House Training a Puppy
House training a puppy is a rite of passage, and can feel like an insurmountable dilemma – teaching your new pup the necessary manners to be able to live in the house (namely not destroying things and not using the house as a toilet!).
Family, friends, neighbors and even people you barely know will have a hefty supply of unsolicited advice on how to be successful potty train and the horrors that accompany potty training the moment they hear you have a new furry baby at home. However, the way to achieve ultimate victory when it comes to house training your puppy is to come up with a plan of attack BEFORE you ever bring your new pup home!
Potty training situations are of three types: either dogs who have never learned the appropriate place to go, dogs who were once housetrained but are having a training regression, and dogs who are pottying involuntarily – that is, they have no control over their urination or defecation. It just happens without any intent and often without the dog even realizing it is happening at all. We’re mainly going to focus on the first of these groups of dogs, but these training methods and tips are applicable to many situations.
There are about as many customs for potty training your puppy where and how to use the bathroom as there are puppies to train. The problem is that some of them simply don’t work, and others are outdated and/or barbaric. You need to have a strategy and a schedule in place before the new little life comes home to be triumphant when it comes to housetraining.
You would never go on a road trip without some type of map or assistance to help you get there; housetraining needs to be tackled with the same amount of verve. Housetraining a puppy will be a snap if you follow these simple irrefutable, verified rules.
Narrowing Down Your House Training Options
There are two basic approaches when it comes to housetraining. Dealing with the problem AFTER it happens or TEACHING your dog by avoiding the problem all together and rewarding good behavior.
Whenever you deal with a problem behavior after the fact you are applying the principles of punishment. Punishment happens after the given behavior; meaning you have to wait until your puppy soils the floor and THEN punish him by spanking, yelling or rubbing his nose in the spot. This situation could also be used when your puppy chews on your shoes.
This negative approach may work eventually, if your dog figures out why he is being punished but as B.F. Skinner (the researcher that articulated the differences in positive and negative reinforcement) points out “punishment changes behaviors only temporarily and presents many detrimental side effects.”
It is human nature to look for what’s wrong and take what’s right for granted. But we need to do the complete opposite with our puppies. Always reward and praise good behavior and ignore the things that go wrong. This is especially true with potty train accidents. Bathroom mistakes are inevitable with puppies, so please don’t overreact and frighten or punish your pup.
Here are some tips for handling potty train accidents:
Interrupt your puppy if you catch him in the act of having an accident. Don’t scare or startle him. Marking the behavior with a quiet hand clap or the words “oh-oh” should be enough to stop him mid-stream. Punishing him in the act will only teach him not to go in front of you, leading to a dog that sneaks behind the couch to go in private.
Take your puppy to his potty spot as soon as you catch him. If he stopped when you interrupted him, he might finish on the pad and you can reward him when he does. If he doesn’t finish on the designated potty spot, at least you have shown him where he should have gone.
The other approach is to use positive reinforcement to reward good behavior and TEACH your dog what you want and what your expectations for housetraining are. This approach avoids the “bad” or problem behavior all together because you are giving information to your pup by teaching him what you want and rewarding good behavior and success. B.F. Skinner has shown that positive reinforcement is superior to punishment in altering behavior or maintaining behavior. This is hands down the best way to begin training your new pup!
Benefits of Using Positive Reinforcement in Housetraining
There are many benefits to using positive reinforcement training in all aspects of puppy training, but it is especially useful when you potty train because you are trying to avoid the problem of having potty train accidents by teaching your puppy where to go potty. Positive reinforcement also builds a strong bond of trust with your puppy. Even outgoing puppies can be scared and nervous when they first enter their new homes.
Positive reinforcement training has also been shown to be a quicker form of learning, because it gives information on what an owner wants and expects!
Both dogs and humans benefit from a predictable, consistent house training routine. This routine should account for crate time, potty breaks, meal times, play time, training time, walks, and all the other enriching activities that are part of your dog’s daily life. Puppies need structure and a set schedule to be victorious in house training.
Structure and a schedule sets them up for early success and the ability to easily learn what you desire. Puppies should be fed, watered at the same time each day. Puppies should also be put to bed and awakened at the same time each day while you are establishing their schedules and their success for housetraining.
- After they wake first thing in the morning
- 10-15 minutes after a meal or a trip to the water bowl
- After a period of play or high activity
- Every 2-5 hours during the day until they are about 12 weeks old or successfully house trained
- Every 4-5 hours at night until about 12 weeks old or sleeping through the night
You must accompany your puppy outside in order to quietly and calmly praise him for going potty and in order to make sure he is utilizing his time to potty, and to get use to his body’s schedule.
Keeping your Puppy from Making Messes
Of course, not all housetraining has to do with eliminating. There’s also the aspect of house manners – whether it’s staying away from off-limits areas or not chewing on shoes. Sooner or later every dog lover returns home to find some unexpected damage inflicted by their dog; or, more specifically, that dog's teeth.
Although dogs make great use of their vision and sense of smell to explore the world, one of their favorite ways to take in new information is to put their mouths to work. Until they've learned what they can and can't chew, however, it's your responsibility to manage the situation as much as possible, so they don't have the opportunity to chew on unacceptable objects. Take responsibility for your own belongings.
If you don't want it in your dog's mouth, don't make it available. Keep clothing, shoes, books, trash, eyeglasses and remote controls out of your dog's reach. Supervise your dog until he learns the house rules.
Keep him with you on his leash – better yet, on his leash tethered to you in the house so he can't make a mistake out of your sight. Confine him in his crate when you're unable to keep track of him on his leash. Your pup should already be working on being crate trained, at this point. And you should continue getting him accustomed to being in the crate when you can’t watch him.
