What are You Grateful For? and… House Training Dogs

Every morning I start my day writing a list of things that I am grateful for. Sometimes they are big things (Jim, my dogs, opportunities to learn, grow and improve relationships between people and animals) and sometimes they are small (the plaintive Wooo Heee song of courting Chickadees, the deep, purple blue of the first spring flowers). This morning I surprised myself, by adding:

I am grateful that none of my dogs potty in the house.

House training and elimination control is like health, isn’t it?  If everything is fine, you don’t really think about it much. But when it’s not, it can be overwhelming. I went through two years living with old dogs who simply couldn’t control themselves. Pippy Tay lost control of her anus in her last year of life (at age 15) and I picked up poop at least five times a day. Tulip had Irritable Bowel disease and problem with her pancreas, and a variety of unwelcome substances decorated my house with alarming frequency. (One of the things I am grateful for is that Jim never once complained about living in what felt like a litter box.)

Years earlier, when Luke was alive, I had to keep the door shut to an upstairs bedroom. The orange and  yellow shag carpet that was there when I moved in had clearly been anointed by other animals, and Luke never missed a chance to mark it until I finally ripped it out. (One could argue that a yellow and orange carpet deserves nothing more than to be urinated upon.. oh, the 60’s!)

A week doesn’t go by that I don’t get an email or phone call from someone who is having trouble house training their dog. Isn’t it interesting how simple house training feels once you get it, but how terrifically un-intuitive it is before you’ve done it repeatedly?  When Karen London and I wrote Way to Go, we were struck by how many people resisted giving their dog a treat for eliminating outside, and how common it is for people to give the treat long after the dog is done, and after she trots back to the house. Once you face the fact that you just have take your dog out every time you turn around,  give them the treat immeditely after they potty, and prevent accidents in the house… well, it usually goes so smoothly.  That’s not to say that some cases can’t be difficult: dogs who grew up going to the bathroom where they live, dogs who had health problems when young that interferred with training, etc. I am very sympathetic to the difficult cases, and I’ve seen some tough ones as you can imagine.

But for now, THANK YOU Willie and Lassie!  Lassie is susceptible to bladder infections, so I always look for a puddle in the dining room first thing as I enter the house (a sign her infection is back), but it’s been over a half of year since I’ve had to clean anything up.  Wow. Life is good.

Meanwhile, back at the farm. No new lambs, although I’m going to leave the office as soon as I finish this to check on the flock. Barbie and Dorothy are due any day, so they are confined inside the barn (and are none to happy about it. Barbie smashed into poor Willie as he was leaving the pen yesterday–this after he stood up bravely to an attack from Redford, I was SO proud of him). She went after me this morning. I guess if I was as big as she is I’d be in a bad mood too. She gets huge.. we call her “Explodo sheep” before she gives birth.)

I didn’t get any pictures taken this morning, started grading term papers at 6 am. But I did take the time to  write that I am grateful for the opportunities to travel to amazing places through my work, and to meet wonderful people all over the world. Here are two of my favorite photos from our trip to Sweden, thanks to Natasja at Hundens Osterlen, who hosted the seminar.

The Swedish “Stonehenge”

Isn’t this church gorgeous? It makes me happy just to look at it. That’s Jim at the end… it makes me happy to look at him too!


  1. Jennifer says

    I found this article and thought you might find it interesting if you hadn’t already read it (I suppose you’d find it interesting if you actually have already read it).

    It’s called “Human-like social skills in dogs?” and was published in 2005 in TRENDS in Cognitive Science.

    It’s by the same person who wrote The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition….Michael Tomasello (he’s a primatologist).

    You can get to the article by going to his website (http://email.eva.mpg.de/~tomas/) and scrolling down to his list of publications.
    Once you find the title you can download it by clicking on [pdf]

  2. says

    My pup is still having his occasional accidents, but oh yes I am so thankful for dogs who don’t potty in the house. My last old dog, Harvey, had a brain tumor and was on two different medications to try to control the seizures being caused by his tumor. The combination of the three made him a veritable pee machine. He wore belly bands with the biggest bladder control pads they make and he still soaked them through. He just couldn’t help it, and I spent so much time and so many cleaning products trying to get and keep the urine stink out of the carpets.

