As you have probably read, housetraining the Italian Greyhound can be a very difficult task. Not being housetrained is the number one reason Italian Greyhounds are surrendered into our program. It is possible to successfully housetrain an Italian Greyhound and it can be done regardless of the dog’s age. It is often a 365 day a year job and a way of life. Housetraining is something you should never take for granted. Housetraining an Italian Greyhound is very different from housetraining a large breed. If you approach it in this manner along with an understanding and appreciation of the unique personality of the breed and a lifetime commitment, you can have success. Praise and consistency are the keys.
First and foremost, treat your new rescue dog as if he/she is not housetrained. Although the dog may have done very well in this department at the foster home, the dog is now facing a new environment with new smells and new rules, so start from scratch. Take the dog out often and communicate with the dog what you expect in very clear terms. How is that done? through correction and praise. Do not let the dog out of your sight or let accidents happen. If you do catch the dog making a mistake, quickly say “no” and take the dog outside. When the dog potties outside, immediately praise the dog and/or give a delicious treat. In this manner you are correcting any unwanted behavior and praising the desired behavior, making your message clear from a dog’s perspective. (Note corrections and praise must be done within 1-2 seconds to be effective!)
Other suggestions to make housetraining easier
Feed a high quality food because it will be absorbed better and there will be less waste (i.e. fewer and smaller poops). Feed at a scheduled time(s) each day allowing 15-20 minutes to eat. Do NOT open feed. Do not withhold water as dogs, like people, should have access to fresh water whenever they are thirsty.
Take the dog out first thing in the morning, shortly after eating, after confinement, after extensive play or excitement and prior to retiring for the night. Keep a chart and log every elimination until you become accustomed to your dog’s schedule. Keep the dog on a set schedule. Dogs are creatures of habit and do very well when they have a routine to follow. Try to establish a set potty routine based on your dog’s needs and your schedule.
Teach Elimination on Command
Take the dog out often and use a command like “Go Potty” or “Hurry Up”. If the dog goes when given the command, praise lavishly. If not, bring the dog in and confine the dog or keep the dog with you (see “Supervision” information below) and try again in another hour, repeating the process described above. Do not play with the dog or allow the dog to play outdoors until after he does his job. Play can then be used as a reward.
Supervision and Limiting Freedom
Until completely trained, a dog should either be confined or in your sight at all times. This allows for immediate praise and corrections and prevents mistakes. An umbilical is another means of limiting freedom and is done by leashing a dog to your waist. This allows for constant supervision and many behaviorists believe this also strengthens the bond between pet and owner and can calm an excitable dog. Baby gates also can be helpful in supervision. However care should be taken as to where these are placed (keep away from stairs) as IGs are jumpers and will often jump a baby gate and can even trap a leg in it. The discriminate use of a crate is not only helpful but imperative for training this breed. See more crating information below.
Correction or praise should be given within 1-2 seconds of the activity to be effective. It is useless to correct a dog for behavior he did hours ago or even minutes ago… you must catch him in the act! Many dog owners will say “he knew he did wrong”. No he didn’t. He knew by your tone and your body language that you were mad but he forgot he had an accident hours ago! If you catch the dog beginning to use the bathroom indoors, immediately say “No” and pick him up and take him outside. To further reinforce good potty habits, find a treat your dog absolutely loves.. something extra special like deli meat or cheese. Put the treat in your pocket and as soon as he goes potty outside, praise and reward. (Keep in mind…1-2 seconds for effectiveness). This extra step really helps in the initial housetraining stages and should be used the first week or two to really reinforce the desired behavior. Praise, praise and more praise. This is crucial for this breed. They do not respond to harsh words or punishment. For the life of your dog, continue to praise the dog at least once a day to encourage the behavior. Do this forever to continue good potty habits.
