Housetraining a Puppy

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Goal of House training

The goal of “house training” a puppy is to teach your new pup that she/he should eliminate only in a specific place, e.g., the backyard or papers on the patio.


Tools you will need

The most important tool you will need is patience and perseverance. In addition, the following supplies will be needed:

Crate


 

Exercise Pen


 

For “paper training” you need newspapers or training pads, along with enzymatic cleaning solution


 

Houseline


 

Yummy treats


Overview

House training puppies can begin as early as five weeks of age and, depending upon the individual puppy and your ability to consistently work the program, will take several weeks to several months to accomplish. Be patient! Your puppy gradually develops both the physiological (muscle) control and the behavior habits that lead to a fully house trained dog.

Important Note:

There is a behavior called “submissive urination” that is often confused with a puppy’s inability to be house trained. Submissive urination, especially common in females, is when a puppy becomes overly excited or stressed when greeting what she/he considers higher-ranking people or dogs. The puppy will leak urine and may roll over as well. It is important not to scold the puppy for this or the problem will get worse. Instead, simply ignore the puppy, make your greetings less effusive, and don’t hover or bend over the puppy. She/he will grow out of it. In the meantime, you might be wise to pick a greeting place that is not carpeted so cleanup is easier!

Outdoor or Paper-Training?

There are two basic approaches to house training: 1) training the puppy to always go outside to eliminate; or 2) “paper training,” which means the puppy learns to go on newspapers or pads sold at most pet stores. These two approaches are very different. In fact, if you start out paper training and then decide to switch your dog to an outdoor potty area, you may run into more difficulty than if you started out training for the outdoors from the beginning. Both these approaches are described in detail under Step-by-Step Tips below.

It is very important to establish a specific location where your house training pads will go. Pick a location in an area of the house that is least used (laundry room, for example), but one that is still easy for your puppy to get to. Choosing an area that is least used for family activities will help the puppy learn not to soil its pack’s living quarters.

In the early days of paper-training it is helpful to leave a little of a soiled pad or paper to remind the puppy that this is the location where she/he last went. This will encourage elimination in this same spot next time!

If outdoor elimination is your goal, it is highly recommended that you start training this from the beginning. Many people don’t realize how easy it is to teach your puppy to go in one particular area of your yard instead of using your entire yard as a potty area. Use a houseline to escort your pup to the designated area.

By restricting access to only a small area of your yard (e.g., temporary fencing, leashing your puppy and supervising elimination) and by ensuring that this area is cleaned up every day, your puppy will choose to go back to that specific area. This leaves the rest of your yard for games and training, entertaining guests without fear of soiled shoes, and child-safe play areas.

If you have trouble house training your puppy, and you feel you have been adhering to a good house training program, consult your veterinarian. There could be a medical condition interfering with your puppy’s ability to control its elimination.


Step-by-step Tips

Many people who live in apartments, condos, and townhouses choose to teach their dogs to eliminate on papers or pads indoors. Although this works for many small dogs, this may not be practical with larger dogs because of the volume of waste that would need to be captured on the papers.

Before you decide to paper-train your puppy you should be sure that this is the way you want your adult dog to eliminate throughout its life. Some dogs have a difficult time being retrained to go outdoors once they’ve learned that going indoors is acceptable. No sooner do you remove the pads, thinking your dog has made the transition from paper-training to outdoor elimination, when, oops, your dog has an accident indoors.

The only difference between paper-training and training for outdoor elimination is the location of the potty area. That is, paper-training takes place in a specific place indoors, while outdoor elimination takes place in a specific place outdoors.

Successful house training programs rely on being able to predict and prevent accidents. The following are the key components of a successful program:

Maintaining a Structured Schedule

House training a puppy starts with being able to predict when your puppy needs to eliminate; every puppy is different. Predicting when your puppy needs to eliminate will be very difficult to do if you “free feed” (leaving food out all day) or if you do not put your puppy on a strict schedule of food and water.

Think about it. If your puppy eats and drinks at all different times of the day and night, how will you know when she/he needs to be escorted to the designated potty area? Instead, you will constantly be surprised by the erratic nature of your puppy’s elimination schedule.

