Dog’s Eye View: Part 3 — Meet Maxwell SMART
House training an adult dog
April 3, 2014
This past weekend, I traveled to the Front Range for a nose work trial with my dog Skippy, but we'll save this story for another day. Our trip was the first time Max and my husband had the house to themselves since Max came to live with us.
It's so amazing how fast a dog learns and needs the stability of a daily schedule. Max looked for Skippy and me many times during the weekend. He even took a nap by the front door and watched and listened for us quite a bit that first day.
As time wore on, Max followed hubby around and found his lap whenever he sat down. The "male bonding" thing is definitely at work here.
My husband did an amazing job of keeping Max on the schedule we created for him. During the first two days, Max became more confident in exploring the backyard by himself. He actually "chose" to go outside to do his business without being prompted a couple of times. And my husband went right outside to praise that good choice. Max is on his way to being properly house trained.
"On his way" is the optimum phrase here. He's still learning. And the reinforcement for proper potty habits still needs to be in place for another few months.
This little guy is more than 2 years old, and we are working to change a very long reinforcement history for using any convenient spot for a toilet. Potty "training" means making the right choice worthwhile for the dog. By being present with praise and reinforcement for a "job" well done, my husband was able to tell Max he made the right decision.
Many dogs (small dogs especially) learn to not go potty in the presence of their owner because of being punished for "going" while the owner is watching. This leads the dog to find an out-of-the-way spot, such as behind a chair or in another room so that the bad way the owner reacts doesn't happen while going potty.
Potty training doesn't need to be punitive to be effective. As a matter of fact, potty training should be about being proactive rather than reactive. The old discipline method of pushing the dog's nose into his mess, or smacking him with a rolled-up newspaper, only serves to break down the trusting relationship you are trying to build.
I guess that's why it used to be called "housebreaking." A dog is an animal, and it's humans who are in charge of cleanliness inside the house. It's up to us to teach our dog that we have a preference, and for dogs, outside is our preferred location.
By taking the time to help the dog learn, we also are building trust, communication and confidence in our new family member.
By Saturday evening, Max put himself to bed, finding his crate in the bedroom and snuggling in for the night.
He is more confident and feels safe going into his kennel crate all by himself. This type of behavior happens because he has a reliable routine that started from the moment he came into our home. We still close the door to his crate at night to make sure no unsupervised exploration can occur.
It seems easy to think that we're "out of the woods" with Max's potty training but it would be a big mistake to take this early success for granted.
Good habits take consistent effort. Reliability only happens if we are reliable in our expectations and our actions. There is no wiggle room for being inconsistent. It just won't work if we only make the effort when it's convenient.
When Skip and I returned home, Max was so excited. The first thing they did was chase around the backyard and mark bushes together. Max had kisses for me, too. He's such a nice little dog.
Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with 25+ years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC here in Northwest Colorado.