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Have you ever been around a friend's dog and found out that her dog was completely trustworthy in the house? Your friend never has to worry about things being chewed up, about potty training accidents, or food theft. When you ask your friend how she accomplished that, she touts the many benefits of crate training. You leave the conversation feeling discouraged because your dog is older and is absolutely terrified of the crate due to past experiences or simply lack of exposure. Because you cannot use the crate to train your dog, you feel like you will forever be dealing with poor house manners. You may especially feel this way if your older dog is a recent rescue that has never lived inside a house before.
What if there were other ways to teach your older dog the many things that you would normally use a crate to train? What if your dog could learn to be trustworthy inside your home like your friend's dog? Perhaps your older dog could even get to the point where he could be trusted while alone. Wouldn't that be nice?
In dog training, there is often more than one way to train something. Not every method works for every dog, so knowing some of the alternatives can really be useful. By using a different method, you can teach your dog to be trustworthy in your home, even when using a crate is not an option.
Having a dog that is mannerly in your home is truly enjoyable. Although it can take time and a lot of work to accomplish, the rewards for your effort are great. When your dog will calmly occupy himself with toys, rest quietly throughout the day, and alert you when he needs to go to the bathroom outside, it makes it easier to enjoy his presence in your home and to include him in family fun. Not only is a well-mannered dog more relaxing, he is also more fun because you can take him with you when you travel or go to friends' houses, and he is much safer because you do not have to worry about him chewing on your electric plugs or eating something sharp.
While training your older dog, keep in mind that he may have old habits that will take time to break. If this is the case, you will need to be even more consistent with the training. The more times that you can prevent poor habits and reward good habits, the quicker the training will go. Also, keep in mind that an older dog may need to be taken outside to go to the bathroom much more frequently than a young adult dog would need. As your dog ages, he can lose his ability to hold his bladder for long periods of time, so potty training will only be successful if he is given plenty of opportunities to succeed and not forced to fail by having to hold it for longer than he can.
It is important to choose the method that your dog is capable of succeeding at. If your dog is constantly getting into things that he should not or has lots of energy, then you may need to use a method that involves more confinement at first. The 'Leash' method or the 'Exercise Pen' method can provide him with the clear boundaries that he needs. If your dog is relatively calm and likes to be with you, then the training process might go quicker if you use the 'Treat' method. Perhaps your dog would be fine with any of the methods, but you are not always at home, then you may want to utilize multiple methods, so that he is confined in his room when no one is at home with him, and he is attached to you or rewarded for staying by your side when you are at home.
Be patient with your dog, because you are training multiple behaviors at once this could take up to six months or longer to train. If your dog is calmer and responds well to potty training, then this could also take as little as one month. It will vary widely depending on your specific dog.
To get started, for all of the methods you will need your dog's kibble for the day, measured out into Zip-lock bags small enough to fit into your pocket or another convenient location. If your dog needs the extra motivation, then you will also need a food topper, such as freeze-dried liver powder or chicken bits, mixed into the kibble bags for scent and flavor. This kibble can be used for training and stuffing chew toys. You will need several interesting toys for your dog to chew on and play with, such as kibble-stuffed Kongs and other hollow chew toys, and kibble filled dog puzzle toys. You may also want to provide your dog with a bed. If you are using the 'Leash' method or the 'Treat' method then you can place the bed at the location where you tend to stop and sit the most. If you are using the 'Exercise Pen' method then you will want to place the bed inside of his enclosed room. If your dog chews on the bed, then you will need to purchase a more chew-proof bed, such as a nylon or vinyl covered foam mat or cot type bed.
If you are using the 'Leash' method, you will also need a leash approximately six to eight feet long that can be attached to your person, with enough slack left in the leash for your dog to lay down while you are standing. If you are using the 'Exercise Pen' method, you will also need either an exercise pen or an area that can be closed off with a baby gate, such as a hallway or small room like a bathroom. You will also need either a toilet area, composed of puppy pee pads or a litter box, if you wish to train for those, or a way for your dog to alert you that he needs to go outside if you wish to train him to eliminate outside. A hanging bell works well for this when combined with training.