    Poor old man. I am grateful that he was never particularly concerned about his accidents. I know some dogs would be mortified by having to potty in the house daily. Harv just kept on grinning his vacant grin and peeing whenever the urge hit him.

  3. Dee says

    This will probably sound odd, but I’m envious of you grading term papers. So many thoughts, writing styles, and the possibility of new ideas. I loved reading the term papers when my girlfriend was in University.

  4. Sabine says

    Aaaaaaah – the joys of a housebroken dog. :) Tessa, my shepherd, had to go out three times the first night I had her. She was eight weeks old then and I kept her overnight in an ex-pen. The second night she slept for 8 hours, woke me up to take her out and the rest is history. Am I lucky, or what ? Fast forward two years: The dachshunds move in. I don’t know what it is with people who own small dogs, but for some reason they don’t find it necessary to house train them. I took over two dogs who weren’t really reliable in that department at all. The male constantly marked every corner in sight and the female, coming from a puppymill, had no clue that carpets aren’t doggy toilet strips. Fast forward again: After almost a year of standing in the grass with treat in hand, I actually managed to reliably housebreak both of them. Am I good or what ? :) No really – I had no IDEA it was so hard to teach older dogs to be clean in the big human box we call house. :) My first dachshund moved in with me when she was only 12 weeks old and she was solid as far as housebroken goes. Up until her 15th birthday she never had an accident in the house. She died at age 16 and yes, old age made her less reliable, but nonetheless very embarrassed.

    I absolutely adore that picture of the Swedish church. What an artistic shot ! :)

  5. LynnSusan says

    It had been over 20 years since I house trained a dog. Barney(lab/shep) was 6 weeks (maybe) when I brought him home. I was teaching at the time and he came into my life at the end of the school year. I watched him like a hawk, and scooted him outside everytime he got “that look.” He was completely house broken in 3 weeks. At the end of his life I knew how distressed he was at having no control—he looked baffled and humiliated and worried, so I knew he was just worn out, and took all that stress out of his four paws.

    Gracie (King Shepherd) was 10 months old and had spent 7 of those 10 months kenneled. I hired a dog walker, and for the first time in my life (although having recommended it to rescue adopters for years) I crate trained her. She was a quick study, and after the first day she was getting the message, and by the end of the first week she was trained. She is just 2 now, and she amazes me with how long she can “hold it” on the couple of occasions I have had to leave her unattended for a lon period of time. Sometimes she will even give up her “last call” foray into the yard, and sleep through the night.

    With both dogs I trained them with immediate praise and treats. Seeems to work!

  6. says

    I do something like your gratitude list… every evening as we are getting ready for bed, my husband and I ask each other, “What was best for you today?”

    Some days it is difficult to come up with anything, but usually there are some nice high points it’s good to reflect on, and some days we go on and on!

    Like Sabine, we once had a shepherd (an Aussie, ours) who we got at 8 weeks. He never ONCE went potty in the house. Of course what his sharp puppy teeth did to the furniture was memorable…

  7. Trisha says

    Thanks Jennifer for the link to Tomasello’s work. I do know of much of his work, but thanks to you I was directed to his new article on

  8. says

    Trisha, thanks for this post, because it has reminded me I used to think of five things each night – they invariably included one about my dog, Penny. I’ll resume the lovely practice tonight.

    Now that you’ve mentioned the subject, I think I would have to include the fact that we accidentally house-trained her to think she has to wait for a human to take her outside last thing at night. Weird, given that she goes in and out all day and in the evening.

    If it weren’t for her I wouldn’t go out every night, rain or shine (moonshine, of course) and see the world at peace with itself.

