Breeds You Can't Housebreak

Catherine J. Crawmer on 5/28/2008

“He’s a 9 month old Pekingese. We need help. I’ve been on the Internet and I know they are hard to train but we have to do something. We’re getting nowhere with this!” The breed being described as “hard to train” could also be a small poodle, a yorkie or a pom. The breed doesn’t seem to matter much. However, all the breeds reputedly hard to train have one thing in common, they are all small. I have heard a lot of reasons given for this problem. “They develop slower.” “Tiny dogs have smaller kidneys.” “Big dogs can find the door easier.” While all these things are obviously not true, the fact remains that people have a lot more trouble with housebreaking issues with the toy breeds than with any other size dog.

What this particular Pekingese owner said was certainly true. The information she found on the Internet confirms that she is not the only one having the problem. If everyone else is having the same issue it is easy enough to come to the conclusion that whatever is going on has something to do with picking the wrong breed. In fact, the number one reason for toy size breeds ending up in shelters is for lack of housebreaking.

Now there are a lot of toy breeds! Can all of them be plagued with the same physical or mental deficiency making house training a problem? Maybe toy dogs aren’t as “smart” as big dogs? Well now we are treading on dangerous ground, my friend! Toy dog owners are adamant, “He is the smartest dog we have ever had! It’s just this one thing we are having trouble with.”

Any time you have a problem shared by so many it is not likely to be a coincidence. There is a sound reason for the difficult housebreaking process which seems to plague the owners of toy breeds. It’s not that they have a physical problem and, heaven knows, they are as “smart” as any big dog ever was.

When an 8 week old Yorkshire terrier urinates on the floor it is almost cute! “Someone, qet a cotton ball and soak up the droplets! Little Ringo just did a little pee pee”. Bring a Q-Tip from the bathroom when you come out. Now where did I see it? Can you find it? I thought I just saw him go.” Oops, there is a little mistake over here too, or is it just a raisin from the kid’s cereal? I’m not sure. Guess you should bring a tissue too.”

That’s the first issue. It’s small. The second issue? You can’t find it. The little guy is running all over the house. He is also being shuttled around from room to room by every member of the family. Everyone wants to hold him. The kids fight to have him sleep in their room. Why would anybody put him in a crate, as cute as he is? You could take him outside but why would you want to put him through such a thing? After all, it’s too cold, it’s snowing, it’s too wet, the grass is too high and………’s too much trouble.

Habits are being formed and they aren’t good. It will be a while before it becomes an issue though because puppy urine doesn’t smell and the little guy doesn’t lift his leg….yet. The little spots disappear completely on rugs, nowhere to be found. As the months go by ten little spots turn into thousands and finally someone asks, “What’s that smell?” When a “smell investigator” finally turns over one of the throw rugs the magnitude of the problem suddenly hits home.

It is interesting to note that, in more than 35 years of training dogs, I can’t remember a single case where I was called to solve a housebreaking problem with a 9 month old Great Dane or a Saint Bernard. Urine marking with an adult, every once in a while, but never the puppy housebreaking issues of the young toy breeds. The reason for this disparity in big dog and small dog housebreaking skills is not that much of a mystery at all. When a 12 week old giant breed “goes” on the floor you don’t need a cotton ball. You need a garden shovel and an industrial mop with a wringer bucket. Now there is all the incentive necessary to confine the puppy when he is not being watched and take him outside, and often. Who cares what the weather is? Mystery solved.