With all of the methods, you will also need time, consistency, patience, and alertness. You will need to pay careful attention for the training to work most effectively. Watch for opportunities to take him to the bathroom when he needs to go. Watch for opportunities to reward good behavior, including lying down calmly. Watch for opportunities to teach him what to do and not to do. Lastly, do not forget to simply enjoy your dog and his company during this process.
The Leash Method
To begin, show your dog the six foot leash and offer him a treat. When your dog is acting happy, clip the leash onto your dog while giving him another treat, then let him drag it around until he is comfortable. If you dog is already used to the leash, you can skip this step.
When your dog is comfortable having the leash on, attach the handle end of the leash to yourself, making sure to keep enough slack in the leash for your dog to lay down comfortably next to you even while you are standing.
While your dog is attached to you, provide him with appropriate things to do when you stop moving, such as chewing on a food stuffed chew toy, or solving a dog puzzle toy. By providing him with appropriate entertainment you are preventing boredom, keeping him mentally healthy, and teaching him what are the appropriate activities that he can do when he is bored in the future.
With your dog attached to you, you will be able to pay better attention to him and keep him out of trouble. Remember to pay attention to him. Watch for signals that he needs to go to the bathroom. Watch for opportunities to praise and reward him. Watch for opportunities to correct unwanted behavior and to show him what he should be doing instead. Watch for signs of boredom or restlessness that signal that he needs mental or physical exercise and stimulation, such as going for a walk or having an obedience training session.
With him close by, look for opportunities to reward good behavior. If he is chewing on an appropriate toy, praise him. If he has been laying quietly at your feet for fifteen minutes, then offer him a treat. If he signaled to you that he needed to go potty, then as soon as he finishes eliminating outside, offer him a treat and enthusiastic praise.
Teach the rules
Look for opportunities to communicate to him clearly what is not alright and what he should do instead. If he starts to chew on the table leg where you are sitting for instance then tell him "no", but also provide him with an appropriate toy and praise him when he chews that instead. Do not keep the rules of your house a secret from your dog. If no one ever tells him what is and is not OK, then he will never know how you would like for him to act indoors.
When your dog begins to shows signs that he is ready for more freedom, gradually increase his freedom by taking off the leash for brief periods of time while you are paying close attention to him. If he obeys the rules of the house, only chews on his own toys, lets you know when he needs to go potty outside, and remains calm indoors, then you can continue to increase his freedom by giving him more and more time off-leash in your home. If he does not maintain his good house manners, then reattach the leash and practice his house manners for longer. If he has not had any issues for a couple of weeks, then try taking the leash off again.
The Exercise Pen Method
Create a dog room
To begin, create a dog room for your dog. You can either use a size-appropriate exercise pen or a small room for this. In this area, remove everything that your dog might destroy, harm himself with, or be encouraged to eliminate on, such as a bathroom mat. If you are using a small room or hallway, you can block off the doorways with baby gates; this way your dog can still interact with people. Provide a safe bed area for your dog. Choose something that your dog cannot destroy and will not want to eliminate on, if either of those are concerns with him. Many pet companies make nylon or vinyl covered foam pads or raised cot beds without stuffing that work well. Provide him with an appropriate toilet area if you are litter box training or pee pad training, or with a way to indicate that he needs to go outside if teaching him to potty outdoors. A hanging bell can work well. Lastly, provide him with stimulating toys, such as kibble-stuffed Kongs, other hollow chew toys, and puzzle toys for dogs.
Whenever you cannot closely watch and train your dog, place him in his enclosed area. By having appropriate toys, a place to rest, and a way to alert you whenever he needs to go potty, he will have the opportunity to learn how to behave well indoors. He can learn to act calmly, to chew on only his toys, and to hold his bladder. You will also prevent him from learning bad habits that are hard to break while he is in the process of learning good ones.
If you have chosen to teach your dog to go potty outside, then teach him to alert you whenever he needs to go potty. If you choose the bell jingle as an alert, then you can train him how to ring the bell whenever he needs to go outside. If you decide to train him to use puppy pee pads or a litter box, then work on teaching him how to use those.