When you place your puppy on a structured schedule, you will be able to predict much, much more successfully exactly when and how often your puppy needs to go to the potty area. as your puppy gets older and more experienced, you can relax and vary the schedule. But, until your puppy demonstrates for at least two weeks that she/he understands the program, do not be tempted to relax your diligence and supervision.

A sample schedule for an 8-week-old puppy being trained to eliminate outside might look like this (paper-trained puppies should follow a similar schedule):

Morning Schedule

 

6:30 Take puppy out of his/her sleeping area and escort him/her directly to the potty area. (Carrying the puppy will prevent accidents on the way, but the puppy will not learn the “route” to the potty area. Try using a houseline to escort your pup to the potty area). Praise and treat after puppy finishes pottying.


6:35 Feed puppy and offer water.

6:45 Escort puppy to potty area. Praise and treat after puppy finishes pottying. Play with the puppy before returning inside; this will help you avoid inadvertently teaching the pup to delay eliminating because she/he wants to stay outside longer!

6:55 – 7:15 Play and training time together inside. Offer small amount of water.

7:15 Escort puppy to potty area. Praise and treat after puppy finishes pottying. Play in the yard.

7:25 – 8:00 Place puppy in crate or other small restricted area while you take care of personal business.

 

Baby gate barriers are a great way to maintain your personal space when your are busy.


 

Give the pup a toy or stuffed Kong to play with when you are busy


8:00 – 8:15 Play and training time together. Offer small amount of water.

8:15 Escort puppy to potty area. Praise and treat after puppy finishes pottying. Play in the yard.

8:25 Place puppy in crate or other small, restricted area while you take care of personal business. Give the pup a toy or stuffed Kong to play with.

10:30 Escort puppy to potty area. Praise and treat after puppy finishes pottying. Play in the yard.

10:45-12:00 Supervised activities interspersed with frequent trips to potty area. Great time for those socialization outings! Remember to offer water after hard bouts of play, but pick the water up after your puppy drinks. If you cannot supervise 100%, set your puppy up for success by placing him/her in the crate or other restricted area.

Afternoon Schedule

12:00 Lunch.

12:10 Escort puppy to potty area. Praise and treat after puppy finishes pottying. Play in the yard.

12:15 Place puppy in crate or other small, restricted area while you take care of personal business. Give the pup a toy or stuffed Kong to play with.

2:00 Escort puppy to potty area. Praise and treat after puppy finishes pottying. Play in the yard.

2:10 – 5:30 Supervised activities interspersed with frequent trips to potty area. Great time for those socialization outings! Remember to offer water after hard bouts of play, but pick the water up after your puppy drinks. If you cannot supervise 100%, set your puppy up for success by placing him/her in the crate or other restricted area.

Evening Schedule

5:30 Dinner.

5:40 Escort puppy to potty area. Praise and treat after puppy finishes pottying. Play in the yard.

5:50 Family dinnertime. Place puppy in crate or other small, restricted area while you take care of personal business. Give the pup a toy or stuffed Kong to play with.

7:00 Escort puppy to potty area. Praise and treat after puppy finishes pottying. Play in the yard.

7:10 – 7:30 Play and training time together.

7:30 – 9:30 Supervised activities interspersed with frequent trips to potty area. This is a great time for evening outings in the dark to habituate your puppy to the different sights, sounds, and smells of the night. Offer small amount of water. If you cannot supervise 100%, set your puppy up for success by placing him/her in the crate or other restricted area.

9:30 Escort puppy to potty area. Praise and treat after puppy finishes pottying. Play in the yard.

9:45 Bed time.

Gosh, this all seems to take a lot of work. You’re right! That’s one of the reasons why many people choose to adopt older dogs! Remember though, the habits you are instilling will last a lifetime, so get help from your family, and be persistent.

Very young puppies (6-8 weeks of age) should not be left in the crate for more than a couple of hours at a time and not even for that long if they have not had a chance to relieve themselves first. Otherwise, you will force the puppy to eliminate in its sleeping area, which will seriously jeopardize your house training program.

Limited access

Until your puppy is house trained be sure to set him/her up for success. In addition to maintaining a structured schedule, it is very important to limit the puppy’s unrestricted access in the house unless the puppy has your undivided attention. as many people have discovered, this is hard to do. You can very easily get distracted for two minutes (some will say two seconds!), taking your eye off your puppy, and that’s when the puppy decided she/he needs to potty!

