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..hundreds each year! Although a lifelong commitment with set backs each time the weather changes, housetraining an IG can be accomplished with some work, the right attitude and approach. However it is often a 365 day a year job and a way of life. Housetraining is something you should never take for granted with an Italian Greyhound. It is very different from housetraining a large breed or even some smaller breeds. 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, consistency and management are the keys to this success.
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 and a new schedule, so start from scratch. Take the dog out often and communicate with the dog what you expect in very clear terms. Housetraining should be black and white in the dog world…NO gray. What does that mean? It means dog goes outside he gets a treat and praise. Dog goes inside and we interrupt the behavior and quickly take him outside making it VERY clear what we expect. There can be NO gray. What is gray? Gray is dog goes in the back bedroom or sneaks off down the stairs, potties and feels better so it becomes OK in his mind. Potty is a self rewarding behavior…i.e. it feels good to lighten the load so don’t let it happen INDOORS! So how do we make housetraining black and white and crystal clear for our dog and keep our house clean? It’s simple… through rewarding the behavior you like (potty outside) and interrupting the behavior you don’t like (potty inside), and ensuring your dog has no opportunity to potty inside. Potty training, especially initially and to some degree for life with this breed, must be 100% management. That means do NOT let the dog out of your sight or let accidents happen. Use baby gates, tether the leash to your waist, shut doors to manage what parts of your house the dog has access to, or use a crate to manage. If your new dog can go downstairs or in the back bedroom and potty inside, they will AND if you don’t catch them in the act, it becomes okay in their mind. Don’t make the mistake of confining your dog to an area that “you don’t care if he has accidents because it’s tile or linoleum and easy to clean up”. That will only teach your dog to potty in the house. Just because it’s easier to clean up, doesn’t make it easier to train. Every minute of every day you are training or un-training your dog, so if they are allowed to potty on that surface in the house, they are learning how to potty inside, and how NOT to hold it or go outside.
So let’s get started!
It is my belief and experience (over 25 years of it) that this breed will not ever be reliably housetrained without the use of a crate! Sure, some will eventually do well enough to be without a crate but that’s the exception rather then the rule. I know many elderly IGs that are still crated to keep them housetrained. Remember the above info..potty is a self rewarding behavior in the dog world so every time they do it and you do NOT catch them in the act, it becomes “ok” in their mind. Having a dog loose while you are gone is often letting them get the taste of that self rewarding behavior. If you do decide to not use a crate, make sure you have gone through an entire year of seasons from snow/cold in January to rain in April, etc.. Don’t be lead into a false sense of “my IG does great with housetraining” by just getting through a few WARM months when IGs do best. Go through winter before you decide to take away the crate IF you ever take away the crate. That said, please read “How to make your dog love his crate” article on this site. Train your dog to LOVE his crate with our tips. The crate should be a wonderful place with lots of bedding for IGs and plastic. Plastic is warmer and more den like, plus IGs can break their legs if they dig in a wire crate. The crate should be used as a management tool not as punishment. Again, the crate in my opinion is the most crucial part of housetraining an IG and keeping them housetrained throughout life.
Remove all scents in the home!
If you had a dog or your current dog has had accidents, clean all spots very well with a product designed for urine (yes even hard surfaces) or ideally if it’s carpet, hire a carpet cleaner that specializes in pet stains and odors. Remember a dog’s sense of smell is MUCH keener than ours and so we must remove all traces of previous accidents. I like products like Nature’s Miracle available at pet stores for spot cleaning.
Pay well for the behavior
Next find a treat your dog LOVES. I’m talking the $10,000 dollar treat such as deli meat, turkey, hot dogs, liver treats..something he doesn’t get often. Now reserve this treat ONLY for outside potty. That is the ONLY behavior that is going to earn him the $10,000 treat. Take your dog out to potty in the SAME area (more about this later) and tell him to “go potty”. This is one command you can repeat and even “chant” over and over. The second he finishes going, tell him “YES”, give tons of praise, have a party and give him that $10,000 treat. Sure your neighbors will think you are crazy but let your dog know he did good! Do NOT wait until you come inside to give the treat. Studies show you have 1.6 seconds for a dog to correlate a behavior and a reward. That means if you want your dog to understand that the outside potty is what you want, you must reward within that second!!!!!!!!!!!! (Rewarding for coming in and going to the cabinet teaches a dog to go out and come in or go to the cabinet). And yes even if you have a fenced yard you should go out with your dog. Standing in the doorway shivering because it’s cold is not the same. A nice warm coat is helpful for you and the dog:-)!
