House Training

This is a longer version of the story I tell people who wonder why we don’t have children. I am a short-tempered control freak, I tell them.

When Silas was a puppy, I read Ian Dunbar. I have a serious love/hate relationship with that man. After You Get Your Puppy made me crazy with its bizarre, perfectionist demands. I could talk about the coulda/woulda/shouldas of agreeing and disagreeing with Dunbar all day, but that’s for another time.

Like most puppy owners, the place Dunbar and I butted heads first was over house training. Dunbar tells you quite sternly that if the dog has an accident it is YOUR FAULT. Furthermore, every time you let the dog have an accident, the ultimate goal of reliable house training slips further and further away. A dog who pees in the house, Dunbar says, will do it forever.

I was home with Silas all day. I let him out constantly. I was so anxious, in fact, that Silas learned to fake-pee just so that he could get a cookie. Then I was afraid he had a bladder infection, since he was walking around the yard squatting and nothing was coming out.

After being on high alert all day, every day, when my husband came home I would gleefully turn Silas over to him. “Here! Make sure he doesn’t have an accident in the house!” And Silas did, every single day. My husband wasn’t as attuned to Silas’s little signals as I was, and there was dinner to get ready and stuff to do. Both of us assumed the other person was watching, etc. So, every day, sometime around 6:00, we had one accident. I could feel Ian Dunbar breathing down my neck about that one little puddle.

Until the day we had three accidents. My husband was out of town. For the first few days, we didn’t have any accidents at all. I felt a little smug. I knew it was all his fault. I guess I lost my vigilance a little after that, or Silas was trying a few last times just to make sure that I really, really meant he had to pee outside. So he went in front of the window, and I cleaned it up. Not long afterwards, he went in front of the fireplace, and I cleaned it up. Then he went in the kitchen. And I got really, really mad. To get to the kitchen he had to walk right past the door to go outside. It was the last straw. Oh, I was so mad. Completely, irrationally livid. I screamed at him, grabbed him up, and put him outside none too gently.

I left him outside for a long time, while I cleaned up his third mess in one day and cried.

With a very few exceptions, he never used the bathroom in the house again. I lost my temper at him a few times when he was little, but none of them stand out like the day when I threw all my principles out the window and screamed at my puppy for doing something he didn’t understand was wrong. And it worked. That’s what kills me, all this time later. It worked. I tell myself that the three-accidents-in-one-day was an extinction burst behavior, and that he would have been done after that anyway, but I can’t really, truly make myself believe it.

8 thoughts on “House Training

  1. Thankfully I didn’t read Ian Dunbar when Sampson was a puppy, I trained him in the way I thought made sense, He was house trained within 6 to 8 weeks. I’m not sure what the average is, but you’ve given me a great idea for a blog post!


  2. I lost my temper and irrationally screamed at Hurley….well, more times than I’d like to admit. It definitely worked to get him to stop eating my shoes. The other things I yelled about? Not so much. He still steals food & gets into the trash at every opportunity. I think every parent – to dogs or tiny people – loses their sh** on occasion. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.


  3. I’ve really tried to use all positive reinforcement, but we are human and NOOOO! just comes out of our mouths at times. Like you, I have had my dogs seem to understand what that meant and stop the bad behavior for good. I think of it as loud positive reinforcement.


    1. Nobody is perfect. I don’t know why this one incident stands out so clearly to me.

      Our other “all-positive” failure was when Silas wanted to dig in the couch cushions. It was so obvious that he knew it was wrong, and he was impossible to distract. In desperation we had to start spritzing him from a water bottle. But, like I said, in that case he obviously knew he was wrong, so I didn’t feel as bad about it.


  4. Bwa ha ha! I feel your pain. I wrote about it myself:

    In Dr. Dunbar’s defense, his totalitarian methods aren’t directed toward you or me. They’re directed toward the people who are continually frustrated by their pups (not just going a little nuts on a bad day) and who rub a pup’s face in his mess, hurt hum, or get rid of him when he messes on the floor.

    Thanks for having the courage to admit you’re human. There’s not a loving dog person out there who doesn’t have a similar story. 🙂


    1. Yeah, that’s why Dr. D and I have a love/hate. I know that he’s working for the best. I totally get it. But sometimes I just want to shake him a little.


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