  9. Christine says

    Our first dog was a 3-year old beagle who came to us out of a scientific laboratory. It took some time to house train her and to show her that it is the garden and not the living room to leave puddles. the whole family was involved in this task and out children were ever so proud when, coming home from a walk with the dog, they could announce how many times she pottied. We shared such good times together that the short time of trouble with puddles was nothing compared to the joy she gave us.

  10. Liz F. says

    I am so grateful that I have two dogs in good health, both being able to potty outside. I live in an upper apartment and learned to cherish my dogs ability to climb stairs… a broken leg and torn tendon prevented one dog from doing stairs for a good six months. Every time he had to go I had to carry 55 lbs. of dog up and down the twenty one stairs it takes to get outside. Made me look at ranch houses in a whole new light. Also made me realize the important fact that I shouldn’t own a dog I can’t carry in emergencies! Well, at least until I move into that ranch! All healed now and I would absolutely do it all over again, but my dog’s patience and control really helped make the situation less frustrating (hard to imagine first waking up, still groggy, having to lift him -and- clean up accidents) Thank you, Helix, for your cooperation during this very tough time in your life.

    Thank you, Trisha, for the reminder to stop and think about things that can be taken for granted.

  11. Trisha says

    Liz: You are a wonder woman. 55 lbs up and down twenty one stairs? I will never complain again. Okay, maybe not tomorrow anyway…

  12. says

    Glad you enjoy travel.

    Some people need to travel with their animals/pets, and some people inflict travel on their animals/pets.

    I didn’t see whether or not you said you brought any animals with you on your travels– I’m sure you’ve made quite a study of how to travel and work with your animals in a humane way, Patricia.

    But all too often we see people who are just dragging their pets along to events where they don’t belong and aren’t particularly welcome. We see people who bring their pets on vacation across country to tourist spots where they end up confined in cars or motel rooms, or worse, traipsing about in crowds and leaving fecal bombs. And the bites! How many unnecessary bites are there every year as a result of these thoughtless people who think that bringing their pet along is appropriate as bringing their spouse or child…

  13. Kim says

    For 10 years I sank into a deep state of depression that no medication seemed to help with. I literaly owe my life to my dogs. Although most of my time was spent in bed, I knew one thing had to be done each day, and that was to see that my kids had food and water. I missed the better part of ther lives due to my illness, when a not so pleasant to begin with,event occured and forced me to move out of the entire situation I had been living in, not too long after I began to come back to life. And my incredible border collies girls, who had been so patient in waiting, were there to greet me and welcome me back. Since then I acquired another border collie, he finished off the process of my healing and all together, they continue to keep me focused on where I am and where I would like to be in my life. After such a long period of time doing nothing but sleeping and hoping, everytime I closed my eyes that I would not wake up, I am forever grateful to my “kids in dog suits” for not giving up on me and not holding my lack of attention given to them in those darkest days of my life.
    The two girls are getting up in age, Mallory 14yrs and her daughter, Jewel 9yrs of age. Mallory’s father lived to be 16, and he passed away during the time I was experiencing the depression. I could never express how much he meant to me and just how close of a friend he really was. I had to hold him as he was put to sleep and I watched the life go out of him. At that time, all I could think was, please let me go with him. Her mother died at 13 from a twisted stomach. She went down so fast, I hardly had time to get her to the emergency clinic only to have to watch her fade away as well. I would have never dreamed of letting them take that journey without me being at their side, but I felt a piece of me go with them. I am grateful for the wonderful memories I was allowed to share with them and all the times they made me laugh so hard, I cried. I try not to dwell on the idea of Mallory aging and the inevitable coming to be. Instead, I try to give all I can to her and Jewel and little Neo, and make everyday as enjoyable for them and myself as I possibly can. I am grateful each day I wake up with Neo standing on my chest, licking me in the face and wagging his tail while the girls prance around at the door, saying”come on mom” we need to go tee-tee and poo-poo.” “Wake up!” I cannot imagine life without dogs, and I truly am grateful to all of the dogs, mine and those who belong to others, that have touched my life and made my world a much better place.