Teach your dog what “go potty” means
You can also say “Go Potty” right when your dog is getting ready to go. This will put a word with the behavior he was doing anyway and make it quicker for him to correlate the verbal command with the behavior.
Think “area” training and create a “smelly” area that SCREAMS potty here!
Dogs thrive on consistency and use their nose and sense of smell so you can use those skills in housetraining. Go out the SAME door each time for pottyANDto the same area. Think of it as area training. Once your dog goes #2, leave it in that area so your dog will pick up on his scent and think “oh yes..this is where I go potty”. You can bag it up so you won’t step it in as he will be able to smell it even through the bag. Hopefully you won’t have any #1 accidents in your home but if you do, take a sponge or paper towel, dab that up and put it in his area too. Your goal is to make that area smell like potty. Get creative. If the dog is new to your home and you don’t have any good dog scents in your yard, put an old log or paper bag stuffed with newspapers out in your front yard for all the neighbor dogs to put their scent on for a week. Male dogs especially do well with this trick. Now put that nice smelly log or bag in your potty area outside in your backyard.
Oops… Accidents! Now What?
So now we are rewarding outside potty but what if our dog does have an accident in the house? First you MUST catch him IN THE ACT. I can not stress this enough. Remember earlier I said that you have 1.6 seconds for a dog to correlate a behavior and a reward or correction? It’s true!** If you do catch the dog making a mistake in the house (and remember you will because you are micromanaging his behavior so accidents won’t happen), make a noise like “AAACCKKK”** and quickly take him outside. When the dog potties outside, immediately praise the dog and/or give a delicious treat. In this manner you are correcting or interrupting any unwanted behavior and praising the desired behavior, making your message clear from a dog’s perspective.
A few notes about “correction/interruption”:
**We make a noise like “AAACCCKKK” as it’s a unique sound we don’t often use and we want a noise just enough to interrupt the behavior. If you are too loud or really startle the dog, he will learn to NOT potty in front of you even when outside so we want to “interrupt” the behavior NOT scare the dog. **If you do NOT catch the dog in the act, you can NOT correct period. I don’t care if you catch it 5 seconds later and it’s still smoking warm..too late! Correcting a dog AFTER the fact will only cause confusion and a fearful dog. Also don’t make the mistake of thinking “oh I can correct him because he was slinky around when I asked him what he did and he knew he did wrong”. NO he doesn’t. For one dogs think potty is a great thing. If feels good, they sniff it, sometimes roll in it and even eat it. Yes disgusting in our world but potty is a pretty cool thing to dogs so they don’t think there is anything wrong with it. Secondly dogs are MASTERS at reading body language. They don’t speak English so to live with us, they have had to learn to become excellent at reading our body language, tone and even facial expressions. We find the potty, they know we are upset and have no idea why but offer lots of “appeasement” behaviors (tail tucked, body lowered, looking away) because we are upset. They don’t know they do wrong because dogs live in the moment and they think potty is a great thing so are only responding to our behavior! Don’t put human emotions, guilt, etc on dogs. They don’t know carpet is different than grass. The only way they learn they did wrong is to reward/correct within that 1.6 second window! Again I can not stress this enough..correcting AFTER the fact will lead to a confused, neurotic dog often especially in a sensitive breed like IGS.
Other suggestions to make housetraining easier
Don’t confuse a dog letting you know he has to go out with a housetrained dog. MOST IGS and small dogs will never let you know they have to go out, especially in the cold or wet weather. This is a breed of comfort after all remember! If you want a dog that will go to the door, bark and never have an accident then get a 60 pound lab. IGs hate cold weather and wet weather. Humans hate potty in the house and we pay for the carpet so it is OUR responsibility to communicate to our dogs what they need to do. Put your dog on a schedule and take him out. Don’t wait for him to tell you. IGs are NOT stupid. They will be just as happy sneaking downstairs if you aren’t going to take them out and make sure they go out. Also at adulthood, dogs have the mentality of a 2-3 year old child but yet we wait for them to tell us when they have to go out in the cold or wet? They won’t. What they will do is find a warmer, drier place (i.e. indoors) to go so stay on top of it and be smarter than your dog and YOU take him out on a schedule. Waiting for the IG to tell you he has to go out in the cold to do his business will only result in lots of accidents and dog that finds a better way..ie indoors!