Look for opportunities to reward good behavior. If your dog has been laying down quietly for the last twenty minutes, go offer him a treat. If he chooses his own toy instead of your sock, praise him. If he alerts you when he needs to go outside to go potty, then after he has finished using the bathroom praise him enthusiastically and offer him a treat. If he remains calm when someone comes to your door, then offer him a treat. By rewarding him for good behavior you are teaching him how to behave in your home even when he is unsupervised later.
Teach him the rules
When you are able to pay attention to him, give him brief periods of freedom in your home, outside of his enclosed area. During these periods, communicate to him clearly what is and is not OK. If he begins to chew on your slippers tell him "No" and remove the slippers, then hand him one of his own toys. When he begins to chew on his own toy, praise him. Do not keep your rules a secret from him, or he will never know what is and is not allowed in your house.
Gradually increase freedom
When your dog is consistently using the bathroom only outside or on his designated toilet area, and is acting calm and well-mannered when given his brief periods of supervised freedom, then you can begin to increase his freedom in the house. To do this, gradually increase the amount of time that he is free, outside of his enclosed area, in your house. If he does well, continue to gradually increase the amount of time. If he destroys something or eliminates in the house, go back to less free time for a couple of weeks, and when he is doing well try again. Repeat this until he has proven himself trustworthy enough to be left out at all times when you are home. Expect this process to take time. For some dogs is can take up to a year. For others, it will only take a couple of months.
The Treat Method
To begin, measure out your dog's kibble for the day into small Ziploc bags. If your dog loves food then keep the kibble as it is, if your dog needs extra motivation, then mix in a food topper, such as freeze dried liver powder or chicken pieces. Place the Ziploc bags of food in an easy to access location, such as your pocket.
Have your dog stay beside you. Anytime you sit or lay down have your dog do a 'down-stay' beside you, then reward him with a piece of food. After he has remained in the 'down' position for five minutes, reward him again. Do this every five to ten minutes for the first day, then as he improves, gradually increase the amount of time between rewards, until you have reached thirty minutes between rewards. If he gets up, bring him back and remind him to 'down-stay'. Be patient, this will take a lot of time at first, but he should begin to understand.
Every time you get up to move to another room or area, call your dog and offer him a piece of kibble for following you. If you are moving throughout the house for more than ten minutes, offer him another treat every ten minutes for staying with you. If he wanders away, call him back or go get him, and insist that he stay with you.
When your dog is laying down, provide him with interesting toys to occupy himself with. Good options are food-stuffed hollow chew toys and kibble-filled dog puzzle toys.
Look for opportunities to teach him the house rules. If he begins to chew on the table leg, tell him "No" and offer him one of his own toys, then praise him for chewing on that. If he remains quiet when there is a knock at the door, or a cat out the window, praise him and offer him a treat. Show him what is and is not OK in your home so that when he is alone in the future he will know how to behave.
Take him to go potty
If your dog is not potty trained yet, watch him carefully for signs that he needs to go outside. Signs might include circling around, sniffing the ground, whining, pawing at you, sneaking off, or barking at you. When he acts like he needs to go, quickly take him outside, and right after he eliminates, praise him excitedly and reward him with a treat. Give him lots of opportunities to eliminate outside even before he asks. Many dogs will attempt to sneak away to use the bathroom inside. Make sure that your dog stays with you so that you can spot the signs that he needs to go, and if he tries to sneak off and it has been a while since he last went to the bathroom, take him outside.
When your dog will consistently alert you when he needs to go to the bathroom, and he is no longer destroying items in your home, then you can test him to find out whether or not he is ready for freedom. To test him, give him brief periods of freedom in your home, where he does not have to remain with you. Check in on him every five to ten minutes at first. If he does well, then increase the amount of time between checks by five-minute increments over the course of a month. Do this until you have reached three hours. If he consistently does fine for three hours, then you can begin to entrust him with freedom in the house when you are not at home for gradually longer and longer periods of time also. Start with five minutes alone for home alone time too. If he destroys something or eliminates in the house, go back to keeping him with you for a couple more weeks, then if he is doing well, test him again.
By Caitlin Crittenden
Published: 01/31/2018, edited: 01/08/2021