Housebreaking an Adult Dog from a Puppy Mill

Question from Lise:

I rescued a Yorkie used for breeding at age 5.5 year but he still does his business in his bed and house even though I put him outside a lot.  Any advice of what else I could do?  I love this little fellow so much.  Thanks in advance.  I think you’re the best!

Advice from Cheri Lucas:

If your Yorkie spent the last 5-½ years in a commercial dog breeding facility, it will take patience and understanding for him to adjust to all that his new life has to offer.  Dogs that have been kept in puppy mill environments often never see the light of day.  The everyday sights and sounds that you and I are used to can be overwhelming to a dog that has spent the first several years confined.

Often breeding dogs are kept in cages with wire flooring to minimize clean up.  Dogs are naturally hardwired not to want to be near their own waste, but dogs kept in these conditions are forced to urinate and defecate in the small space they live in.  Lying in their own filth becomes the norm.  

Even if he doesn’t show it, your Yorkie may be feeling stressed out at the idea of being in the great outdoors.  Remember, he spent the first five years of his life in an environment that was stark and small.  If he’s too tense, he will wait until he’s more relaxed inside your home before he urinates and defecates.

Instead of putting him outside alone, take him on a nice long walk first.  If he doesn’t eliminate at this time, go to your backyard with him.  Keep your interactions with your dog to a minimum at this time.  It will be easier for him to relax and decompress if he’s not focused on you.  If he eliminates at this time, calmly reward him with praise.  Now you can bring him inside knowing that he actually took care of his business outside.

It’s very important that you supervise your Yorkie when you bring him back into the house.  If you can’t watch him 100 percent of the time, set up a comfortable, small confinement area or a crate for him.  I’m a big believer in crate training, and your Yorkie is a perfect candidate for it.  Not only is a crate the perfect house training tool, it’s also a modern day den for your dog – a safe and secure comfort zone.  See my article called “Crate Expectations” for more information about crate training.

You’ll need to take your Yorkie outside more frequently than normal until he establishes new habits.  It may take several weeks for him to understand this unfamiliar routine.  Chances are he will make a few mistakes along the way.  Using strict supervision will allow you to correct him when you witness “pre-potty” behavior such as sniffing, circling, or scratching the floor.  When you see this, quickly but calmly lead him outside and wait for him to eliminate.  Reward the behavior before bringing him back inside. 

It’s more challenging to housebreak a dog that has been raised in a commercial breeding facility, but trust me – it can be done.  At my humane society, Second Chance at Love, we’ve re-trained hundreds of dogs that have come from puppy mill scenarios. 

You’ve done a wonderful thing by rescuing your little Yorkie from a miserable past.  Thank you for making a difference in his life.  I’m sure you’ll be rewarded with many years of unconditional love and joy from him.  Keep up the good work!