  14. Kim says

    Dear Mr Olsen,
    Call me one of those thoughtless people if you wish. My dogs are the only children I will ever be able to have. My dogs have never bitten anyone and my dogs are really better behaved than most of my neices and nephews as well as quite a few of adults in my family and those that are not related to me at all.
    I am one of those people who will take my dogs with me where they are allowed, whether they are welcomed by anyone else or not because to me they “belong” wherever I am.
    I live on the Gulf Coast and every summer, at least once, we have to evacuate and on a few of those occasions we have stayed in hotels in the process. I have been told on several occasions that the room that my 3 dogs and I occupied for days at a time while waiting for power to come back up at our homes, that the rooms we stayed in were in better shape that a lot of or even most of the rooms that only people had occupied, with no pets at all.
    Unfortunantly for you and others with your opinion, most animals do not have a toilet they are able to sit on and simply flush their “fecal bombs” away. However, when my dogs defecate (you may need to look that up) I take the responsibility to clean up after them.
    I would love to have your definition of “humane way.” But to me it does not sound like you have an interest in what is humane regarding the dog’s well being. It would seem more like you are complaining about dog owner’s who may not be as responsible as they should be. The people who do not take responsibility to train their dogs in having life skills and good manners, who do not clean up messes their dogs must make in order to clean out their digestive systems, who would bring dogs that may have the slightest sign of being aggressive, or biting another dog, or human, who would take their dog(s) on a vacation without proper planning for allowing their dogs to have a good time too, are what most dog people would call, irresponsible pet owners. I would ask that you not crowd all dog owners into one lump and assume that because you have come across these types of people, that everyone else who choses to bring their dogs, who to people like myself, ARE part of the family and do participate in family outings. I might also recommend to YOU, that if you find this so annoying, that perhaps it may be best if when you planned to go somewhere, take the time to find out if pets are allowed. If they are, you have the option of not going, and choosing a place that does not allow for pets. Not every person who shares their lives with animals is thoughtless and disrespectful.
    I know there is one particular person who visits this site frequently, whoops, that’s right, I forgot, this site has her name on it as a matter of fact, who certainly is aware of the dog owners that give other people, who actually do care about their pets, as well as seeing to it that other people are not offended by their pet’s actions, a bad reputation.
    Stereotyping never helps anything. Maybe the next time you see a dog out with it’s person, instead of immediately assuming every negitive possibilty, take the time to watch and really observe how that person interacts with their dog, and with other people as well. Every dog guardian is not out to “fecal bomb” the world, and especially not you in particular.

  15. says

    House Training:

    I have a ~9 month old dog (mutt, maybe terrier & chow, plus something). He (Baker) has irregular control of his bladder and I want some advice on how to correct it, if it’s psychological. If it’s physiological, I’ll still need your helpful advice then.

    To preface, the first three months of his life he was tied to a chair leg and outside, in Alaska. This was late spring and then summer. I’m his third owner. His last owner trained him, but he still had accidents over there and some of the same seemingly intentionally goings inside.

    Most of the time I’m keen about the timing of when he might need to go. I let him out twice in the morning, at lunch, and 2-3 times at night, more now. I restrict his water in the morning b/c of past accidents. After work, when I know I’ll be home to let him out, I give him more. Most of the time he doesn’t give a signal except for a happy response and an escort to the door when I verbally say, “Do you need to go potty?” or “Time to go potty.” He doesn’t go to the door, pace, and he doesn’t bark or whine. If he does not need to go, he doesn’t walk out the door.

    He pissed in the house *4* times tonight, between the hours of 5:30-10:30. Some kids came to visit after he & I played outside. I had given him an extra bowl of water before that. He went twice during their visit. My guess is that he was distracted by excitement, but still. I didn’t see him do it, they just told me. Then, another friend came over. As she was leaving he cocked his leg at the door and started making a puddle! 2.5-3 hours later he started to lay under a chair and then got up and started trotting toward the door. I got up and asked him if he had to “Go potty” and let him out. When I was walking back in I noticed that he had gone on the floor again. He didn’t go on the carpet, but on the linoleum.

