Few things make the winter seem longer than sharing a home with a dog who never really got the concept of house-training. But don't blame the dog: Most can indeed be completely house-trained if you work with them and be consistent and patient.
The first step? Quit making excuses. No dog is "partially" house-trained: He either is or he isn't. If you have a dog who is "sometimes" reliable, what you really have is a dog who doesn't understand what's required of him, probably because no one taught him properly in the first place. That means going back to the beginning to train for total understanding. Shortcuts and punishment aren't fair, and they won't work.
Before you start training, though, you must be sure that what you really have is a behavior problem and not a physical problem. This is especially true with a dog who has been reliable in the home before. Your dog needs a comprehensive veterinary checkup to rule out health problems that make good house-manners difficult or even impossible. If your pet has such a problem, it will need to be fully resolved before training begins.
House-training an adult dog uses the same principles as house-training a puppy, except you have to be even more diligent because you need to do some untraining, too. And a lot of cleaning: You must thoroughly clean any soiled area with enzymatic cleaner (available through pet-supply outlets) to eliminate the smell that invites repeat business. Again, no shortcuts: If your home has served as your pet's potty, you may even need to remove carpets and padding because even if you can't smell old urine, your dog likely can.
You'll need to teach your dog what's right before you can correct him for what's wrong. To do this, spend a couple of weeks ensuring that he has nothing but successes by never giving him the opportunity to make a mistake.
-- Leash him to you in the house so you can monitor his every move during his training period. If he starts to mess, tell him "no," take him outside, and give him a command for going (I use "hurry up" with my dogs). Then praise him for doing right, so that he starts to understand what you want.
-- Put him in a crate whenever he's not on leash with you. It's not unfair during training to leave him in a crate for four or five hours at a stretch -- assuming, of course, that he's getting regular daily exercise.
-- Take him outside first thing in the morning, as soon as you get home from work and just before you go to bed (when you put him in his crate for the night). Always remember to give your "go" command, and praise him when he does as you wish. I find that people never seem shy about punishing their dogs, but too often forget to praise them -- they take it for granted the dog should do the right thing. Never, ever forget the praise!
If you've been consistent, your dog will likely get a good idea of what's expected of him within a couple of weeks, and you can start to give him a little freedom. However, don't let him have the run of the house yet. Keep his area small and let him earn the house, room by room, as he proves his understanding of the house rules.
Accidents happen. If you catch him in the act, tell him "no," take him outside, and give him the chance to set things right. Give your "go" command and praise him if he does. Clean up the mess inside promptly and thoroughly, so he won't feel inclined to refresh his smell there. Don't punish him for any messes you find after the fact.
If you aren't catching him, you're not keeping close enough tabs on him. Go back to the crate and leash, and start over.
If you continue to have problems, ask your veterinarian for a referral to a veterinary behaviorist. One-on-one assistance can pinpoint the problems in your training regimen and get you both on the right track.
Video bonus: Watch Pet Connection's Dr. Marty Becker explain how to reduce your dog's shedding (vetstreet.com/reduce-pet-hair-in-your-home).
Q: I've adopted a poodle mix. He came clipped from the shelter, but my follow-ups with the scissors aren't looking good, and he's starting to hate me for them. What should I do? -- via email
A. For dogs such as poodles, bichons and many terriers, finding a good groomer is almost a necessity, since the maintenance involved with the coats of these breeds and their mixes is beyond the ability or interest of most pet lovers.
For many other dogs, such as collies, spaniels and the like, regular attention from a professional groomer can make at-home coat maintenance such as combing and brushing more manageable, and can keep dogs looking and smelling better.
Start your groomer search by asking friends, neighbors and co-workers for recommendations. Your dog's veterinarian may also be able to refer you to one.
A groomer should need only two to four hours for a routine wash and clip, unless your dog is matted and tangled. There's no reason for your dog to hang out all day when he's not being worked on.
Don't wait so long between appointments that your dog is full of mats and then expect the groomer to be able to work them out. Listen to your groomer: If she says clipping the coat away is the best way to go, you're better off following her advice than subjecting your dog to hours of fur-pulling.
Make sure, too, that the groomer is clear on what you expect your dog to look like when she's done if clipping is involved. And if you don't want bows, nail polish and perfume, don't forget to speak up beforehand. -- Dr. Marty Becker
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
pets into shelters
-- Why do people drop off their dogs in shelters or, even sadder, leave them in the streets to fend for themselves? The housing crisis and the rough economy are adding to the top three reasons why dogs end up homeless: moving, landlord issues and the cost of pet maintenance. Other factors include (in order): no time for a pet, no room, too many pets, pet illness, personal problem and biting. For cats, the economic factors haven't hit as hard, with "too many pets" and "allergies" as the top two reasons for giving up a cat, and "moving" at No. 3. The others, in order: cost of pet maintenance, landlord issues, no homes for littermates, house-soiling, personal problems, no room, doesn't get along.
-- Catnip (Nepeta cataria) makes some cats very happy, but doesn't do a thing for others. Kittens under the age of 3 months do not react to catnip, and not all cats are genetically programmed to react to catnip -- the split is about 50-50. Catnip is a harmless pleasure for those cats who enjoy it.
-- Everyone needs a vacation, even Britain's royal horses, who are given a three-week vacation every year. They go to the beach, where they get to gallop freely on the sandy shores and swim in the ocean.
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and also the authors of many best-selling pet care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.