Use a product specifically designed for eliminating odors such as Nature’s Miracle, Outright, or vinegar & water. These products will discourage the pet from picking up the scent and soiling the same area again. (Ammonia, carpet cleaning products, etc. are not the same.. you must use a product designed for this purpose). A spot cleaner or carpet cleaner can be a very useful purchase when you own Italian Greyhounds. You can also use these products in the washer if a dog has soiled his bedding by adding 1/4-1/2 cup per load. Do not let the dog see you or watch you clean up his “mistakes”. When dogs are very young, their mother cleans up their elimination and this is a positive thing to a young pup. Some behaviorists believe that even older dogs will associate watching their owner clean up the mess with this younger positive behavior. Therefore, do not let him see you clean it up, but by the same theory it is good for him to see you clean up his correct eliminations outdoors.
Crates can be a very positive, important tool in housetraining and overall training areas. Crating is not cruel as dogs are den animals and should have their own “room”.. a space they can feel safe in and retreat to when stressed or tired. Crates should be used for no longer than 4 hour intervals. A dog should not be crated while an owner works all day. Think about it – you use the bathroom at work – why would you expect your dog to hold it all day? Also, small dogs = small bladders.
A crate should be large enough for a dog to lie down in and turn around. A crate that is too large will give a dog the opportunity to mess in one area and lie in another. Always make the crate a “great” place for your dog. Make the crate a positive place by feeding all meals in the crate and also having special treats that are only given in the crate. A Kong toy filled with cream cheese and/or treats is an excellent distraction from your departure and will keep the dog occupied. Warm blankets from the dryer or placing the crate near a heat vent will also encourage crate use for this breed that loves warmth. Teach the dog the command “Kennel” before he enters his crate. If the dog is resistant to a crate initially, continue to give ALL meals and treats in the crate. Then place the dog in the crate but do not leave the room. Allow the dog to remain in the crate for just minutes, gradually increasing the time and eventually leaving the room and then the house for short intervals. The goal is to condition the animal to see the crate as positive and short term and to assure him that you are returning. Never let a dog out of the crate until he is quiet. Otherwise he will quickly learn he can get out of his crate by exhibiting negative behavior. When you let the dog out of the crate, do not make a big deal out of his exit. This just confirms to him that “whew! glad you are out of that awful place”. Also, ignore a dog that is having problems with crate training 20-30 minutes before placing him in the crate. Play soothing music or a sound machine for the dog while he is crated. Put dim lighting on to encourage quiet time.
Visiting with your Italian Greyhound
Many Italian Greyhounds who are housetrained in their own homes will mark or have accidents when visiting other peoples’ homes. Sometimes the Italian Greyhound doesn’t know how to alert you they want to go outside because they are in a different environment and some Italian Greyhounds will mark outside their home. (Sometimes neutering your Italian Greyhound early can help prevent your dog from becoming a marker.) If you have a male Italian Greyhound you can easily prevent embarrassing messes by placing a belly band (see below) on him whenever he goes visiting. Another tip is to keep your IG leashed to you when he or she is in someone else’s home and bring a crate along to put him/her in when you cannot closely monitor the dog’s behavior.
Watch for and learn your dog’s signals. Most Italian Greyhounds will not go to the door and bark, but most will give you a subtle signal. Watch for the signal and learn it. If your dog does give you a signal, praise him and respond immediately. Consider placing a bell on a string at the door. Take the dog’s paw and tap the bell and praise him each time before going out. Eventually the dog should learn to tap the bell himself. Give lots of praise when your dog catches on that tapping the bell alerts you to let him outside and he should repeat the procedure.
Many people have great success with paper training or using a boot tray or large plastic container-lid with potty pads for their dogs to use, especially in cold weather. Again, consistency and praise are the keys here. Placing these items by the back door make an indoor/outdoor transition a little easier.
Belly Bands (or diapers)
Belly Bands or diapers do not help train the dog but are useful for the owner to catch accidents during the training time. Belly Bands can usually be found by searching ebay.