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Rory has housebroken using an iPhone, webcam, and motion detector.

How I Potty-trained my Puppy With an iPhone, a Webcam, and a Motion Detector

If we’re honest with ourselves, we all approach the topic of housebreaking with some sense of dread – I know I did. I confess to being something of a tech geek and this article talks about some of my use of technology in the potty-training process.

The fact that many consider the Havanese a difficult breed to housebreak can also be disconcerting.

Without aging myself too much I will tell you that Dwight Eisenhower was president during the year I was born. I’m embarrassed to tell you that during that era the two most popular house training techniques involved rubbing the dogs’ nose in it, and a swat with a rolled-up newspaper.

Thankfully housebreaking techniques have advanced because almost nobody gets a newspaper delivered anymore.

Of course the first thing that I needed to decide is where Rory would do her business. On Havanese Forum I first learned of the ‘indoor option’ – giving your dog the option to go somewhere inside the home – on purpose!

This is my first toy breed so the idea was somewhat jarring to me. I’d previously owned German Shepherds and the thought of them pooping inside the home intentionally was really gross.

RoryCam: Havanese puppy using Piddle Place.

I would learn however that Havanese and other toy (read small) breeds are often given an indoor option, particularly in cases where a potty break might involve going down numerous flights of stairs, or in areas of the country where the climate makes outdoor treks impractical.

I live in the Pacific Northwest near Seattle and we are known to get a fair amount of rain, though we are not as most believe, the rainiest city in the United States – we are not even in the top 10. Still, we do get our fair share, and sometimes even sleet or snow. I decided that we would implement an indoor option.

I am nothing if not studious and will read everything and anything on a given topic I’m researching. Some in the Havanese community use the traditional pee pad for their indoor option, continuing to use them beyond initial housebreaking. Some use absorbent paper-based pellets in a pan as one might do with litter for a cat, still others use the UGODOG Indoor Dog Potty or the Piddle Place Pet Relief System. I elected to go with the Piddle Place (pictured above) and I will review it here on Havanese World very soon.

As for outdoors, I decided to use a second Piddle Place on my patio which is fenced in and secure. This was admittedly a selfish decision; I could stand under the eaves in my sweats and not get too wet were it raining.

Havanese owners reporting the best success in house training all use positive reinforcement. The dog is rewarded generously with praise and treats when it goes where it is supposed to. The old method of negative reinforcement with a rolled up newspaper has been long abandoned.

My puppy emergency response kit.
My puppy accident emergency response kit.

One of the first things that I learned from experienced Havanese owners was to accept the fact that there would be accidents.

Here is where I admit that I am kind of a weenie about dog doo. Childhood remembrances of cleaning up after my first dog, a Cocker Spaniel named Sandy, or a misstep in the yard all brought back terrible memories. Trying to clean poop off the bottom of Converse sneakers with a twig is an all too vivid memory burnished into my psyche as well.

So I decided to try to achieve kind of a Zen state about both the training and the accidents. Part of that was assembling the “emergency response kit” pictured which includes a roll of paper towels, a bottle of Nature’s Miracle stain and odor remover, a brush, and here’s the weenie part; latex gloves, surgical masks, and a knee pad.

It’s overkill, I admit that. A client of mine breeds working line German Shepherds, and she enjoyed a good laugh while telling me that I “wouldn’t last an hour at her place”.

But the point is that I was at peace with the process, come what may.

An integral part of housebreaking that is rarely correlated in the training literature is diet. Sandy, my first dog was fed Purina Dog Chow. As an eight-year-old boy you don’t make the connection that your economy grocery store dog food is responsible for those large, mushy, smelly, and otherwise disgusting turds. You figure that out as a young adult when you buy a German Shepherd.

It was during this time that I learned about ingredients and stool volume. A veterinarian (of course) told me about Science Diet. Remember that 30 years ago we did not have the Internet to educate us. At that time, and on my salary, that was considered a super-premium food.