    So far, the way I discipline him is to first let him outside to drain the rest of his bladder. Then, I rub his nose in it, saying “no” and a “ssshhhzzz” dog whisperer sound with a tripod of my fingers on his chest to dominate. He whole-heartedly submits and knows when his nose is going to be rubbed in it showing remorse. I try to dominate, but my voice is in a low firm tone, not screaming. Then, I put him outside on the chain for a while, maybe 30 minutes. I don’t know what else to do! Oh, I have given him treats upon his return from going potty outside, reaffirming what I like by saying, “Good potty!” or “Good, inside,” which is how I get him back in the house.

    Recently, every time I’ve given him water, he laps it up right away. (I just got him back on the 23rd. Before that I just watched him every month & he was with a different owner primarily.) I want to be able to give him unlimited water, but I don’t know if he can handle it. Other notes: His urine is clear, sometimes with a little color and it has little to no odor.

    Please advise. Thanks, Carey

  16. Linda says

    We have a 10 year old Airedale who was perfectly potty trained until about a year ago when our 12 year old Sheltie became ill with kidney failure. Unknow to us, she had been peeing in the dining room, and he had begun marking over it as well as elsewhere in the house. After she passed, I got a black light and was horrified to find so many places where he had gone. Thanks to some good cleaning products, I seem to have gotten rid of the pee magnets in the carpet and on the furniture, but then I started periodically finding a dried puddle on the tile in the sunroom. We took him to the vet and found out that he had Struvite crystals in his urine. A course of antibiotics cleared it up, but occasionally I would still find a puddle by a tree in the sunroom. I thought when I started spraying the area with something called No Go that the problem was over, but we were gone on vacation for a week and even though my daughter continued to spray the area with the deterrent, she found a puddle by the tree and also one by his food bowl on Saturday. Do you have any suggestions on how I can get him back to being reliable again?

  17. Trisha says

    First, I’d go back to the vet to be sure that he really is medically sound. Urinating beside his food bowl might be a way to trying to tell you he is in some pain still. I’d also suggest re-training him as if he was a puppy. Go outside with him, give him treats immediately after he urinates outdoors and make a big fuss over him. Meanwhile, you might want to pick up Way to Go, a booklet I wrote on house training available on the website, http://www.patriciamcconnell.com. Good luck, I know this can be a tricky issue.

  18. Amy says

    Trisha, I could REALLY use your advice…I know you get this a ton, but we’ve been DOING these things for 5 years now.

    I have a 5 year old papillon whom I got from a rescue when she was 8 weeks old. We did the usual potty training scenario + crate training. And that’s where the story sort of ends. She never really got it. She never gives a signal. And these days we’ve just given up. In the beginning though, we kept a close eye on her, letting her out every freakin 15 minutes, it seemed. Big congrats, and treats when she went outside. She’s very food-motivated, so that should have worked. But no.

    And no, no health problems. Over the years we’ve had her check 5011 times and all’s well.

    I’d like to start over – but just wanted to see…what else can I possibly do? Already we have to block off rooms completely so they aren’t fully destroyed. We know we’ll have to replace carpet one day – but I hate to do it now. Why bother, she’ll just ruin them too. She still sleeps in her crate at night. She does NOT mess in the house while we’re gone during the day (most times). But DOES in the evenings when we’re home. AFTER having gone outside and relieved herself in all sorts of ways.

    I just don’t get it. I realize that now I’ve pretty much given up, she has no reason to change. But, how long can I possibly do this for? We were persistent for 2 years before I finally gave in. I gave her a pee pad in the guest bathroom to try to mitigate it a little. She uses it about 50% of the time for her inside messes.

    If I start over..do I just pretend she’s 8 weeks old again? Keep her literally attached to my hip with a leash while we’re home? Put her in her pen if I’m in the shower? Or is that going too far back?

    I’d appreciate your help… please! I love my baby more than life itself, and I would NEVER give her up for this or anything. But it sure would be nice to go more than 1 day without cleaning up #1s and 2s from all over my house!

    Thank you!!!

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