Puppies learn very early not to soil in the area in which they rest, sleep, play, or eat. For the first two weeks of their lives, a litter’s excrement is cleaned up by its mother. at about three weeks of age, when the puppies start eliminating without the aid of their mother licking their genital areas to stimulate them, they start moving away from their living quarters to eliminate (this appears to be “hard-wired” in puppies).

By the time most of us get puppies around the age of seven or eight weeks of age, they’ve had several weeks of house training already. All we have to do is set them up so that they can continue to recognize the difference between our living quarters, while they simultaneously develop the physiological control to “hold it” for longer and longer until they can leave their living quarters to eliminate.

There are two easy ways to help puppies see the distinction between their living quarters and potty areas. The first is helping them not make mistakes by supervising them when they are loose in the house, and the other is by “crate training.”

“Crate training” simply means creating a physical space that is large enough for the puppy to stand up, stretch out, and turn around, but not large enough to eliminate without having to step or sleep in his/her own excrement. By confining the puppy to this restricted area for short periods of time, and then longer and longer ones, they learn to develop the physical control to “hold it” until they are escorted to the potty area you have chosen for them.

An added benefit of crate training is the crate is a good place for the puppy to take naps and breaks when you cannot supervise. This prevents house training accidents, chewed personal articles, and potentially dangerous activities such as chewing on electrical cords or poisonous plants. To prevent a puppy from crying all night during its first night at home, put the puppy in a crate and place the crate on your bed. after a couple nights, you can place the crate on the floor, and eventually further away from your bed until it is in its permanent place.

You can use a crate or an exercise pen (much like a child’s playpen), or you can block off a small area of a room. The important point is to make the area small enough so that the puppy cannot simply take five or six steps, eliminate, and then return to his/her bed or toys. This will simply teach the puppy that going in its living quarters (indoors) is okay.

An exercise pen gives you the added flexibility of starting out small, based on the size of your 8-week-old puppy, and gradually increasing the area to accommodate your growing puppy without having to purchase a larger crate.

You can also use an exercise pen to build a restricted area right next to a doggy door. This allows the dog to learn to play and sleep inside and to go outside to eliminate. Teach your puppy from day one that the crate or exercise pen is a good place to be. Leave the door open and entice your puppy to go in by tossing yummy treats and fun toys inside.

When the puppy willingly runs into the crate to get treats and toys, close the door, for just a few seconds, and then open it again. as you toss the treat inside, say “Break time!” Repeat several times, gradually building up to closing the door for longer and longer periods of time, but always with you still in sight.

Stuff a marrow bone or Kong with peanut butter, cheese, kibble, and other goodies. Toss the stuffed treat into the crate, say “Break time!” and after your puppy has gone inside, quietly close the door. Once your puppy is engrossed with the treat, leave the room for a few minutes, coming back every so often, and praise him/her quietly.

Gradually build up to longer and longer times your puppy is in the crate. You’ll find that your puppy may seek out the crate when she/he wants quiet time.

The crate, or puppy playpen, if you will, is an important tool in the most successful house training programs. However, it should not be used to isolate your puppy for hours on end. It is a management tool intended to help you teach your puppy the skills she/he needs to live in human society.

Supervising Your Puppy

Supervise your puppy’s activities so you can predict and prevent house training accidents. In addition to maintaining a structured schedule and limiting access, it is very important to supervise your puppy at all times when she/he is not in its crate or other restricted area.

Supervision means having an active, watchful eye on your puppy. Even if you are playing with your puppy, she/he may, all of a sudden, need to go outside. If she/he starts sniffing excessively, circling, or acts distracted while playing, escort him/her to the designated potty area. Many puppies will play hard for about twenty minutes and then have to go outside for a quick break. Set a timer for every 20-30 minutes to help avoid accidents. Interrupt your play to take your puppy outside or to his/her papers. Minimally, puppies should be taken to their potty area at least once an hour.

It can be helpful to attach a 10’ cloth clothesline to your puppy’s collar and the other end to your belt loop as you move around the house. This ensures that you won’t forget to supervise the puppy, and most puppies will not eliminate on your foot! Tethering your puppy to your chair while you read or watch TV or work on the computer will also help ensure that you don’t become too engrossed in your activity and not notice that the puppy has wandered off to relieve himself in another area of the house.

