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A 1-year-old Dog Still Messes in the House

Dear WOOF:

We have a golden retriever who is almost one year old. She has never been great about signaling us when she needs to go out to go to the bathroom. We thought that a regular schedule would help, modeling by our older lab would help but she still seems to not let us know when she needs to go out. She has never messed her crate, even as a pup, so I know she is a clean dog. She just doesn't seem to mind messing in a bigger area.

I am wondering if you offer training that could help solve this issue. Currently, Zoe is staying with my in laws because we moved to Switzerland in September. Zoe is scheduled to come home with us in December when we finally move out of temporary housing.

She is a lovely dog with just the sweetest personality. I know that she can overcome this little issue but we need help! Can she be trained (and us by email) at my in-laws as long as the clicker is consistent?

Thanks for your help!


Zoe's eliminating in the house sounds like the result of incomplete house training. It's just not clear to her that when she feels the "urge" to go, she should "hold it" until she gets outside. We know that dogs always repeat behaviors that are reinforced when they occur, and all dogs, including Zoe, experience immediate relief from that uncomfortable "urge" through the act of eliminating -- just like we humans do! The habit of eliminating in a particular place has developed based on where she is when she eliminates most frequently, and for Zoe, sometimes it's outside.....but lots of times it's inside too. 


Although you mention hoping that she'll 'model' her behavior after the other dog because she follows him outside, you're seeing that this is really not likely to happen. While she may follow the lab outside, and occasionally it'll be at a time when she just happens to need to go potty - the fact that she also goes in the house frequently too, means Zoe has learned through repetition and practice, that she has the option to relieve herself inside and/or outside, when she needs to eliminate. This is also why she's not been good at "signaling" you that she needs to go outside to potty...after all, when she has to relieve herself, inside the house works just fine for her too!  

The key to house training (and how long it takes to accomplish) lies in how consistent you are from here on at preventing her from practicing the unwanted behavior. So you must actively prevent Zoe from continuing to go in the house while making sure that the only place she does "go" is outside.


Crating is the perfect prevention-place, especially since you mention that Zoe has never eliminated inside it.  This is how she's going to learn that outside is the only place to relieve herself. Setting everyone up for success means being diligent about prevention, so your in-laws must crate her when they are out of the house -- and at any other time they're not able to supervise her.  You mention a "bigger area" being where she'll choose to eliminate inside....if this is a certain, specific room, prevent Zoe's access to that room entirely for now.  Having her tethered to one of them when they're home (if they're not 100% sure that she's empty) can also be effective since she won't be able wander off to eliminate in the house.  


As long as she is consistently prevented from eliminating (anywhere) in the house, and she's consistently taught to eliminate outside only, she'll catch on.

Yes, the clicker can aid in the house training process (click as soon as she's finished - then reward her) but remember that reinforcement is inherent in the behavior itself (ahhh, relief!), so the most important thing to work on is preventing her from eliminating anywhere but outside.


I'd suggest that you and your in-laws read my booklet House training 101 for a step-by-step plan of action that includes an intake/elimination log that will help you and Zoe succeed.  For our entire section on house training, click here.


We can certainly do in-home work with your family if necessary. Please keep us posted on your progress.

We hope this is helpful to you.

Good luck and thanks for writing,


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