The Science Diet stool was now much smaller and much firmer and consequently much less disgusting to my delicate sensibilities.

Fast-forward to when I learned about the benefits of feeding raw. Chief among them is a small, firm, odorless stool. I’m sold! Oh it’s better nutritionally and more species-appropriate? Okay, that’s nice too.

So Rory was going to be fed raw. I don’t mean to make this sound as if this was a casual decision, because now we do have the Internet, and now I could do all the attendant research with finding out the best food for her.

With where I would be cleaning up, what I would be using to clean up, and what I would be cleaning up, what was left was the when.

Darwin's Natural Pet raw dog food
Rory is fed Darwin’s Natural Pet raw dog food.

Experienced Havanese owners told me that successful potty training is the result of vigilance and consistency. The vigilance part involves watching your puppy closely and anticipating when it will need to go. My experience is that with their little bladders, Havanese puppies need to urinate frequently.

I work from home so you think it would be simple for me to pay my undivided attention to my pup’s elimination cycles. In fact, it’s easy to get distracted by a project, a client call, a shiny button, or a squirrel on the window sill.

havanese-world-iphone4To stay focused I used my iPhone. I downloaded an app called “Dog Bells” that allows you to set a number of reminder alarms for feedings, potty breaks, walks, and even administering medicines. You can also use your smartphone’s timer and set an interval based on your observations. Rory’s interval between intake and output was about 30 minutes, give or take.

And though I would watch constantly for the signs that she was needing to go, such as sniffing or circling, when the bell rung I knew it was ‘go time’, literally. I would take her to the Piddle Place, treats at the ready, prayers directed upward – and wait. When the magic moment arrived, I would as advised by forum members, praise her generously and generally “throw a party”.

Teaching her to go outdoors and use the indoor option was a tad bit confusing to her. It helped that the Piddle Place outdoors was identical to the one indoors, so the surface and appearance was familiar. To minimize her confusion I initially emphasized the outdoor part of the program.

As her training advanced I would find that she would head towards the patio door. When everything came together and I had been alerted by my phone I was able to be nearby and ready to usher her outside. But increasingly she would go to the door on her own schedule. You will no doubt read that there are Havanese trained to ring bells to alert their owners that they need to go out. That sounds wonderful, but Rory was young and a ways off from such accomplishment.

The author Gary A. Fujioka, Sr. used a motion detector to housebreak his Havanese puppy.
I purchased this at Amazon for about $15.

What I needed to do was remotely monitor her intent; her deliberate movement to the door. For this I installed a wireless motion detector, readily available online and not unlike those that signal your arrival at a convenience store.

It took some calibrating, and using little cardboard shields to narrow the beam, but now the buzzer told me when she was at the door, and I could hear it from every room. To that point, those things are loud and even though mine had a volume control I had to tape a piece of felt leftover from my Havanese fake dirt project over the speaker.

This combination worked great and we quickly had the outdoor option mastered. It was time to introduce the indoor option. Here is where I really nerded out. I set up RoryCam, a webcam I could monitor from my desk and that would send an alert to my phone when Rory neared the indoor Piddle Place.

If I got the alert in time I could be at her side with treats, prepping for the celebratory party. If I was a step behind I could watch her on the monitor and praise her from another room!

In short order Rory was reliably potty-trained and is a happy, healthy dog. Because Rory is my first Hav I can’t say authoritatively that it was any faster than traditional methods, but for a tech geek such as myself it was definitely more rewarding.

LINK: Buy the Piddle Place Indoor Dog Toilet Super Saver with Deluxe Base Unit from Amazon

About Gary Fujioka, Sr.

Gary Fujioka, Sr. is a lifelong dog owner, first time Havanese owner. He is a proud father and grandfather, online presence management consultant, software developer, writer, musician, CEO of The Pathmark Group of Companies, and publisher of Havanese World.

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