teaching it that they’re sources of good stuff. It’s pointless to correct a food thief after the fact, when it’s already digesting what it has stolen. Similar to curbing other behavior, you must catch it in the act. With some dogs, it only takes one or two reprimands and swats on the butt and they’ll see the light. With others, especially dogs that are a bit older, you might have to create a correction opportunity.
You can set up a counter-surfer by placing food within reach, devising a means (which will depend on the layout of your house) of seeing or hearing your dog when it goes for the food, and then leaving the kitchen. When it “takes the bait,” you should come out with guns blazing and make it clear that stealing food won’t be tolerated. If one or two corrections don’t work, at least your pup has been shown that theft is unacceptable. The next step, if your dog is old enough, involves an electronic collar (e-collar) to permanently stop its surfing.
Some trainers use the e-collar for “housework,” whether the dog has been fully collar-conditioned. They make the case that the impact is greater if the dog has limited experience with the e-collar. Either way, your dog should wear the collar in the house periodically for several days before you set it up.
Again, put food on a counter, give your dog free run of the house, then get out of sight. If you can’t watch from an unseen position, arrange the food in a way that it will make noise as your dog knocks it from the counter. At the exact moment it grabs the grub, the electronic arm of the law should make its presence felt. The stimulation should be just high enough to startle it into fleeing the kitchen. In the dog’s mind, the crime scene has become a “forbidden” or “hot” zone.
Very often, one training episode will make such a powerful impression that it will end counter-surfing. If it persists, repeat the setup with the collar at a higher setting. The beauty of e-collar correction is that you weren’t involved, at least as the dog sees it; something unpleasant simply happened when it grabbed the food.
Remote correction can also be used to deal with other housetraining issues—climbing on furniture or destructive behavior—that your dog understands is wrong but refuses to stop. As with most facets of dog training, teach your dog what’s acceptable or unacceptable and give it a chance to behave properly. If it does not, correct it only when you catch it in the disobedient act, and regardless of what correction you use, be consistent with it.