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I adopted an adult, 4-year-old Jack Russel/Italian Greyhound mix a year ago. The previous owner would leave him locked in a small room all day at work, and the owner before that kept him outside all day. Needless to say, the dog is used to urinating and defecating wherever he happens to be when he feels the urge. This was not so much an issue at first: I lived right next to work, so I was able to take him out all through the day. He would always find other dogs' urine to pee over during walks to get it out of his system before feeling the urge to go inside. But now I've moved further away, and rather than crating or leaving the dog outside all day at work, I'd like to train him to use a dog door to go out in the backyard. I'm currently working remotely, so I have time to train the dog every day of the week.

Step 1 to that has been letting him at out the same cadence I took him for walks at my old place (waking up at 9 after being fed, noon, 4, 7 after being fed, and 11 before going to bed) and leaving him unsupervised in the fenced backyard for 10 minutes or so each time. He peed more often inside than outside, so after a few days I started crate training: I go outside with him, and if I don't see him pee, he goes in the crate for an hour & repeat until he does go to the bathroom outside. This worked & he fairly quickly figured out that if he goes in the crate, he needs to pee: at the beginning it might take several hours, but now as soon as I let him out of the crate, he pees outside.

After about a week of not having to use the crate, I switched over to unsupervised mode again & leave him alone outside for 10 minutes. Then that day or a few later he pees/poops inside even though he has ample opportunity to do it outside. I've repeated this regiment & failure several times now. How do I make sure the dog can go to the bathroom outside unsupervised?

Some additional information:

  • It's never in the same spot
  • When he goes inside, it's usually always between the 4 PM & 7 PM mark
  • Most common is peeing, as he usually poops without fail after eating in the morning
  • In the manual supervision phase, he usually pees in the morning. It was almost always at noon or 4 PM that he needed to be crated
  • I had to put the crate outside, because otherwise he would just pee out of it onto the floor in the crate training phase (which makes me believe he prefers going inside)
  • He doesn't go in front of me (inside)
    • As a result, unlike other dogs that have toilet issues, he's never gone inside early in the morning or late at night (because I'm with him)
  • He bugs me for dinner, but never to go to the bathroom

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Negative reinforcement like crating your dog if he didn't pee actually makes lessons harder to learn. The dog has to understand the link between (missing) behavior and punishment and this link needs to be reinforced.

Positive reinforcement makes lessons much easier and much more fun to learn. So try supervising him again for a week and every time he pees or poops outside, you reward him in a very over-the-top theatrical way. Act as if he surprized you with the most awesome birthday party in the world. Keep in mind, that any reward is more effective if the time between an action and the reward is as small as possible. So the very second your dog is finished with peeing / pooping, reward him. You can already start rewarding him if you see that he'll be finished in a second.

After that first week of very overexaggerated rewards, you can slowly start to tone it down. reward him as if he retrieved a toy or followed any command. Then only supervise him every second time he goes out, but still reward him if you do. If he doesn't go to the bathroom inside the house during that time, you can reduce your supervision to only 2 - 1 time(s) a day. If he relapses to old habits, increase your supervision and rewards again.

All the time, you should ignore if he went to the bathroom inside the house. Some people start scolding the dog or pushing his nose into the mess, but those punishments simply don't work. Dogs don't have the mental capacity to link the presence of poo with their own past action of pooping in the house. They learn that the object (poo) makes you angry, but they don't learn that the action (pooping) is forbidden.

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