If you cannot supervise your puppy 100% of the time, consider giving your puppy a stuffed Kong in its crate while you attend to personal business. Many house training programs deteriorate due to poor supervision.

Rewarding Success

When you escort your puppy to its designated potty area, say “Do your job,” then stand by quietly so that you do not distract your puppy from the task at hand. After the puppy has eliminated, praise and give him/her two to three small, but yummy treats. You may find that your puppy quickly learns that going outside to the potty area is a lot of fun. always praise and treat to “punctuate” what a remarkable event just occurred!

Don’t come right back in after the puppy has eliminated. Play or let the pup explore for several minutes. This will help you avoid inadvertently teaching the pup to delay eliminating because she/he wants to stay outside longer!

As soon as you notice your pup starting to signal that she/he has to go to the potty area, reward him/her. Such signals include running to the door, whining or scratching at the door, seeking you out and whining, etc. Reward (praise, treats) your pup for these signals, and you will find that s/he catches on very quickly that those signals are “bankable.”

What do you do with puppies who never signal; rather, they walk quietly to the door and then have an accident because no one happens to be looking at the door or the puppy at that moment? Teach your puppy to ring a bell or bark at the door. You can hang a bell on the doorknob and reward the puppy when s/he touches it, gradually building up to pushing at it to get the door to open. (Clearly, this is best to teach at a time when the puppy doesn’t have to go now.) You can also install a battery-operated remote doorbell ringer next to the door. The chime box can be placed in a central location in the house where you will always hear it. (Visit our training section on tricks for more information on how to teach this “trick.”)

Don’t Punish Mistakes

There is a joke among trainers that goes something like this: If your dog makes a mistake, go get the daily newspaper, roll it up, and wap yourself on the head several times. Bad trainer! Bad trainer!

We are a puppy’s teacher. Should we assume that our student’s mistake is willful disobedience or simply a young animal who hasn’t yet learned? Give your puppy the benefit of the doubt! Were you supervising? When did you escort the puppy to the potty area last? Did the puppy just drink half a bowl of water and play hard with the kids?

Rather than punish the puppy, simply clap your hands once or twice if you catch him/her in the act. This should only startle the puppy long enough to interrupt the flow and whisk him/her to the potty area. It may take several minutes for the puppy to relax and take care of business. Then, remember to praise and treat for the correct behavior.

If you find evidence of an accident after the act has occurred, do not punish the puppy. Dogs live in the present. They won’t have any idea what you are yelling or spanking about. Signs that humans interpret as “guilt” are actually appeasement behaviors, exhibited in an attempt to deflect and defuse human anger (or aggression, in the eyes of the pup).

There is usually a price to pay when using punishment to train our dogs. In the case of house training, think about this from the puppy’s perspective: “Hmmmm,” thinks the pup. “When I pee in front of Mom or Dad, they go nuts, yelling, smacking me, rubbing my nose in it. Ugh! I better not go to the bathroom in front of humans anymore. Instead, I’ll wait until they aren’t looking, or better yet, I’ll sneak behind that potted plant and do it there!”

And, again from the dog’s perspective: “Hmmmm, I know we’re in my potty area, but when I went in front of them last time (in the house), they went nuts. I’d better not go in front of them. I’d better wait until they’re not around.” Then, after standing around outside for 15 minutes, everyone is back in the house. “Hmmmm, they aren’t looking now, and I’ve really, really gotta go. Now’s my chance. Whew, did I ever have to go after all that standing around with them hovering around outside.”

Makes sense, doesn’t it? Punishment doesn’t work. It only teaches your puppy something you really didn’t mean to teach.

There will be occasional mistakes. Make sure you have an enzymatic stain and odor remover handy. First, remove the puppy from the area. Next, remove solid material and/or blot up as much as you can with a cloth. Then, follow the instructions on the bottle.

Take a deep breath and keep with the program!

Recommended Reading

The Perfect Puppy: How to Raise a Well-Behaved Dog by Gwen Bailey

House training (Behavior Booklet)by Dr. Ian Dunbar

Train Your Dog the Lazy Way by andrea arden