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BEHAVIOUR: House Training by Tania Holmes


The most common problem faced by bulldog owners when it comes to house training appears to be wetting bedding; I don't think there is any other breed that is as happy to sleep in a wet bed like the bulldog does. There are a number of reasons why they do this and your job is to work out which one fits your dog. In most cases it is a simple marking instinct and this is often realised when you only have wet beds when you put a freshly washed blanket in the bed. You see to us it smells nice and fresh and clean - to your dog it smells - well, just plain wrong! Marking territory is an instinctive canine behaviour, in most cases the only real territory your dog has is his bed, when we humans wash the bedding we take away the territory mark and this is where it often becomes a battle - you want clean bedding, your dogs wants everyone to know that area is his. Quite often you can combat this by having 2 layers of bedding and then when you need to wash the bedding you can bring the bottom one to the top and put the clean one in the bottom. By the time the bottom one comes to the top there is enough scent to deter them from needing to remark it. The minute this becomes a battle between you and the dog the situation becomes stressful and you feel that all you ever do is wash bedding. This is impractical in itself because every family has enough washing to do without constantly washing dog bedding. In some cases it would be wiser to use a crate rather than a bed as the trays can be wiped or hosed down. If this by itself doesn’t work then remove all bedding so the urine puddles, making it harder for your dog to get comfortable.

Male marking behaviour is presented by your dog cocking his leg in doorways, up the kitchen bin or the front of the sofa. He's working out his boundaries and his natural instinct is to mark that boundary. Again this becomes frustrating to the dog owner and it doesn't take long before you feel the entire house smells. We joke in our house that the fragrance of Eau De Dog Pee is everywhere so there's a lot of lavender scented air fresheners around the place which to be honest probably just make the place smell of a sickly combination of the two - but it makes me feel better. Wiping down after your dog has cocked his leg will not remove the scent mark and to your dog, where there's a scent mark there's a toilet. Use a product called "Wash and Get Off", this will clean the area, remove the scent mark and replace it with a strong citrus smell which is unpleasant for your dog and will discourage him from remarking that spot, this is usually enough to deter them from marking inside the house, but you need to be aware that your dog has no concept of the right or wrong place to pee, he has no idea that inside is wrong because in most cases as long as it's away from his sleeping area, its the right place to him.

However, because there is no concept of right and wrong to your dog, if the basics of house training are not done properly you end up with another battle, that of the dog that goes to the toilet wherever he chooses. Given the opportunity the bulldog will be as lazy as you allow him to be when it comes to house training, but before you embark on a training regime you need to be aware that if you are out of the house for 10 hours a day your dog will mess in the house, regardless of how well trained he is. Work out how many times you went to the toilet during that 10 hour period and then ask yourself how fair it is to expect your dog not to. It is very unfair to even contemplate having a dog if there is no one around during the day and coming home to a mess must be expected if you do. "He knows he's done wrong" is a common comment which is a human interpretation of your dog cowering from you when he's messed. He cowers because you're home and yesterday when you came home you screamed at him for something he did that he doesn't understand, he remembers the telling off and he remembers it happened when you came home, he does not associate it with the fact that he was absolutely bursting to go to the toilet and there was no one there to let him out.

Having said all that though, I know of many bulldogs that will wee on the kitchen floor even if the back door is wide open and it is these dogs that need a strict house training regime. It won't take long to instil this training, although it won't take long for him to revert back again, so it's a training programme that needs to be kept up for the rest of his life. It is actually a very simple regime and will not take hours of training to get the message across. Simply ignore accidents in the house and praise him when he does it on a walk or in the garden. It often helps to have an emptying command such as “do wee wee's”, “be clean”, “hurry up” or whatever you are comfortable saying in public. The only time consuming aspect is getting that first wee outside, once that is underway you can instil the association of the command with the action and praise him like he just won the lottery. Praise him every single time he performs outside and completely ignore what he does in the house (don't even let him see you clean it up), this is very important for dogs that wee indoors for attention. Again that "he knows he's done wrong" attitude is sometimes what creates a behaviour that is played out simply for the telling off, because that telling off is attention and that attention is his payload. The praise and ignore method works very well with dogs that mess for the attention because the whooping he gets for performing outside becomes a far more pleasant payload than the telling off he gets for doing it inside - and believe me, there's nothing a bulldog like more than attention and being told he's a good boy.

