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When a pup persists in “accidents”
Dear Dr. Spiegel, In November I adopted a male 2 y.o. Yorkie mix from the SPCA. He was described as "not 100% house-trained.  I have made some progress with him, but in his 3 months here, we have had only 3 clean days. He usually poops 4-5 times/day. My vet recommended low residue Iams, but this has made no difference in the past 4 weeks. He is 90% able to go through the night without accidents. When I barricade him in the kitchen, there are never accidents. We take him out about 8-10 times/day. I have used neutralizers, puppy pads, and repellents, but he will still poop and pee in the same location under the dining room table. He's a smart, cute and funny dog, and I would hate to give him up. But I'm running out of patience. Please advise. Thank you, Kate
Dear Kate, Chronic housebreaking problems are among the toughest behavioral problems to resolve. Why so tough? Because it requires strict discipline. Not you disciplining the dog, but rather you being consistent and disciplined in your efforts to fix the problem. Wisely chosen efforts always help too! Successfully treating this problem will mean eliminating all opportunities to have “accidents”, while establishing a routine that makes it easy and rewarding for him to do all of his eliminating outside! It will take a few months before everything starts to click in his little head. Until you reach that point, consistency will make all the difference between success and failure. There are two factors which seem to be operating in your dog’s case. First is his strong location preference for your dining room. Consider yourself fortunate he’s not the type that goes anywhere and everywhere he pleases. Your best course of action is to set up a motion detector, or photo-electric beam, that will alert you when he enters the dining room. When it sounds, call him to you and get him outside. Your other option is to simply block off his access to this area for the next few months. If you do this, you’ll have to confine him to the kitchen when you cannot keep close watch on him. Next are his frequent defecations. Unresponsive to dietary changes, this can be an indication that he’s anxious in general, anxious while eliminating, or simply not yet adjusted to his new environment. Nervous dogs often aren’t able to get relaxed enough to get everything out all at once. Instead they drop smaller, more frequent stools. Plan to give him 2 play sessions and 2 fun training periods (sit, stay, come, etc.) each day. Follow each of these relaxing activity times with a 15 minute walk. Let him walk at his own pace, allow him to sniff and stop and pee and poop as many times as he likes. We want to give him an opportunity to completely empty his bladder and colon before coming back inside. Whenever he starts to eliminate, praise him softly so as not to disrupt him, and then more joyously when he’s done. Also bring along some treats and reward him randomly after eliminations. This will reinforce the desired result of outside eliminations. Coordinating his play/attention times and his walk times like this will help to speed up his metabolism and relax him enough so that when you get him outside for his walks he’ll be primed and ready to go. Limiting his water access to the time between play and walks will serve this same end as well. Feed twice daily prior to each of your training sessions. Furthermore, if you conduct your play sessions in the dining room, this location will eventually take on a new significance, and he’ll be less inclined towards soiling there. One final note... If you keep a daily log (no pun intended) of all the times he pees and poops both inside and out, you’ll soon start to see when he really needs to go and you can adjust your walk schedule accordingly.