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TL;DR

Everything that has worked for me in the past is failing miserably. When I let her out, she knows to go but she's terrible at alerting me1 especially if I'm asleep; nor does she seem to have an desire to hold it while we're gone.

I rescued a Great Dane last summer

and I still have not been able to fully house break her. I'm not sure of her past, but she's generally a cautious, untrusting dog. In fact, it took about two weeks before she'd even let me casually let her in the back yard. She seems pretty happy and adjusted here, but has some hard, seemingly innocuous triggers.

I have house broken many dogs in the past

My typical method is to vigilantly keep an eye on them, catch them in the act, calmly tell them "no" while leading them into the back yard2, then wait for them to finish outside, and then praise them. This has never taken more than a few weeks; in the case of my pointer (which I still have) it only took one. The pointer has even helped me house break other dogs letting me know the other one needs out. Unfortunately, the second you touch her caller she kind of sprawls, start shaking, and when we first got her she would even pee herself.

She has been pretty difficult to teach anything. I haven't been able to teach her to sit. I'm guessing it's in part to her being 3.5 y/o and likely never worked with. I really want to keep her4, but she's wrecking my carpets. Worse, I have a small child and another one on the way and I'm getting to the point where I don't want them playing on the floor. We have made great strides with her socially, but almost none behaviorally.

What I've tried so far

  • To mitigate messing up while I'm away, I:
    • Pick up food/water bowls before leaving for work
    • Take her out before bed and it's the last thing I do before I leave
    • I lock her in our bedroom while we sleep
  • Crate training
    • She accepted the crate just fine, but is content to bomb the crate and lay in it.
  • I'm still trying to introduce clicker training
    • She doesn't seem to get it. She's very lean and not at all enticed by treats3.
  • Sprayed pet repellent on all of her usual spots.
  • I would love to leave her outside during the day, but she just sits at the back door barking/scratching. I suspect this method may have been abused in the past.
  • Extra walks in the evening help

Deal Breakers

  • I will not try diapers
  • I don't want to use pee pads

  1. She never alerts me herself. I just notice her getting antsy when I'm awake.
  2. Noticed I didn't say drag.
  3. ... and almost everything gives her diarrhea.
  4. This is not a decision we're considering lightly. We tried to do a good thing by rescuing and the burden is becoming overwhelming.
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The only thing I can think of (if the crate doesn't prevent her peeing) is that you have to schedule it more.

Is there anyone (family, neighbor, friend) that could stop by during the day?

The reality is that every time the dog pees in the house it reinforces that there is nothing wrong with peeing in the house. Which means the first, and most important, step is preventing it from happening. When you're home, take her outside every 30 minutes, or 60 minutes. Set an alarm and make it a habit.

This can be really difficult when you're working though but maybe between the members of your family/ friends/ neighbors you can get her out during the day every hour or two.

Basically my point is that she needs to stop having the opportunity to pee where you don't want her to, because every time she does it's a set back to all the times shes gone outside. It's all about reinforcement and right now she's reinforcing the bad behavior repeatedly. She's thinking "why should I be uncomfortable and hold in my pee when I could just pee right here like last time?" If you set a schedule and never let her make that choice then eventually peeing outside will seem like the only real option.

The other thing is to clean thoroughly where she's peed. I know you said that's a lot, but you really need to make sure you have an enzymatic cleaning product that will remove the smell so that your dog doesn't smell it.

A lot of household cleaners will make you think it's all fresh and clean but if your dog still smells the pee, then she'll be reminded that it's okay to pee there again.

Definitely a lot of work, but if you can be consistent then eventually it'll be 12 hours without an accident, then 24 hours, then a few days, then a week, and suddenly her peeing in the house is only a distant memory and peeing outside is the only option she even considers!

Not always an option... but maybe even consider taking a week off work or something? If you can be on a strict pee schedule for even a full week and never give her the opportunity for a single accident then you'll be in a pretty great place by the end of that week!

One final thing I would suggest is a set of bells for the door. If you train your dog to touch a bell to go outside it might help with alerting you because then she understands how she's supposed to tell you. Plus it can be a fun little training/ bonding exercise.

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We had a similar problem and tried everything (including diapers to protect the carpet). Our vet said Prozac was our last resort and IT WORKED! He can wait to go out for a long time. However, his cue to go out is to look at us with what we interpret as urgency. It has not stopped him from marking though, e.g., at the vets office or pet smart.

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