Many people, including us, use doggy doors; these are just bigger versions of cat flaps and are perfect for dogs that are left home for long periods of time. The only thing I will say about these doggy doors is that they must lead to a very very secure area, not only does it put your dog at a higher risk of theft, it also creates a way in for intruders, so if your doggy door is in full view of the road or can be seen from outside of the garden don't install one. And be prepared for the fun and games that often goes with teaching your bulldog how to use it.

Finally, we go full circle and return to dogs that wet their beds because they're too darn lazy to get up and go outside. If your dog has never done this before or the behaviour is sudden and out of character it may well be that he has a bladder infection. Symptoms of UTIs are urinating small amounts frequently and in severe cases the urine will be blood streaked or blood colour. This needs anti biotics although dogs that are prone to UTIs will benefit from a dribble of apple cider vinegar in their drinking water. Bitches in season almost always develop a UTI and it's worth noting that being in season is often the cause of sudden out of character urination in the house. We always put a dribble of ACV in the drinking water of bitches in season as they almost always develop a low level UTI caused through an open vulva which allows infection in when she squats low to the ground to wee. Once a bladder infection is ruled out you need to rule out mechanical causes such as a spinal problem. Sometimes the full affects of hemi vertebrae (deformed vertebrae) may not present as incontinence until the dog is fully grown so if the urination appears to be an involuntary action the most likely cause will be problems along the spine, although it's also a behaviour I've seen in bitches that have been extensively over bred - after all no one told them they had to do their pelvic floor exercises! For these dogs it’s not unusual for vets to prescribe Propaline syrup, although this works in many cases it can very occassionally change a personality and bring on aggressive behaviour so watch very closely if you start giving this to your incontinent bulldog.

That just leaves the good old fashioned lazy dog, that pees in his bed whilst he’s in it because it makes life easier. In most cases confining the dog to a penned off area or a crate is sufficient as it is very unusual for a dog to happily sleep alongside their mess, having said that I know of many that will and messing in the crate is probably the one thing that us humans really can't understand. Many dogs will get around the problem simply by pushing the bedding to the back of the crate. The green backed vet bedding also pulls the wetness away from the surface (rather like a child’s nappy) so it's not always apparent that the bed is wet. Taking the bedding away completely for a few nights is the first thing to try, because without the bedding to soak it up, urine stays in the tray of the crate making it impossible for them to lay down (unless they are really not bothered). A few uncomfortable nights is all that is usually needed to break the lazy cycle and providing you have ensured that the dog has been to the toilet before they are shut in the crate overnight the problem is often solved

Of course there are still a few bulldogs that just never grasp the concept of being clean and if none of the usual methods have worked it may well be that you have to learn to live with it, but with a well established routine, lots of praise for going outside (which means going outside with them; not just opening the back door and leaving them to it), ignoring accidents in the house and removing bedding from a persistent bed wetter the subject of house training has been pretty much covered.
The only thing I will add at this point, is if you’ve taken on an ex-kennel dog there has most likely never been any housetraining and these dog can see nothing wrong with wetting where ever they happen to be when they need to go because it’s been normal for them up until arriving with you. Don’t be angry with these dogs, the entire concept of being house trained is alien to them so you need to take them right back to basics, as if you’ve brought home an 8 week old puppy.

Basic House Training Rules

  • Establish a routine, take your dog outside first thing every morning, straight after eating and last thing at night
  • Choose an emptying command and give this command initially as the dog performs to form the association between the command and the act and give plenty of praise
  • Once the association is formed use the emptying command to tell the dog what you wish him to do and praise every single time
  • Do not leave your dog alone without access to the garden for long periods of time, if you do, anything you come home to is your own fault
  • Do not chastise accidents in the house - ignore them so you don't create an attention seeking behaviour


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