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. There are MANY reasons not to open feed and this is just one of them. Do not withhold water as dogs, like people, should have access to fresh water whenever they are thirsty. The exception is for young dogs, you can remove their water an hour or two before bedtime.
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. A dry erase board by the door is great for this purpose if you have a family and must get everyone on the same page. You can also use a kitchen timer to remind everyone when the dog must go out for potty next. Remember small dogs = small bladders. IGs must go out often!
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 and treat. 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. If you take your dog out and he does not potty and you bring him in and he does, shame on you:-). Stay out there until he does his business, period. If he doesn’t and you do bring him in, then put him in a room with you, in his crate (not for punishment but management) and try again in 15 minutes.
Room to Move
Some dogs need to move a bit especially if you don’t have a fenced yard. Try a longer leash. You can buy a 20 foot training lead at most pet stores. (Beware of Flexis. They can be very dangerous). Again giving your dog a bit of space and “privacy” and extra movement will often help them go potty quicker vs. having a human standing over them just feet away. Play with it to find out what your dog needs. Some need some movement and or space to go.
Supervision and Limiting Freedom
Until completely trained, a dog should either be confined or in your sight at all times. This allows for immediate feedback 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.
Corrections/Praise and Timing
Worth mentioning again…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! Also remember to 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 and also treat if you want the behavior to stick for life. Do this forever to continue good potty habits. Remember training an IG is often a 365 day a year job! I never take housetraining for granted with this breed. I still “thank” (i.e. treats and praise) my 14 year old IG for going potty outside..especially in the cold or rain.
More on Clean Up
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.
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. Rehoming your dog because he is not crate trained and can’t be housetraining is cruel. 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, canned food, etc and frozen 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 giveALLmeals 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 a positive, short term place where great things happen and part of his DAILY life. The crate should be one of the best and funnest places in the house. 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. Play soothing music or a sound machine for the dog while he is crated. Put dim lighting on to encourage quiet time. For more on crate training see “How to make your dog LOVE his crate”.
Visiting/Traveling with your Italian Greyhound
Another benefit of crating is your dog is allowed to go more places and travel with you. 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.
Signals for Potty
Watch for and learn your dog’s signals. Like I said earlier, 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.
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.
Protection from the elements in Cold Weather
Consider building a shelter from the wind and cold in winter months outdoors. IGs hate the cold, so keep the snow shoveled and an area that is somewhat protected to encourage good potty habits throughout the cold months. You can also purchase a Poop Tent for outside shelter. Kathy, one of our adopters, purchased the Poop Tent and this is what she had to say about it: “It was easy to put up and has withstood the recent bad weather. Smokey loves it. He will run out and straight into it to go. Well worth the money!”.
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.
Remember every breed has a “price”…some dig, some bark, some need regular grooming. Housetraining challenges is the price of an Italian Greyhound. It can be done but it’s a way of life and often a 365 day a year job especially in the old and wet weather. Those that love this breed and are owned by them have a comfy crate for them with lots of bedding, baby gates and often little or no carpet. It’s a way of life but well worth it for those that love this cuddly, affectionate breed. Good luck!
Carol Sumbry has lived with and fostered Italian Greyhounds for almost 2 decades. She has lived with several adopted Italian Greyhounds over the years and has fostered hundreds. Carol is a volunteer/rescue representative with Italian Greyhound Rescue & Whippet rescue and fosters , works and volunteers at her local animal shelter. She is also a trainer doing both private lessons and group classes. Carol has been training for over a decade and specializes in shy dogs, puppymill rescues and small dogs. Carol also has 2 adopted dogs that are therapy dogs. Carol says”I believe with home management (crates, baby gates) and positive training methods, Italian Greyhounds CAN be housetrained BUT it is a way of life. Due to the sheer number of dogs that come into our rescue program, many people are not willing to make the commitment required to housetrain this breed and the dogs end up outsmarting their owners and pottying inside. Housetraining and living with IGs is a way of life and life anything worthwhile in life, it is work”
Copyright 2023 Carol Sumbry https://carolscaninetraining.com/