House training: How do I get Sparky to tell me he needs to go out?

19_dog_ringling rainy dayA surprising number of my clients have asked me recently, “How do I get Sparky to tell me he needs to go outside to potty?” This was puzzling to me me at first as I have never had a problem with my dogs telling me they need to go out. I began to wonder why that was, and I came up with these suggestions:
1) Begin with reviewing basic house training techniques, as these are not unrelated matters! Here is an article on house training by Dr. Sophia Yin: (http://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/a_foolproof_potty-training_plan), which is quite good. Remember to set your dog up for success by not giving him the entire run of the house if he is not yet reliable, and err on the side of taking him out more often than less often. And, put him on a leash and lead him to the place you want him to eliminate. Don’t take the leash off, if he doesn’t go to the bathroom! If being free to wander is important to him, make him understand that freedom comes with responsible urination! You can effectively reward success by taking him off the leash and letting him explore the yard.
2) Remember that house training requires diligence, a lot of diligence and consistency. If you are diligent about keeping an eye on Sparky for signals that he needs to go out and respond consistently with taking him out when he shows signs that he needs to go, he will associate going outside with eliminating. I have found that it helps to go out the same door every time you take him out to eliminate as that helps the dog to associate the door with going out to potty.
3) Also, I find it helps to reward him by taking him outside when he wanders over to the door and looks out. You don’t need to take Sparky out every time he goes to the door, but if you do it on a fairly regular basis then once again the door is associated with going outside. During the house training period, EVERY time my dog wanders to the door, he gets a leash put on and is escorted out to the potty place and rewarded heavily if he goes. Consistently and constantly rewarding going to the door with going outside (especially if he has shown signs he needs to eliminate) will get him to go to the door when he wants/needs to go outside.
4) My dogs have also learned that a bark at the door means a person comes and opens the door. If they are barking a lot at someone or some dog passing by, the door is not opened, but one or two barks will get a person to the door. I can tell their “I need to go out” bark from their “SOMEONE IS MOVING OUTSIDE SOMEWHERE!” bark. The first is rewarded, the second is not. If Sparky should go to the door and give a “woof” take him out (on a leash)! This is where the life reward of getting what he wants (to go out) can be effectively used to reward what you want (signaling the need to go out).
5) Patience grasshopper! This is a trying and exasperating time for most owners, but patience, consistency, and rewarding desired behavior will get the desired results. Do not punish Sparky for his accidents, that will not speed up the process and will not teach him to go outside. If you really have reached the end of your rope with house training, call a positive reinforcement based trainer for some assistance.
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