If you're new to getting your dog to love his crate, then check out this video. It shows you how to use a concept we call 'Den Training' to get your pup to LOVE his crate:
Puppy-Proof Your Home
Even the best-trained puppies can have occasional hiccups in behavior as circumstances change and they are introduced to new things or you introduce new factors to the puppy’s environment. Remember, many experiences will be new for your puppy, and until you train your puppy not to chew, anything that’s near the ground is fair game. It is critical to puppy-proof your home to prevent any potential damage that can be caused while your puppy matures and develops new behaviors.
Puppies and dogs explore with their senses of smell and taste. It’s a natural instinct to chew on things that are new, and until your puppy is trained, it is liable to chew. Your untrained puppy won’t be able to tell that your brand new shoes were very expensive, or that your tablet didn’t come with a warranty that covers bite marks from adorable puppies.
Even if your puppy doesn’t chew anymore, it will still explore with its sense of smell, sticking its face into all nooks and crannies that it finds as it explores its home. Searching for scents is a natural reflex for dogs. Your little furry ball of joy may just happen to leave a slobber in plenty of areas as it pokes around and smells every new thing you bring into its life.
It’s important to look at things from the perspective of the puppy. If needed, get low to the ground or on hands and knees and look around. Is there anything dangerous that your puppy could access? Is there anything easily accessible that your puppy could harm or even destroy?
It’s important to make certain that you’re keeping your puppy in an area that is both safe to your puppy and sturdy – but remember, your puppy’s safety comes first. Make certain that you don’t have any electrical cords low to the ground in your new dog’s designated area. Be sure to clear the area of small objects. Keep all chemicals stored away from anywhere that your puppy could possibly access.
The number one thing to keep in mind is your puppy has the right to play with and chew on absolutely anything they can get their little paws and teeth on. With this in mind, here are a few rules to follow when puppy proofing your home and yard: If something would be dangerous or expensive if they toyed with it, then they simply cannot be allowed access to it. If a puppy can get at something it is fair game to play with and destroy. So put all potentially dangerous objects and those you’d like to keep intact out of reach.
Closely supervise your puppy when they’re free to roam the house.
Confine them to a small secured room or consider crate training to temporarily hold them safely when you cannot supervise them. (Click here for an ultimate guide to crate training your puppy). They should never be left unsupervised with free rein in your home as disaster can strike in seconds.
You can use bitter-tasting sprays that deter dogs from chewing on items that cannot possibly be moved. Things like table legs, skirting boards and corners of cabinets can be saved in this way.
Make sure you have a good selection of chew toys left in every location that your puppy spends time.
They keep your puppy occupied, help with the teething process, are stress relievers and help to promote chewing on the right things instead of your home and belongings. Invest in some baby gates or barriers to use for restricting access to certain areas of your home. It’s wise to only allow access to one or two rooms until your puppy is more responsible and can be trusted, and to open up the rest of your home over time as they mature.
Perform an audit of the types of plants you have in your home as many are toxic or poisonous to dogs. Make a list of the plants you have and check them off against a list of known toxic plants, such as this one found on the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Section. Simply remove those that are unsafe. It’s not worth the risk of keeping them.
Make sure anything potentially poisonous is securely locked away or stored high and out of reach, including but not limited to: Household cleaners, antifreeze, rat poisons, mothballs, insect repellents, bleaches, disinfectants, insecticides, pesticides, soaps, shampoos and laundry detergents.
Always remember: If your puppy manages to get hold of something that’s dangerous or of value to you, then it’s entirely your fault. Everything is a toy for them until they’ve been taught otherwise and have matured enough to know better. Don’t get angry at them for being a puppy. Get angry at yourself for forgetting this fact and not removing the opportunity.
Other Tools for Housetraining Success
- A Potty Spot: Take your puppy to the same place each time you take him outside. Visiting the same spot helps signal your dog with odors what to do in this given space so that he can be successful! As he is going potty, be sure to add a verbal cue, such as “Go Potty” and praise. Be sure to use the same command each time you take him out.
- Enzymatic Cleaners: Your puppy will have accidents, expect it and prepare! Get rid of them quickly by cleaning them up with an enzymatic cleaner ASAP or lingering scents may lead your puppy to return again to the scene of the crime. I recommend using a carpet cleaner and can shoot water and solution down into the spot and then suck it back out. Then apply an enzymatic cleaner to the spot and leave it on the spot so it can do its job and remove any leftover particles or odors.
- Treats: Utilize scrumptious morsels to reward your puppy for successful moments outside. By rewarding the good behaviors outside you are increasing the probability of more successes to come!
- A Signal: Your puppy needs a way to tell you he has to go outside. Some pups will scratch or sniff at the floor, but what if you aren’t near to see the sign? A bell on a string tied to the door will help your dog signal you when he needs to go outside.
When your dog goes outside each time he will hear the ringing of the bell. Soon he is bound to jiggle the bell with his paw or his nose, at which point immediately reward him by taking him outside. He will quickly get the idea that the ringing of the bell equals going outside and he will begin ringing the bell on his own!
A word about puppy pads. Though it may be tempting to purchase puppy pads “just in case” I implore you to just say no. These potty pads are too similar to the soft things in your house like carpet, rugs, towels, clothes etc. These “short cut tools” often cause more problems than helps the issue at hand.
The Bottom Line:
Housebreaking and potty training do not have to be impossible quandaries for you and your family. Instead, it can be viewed as your first chance to build a bond and teach your pup what excitement and joy his new life holds! The goal of puppy-proofing is essentially protection of your puppy and your property. Because one thing’s for sure: If there’s trouble to be found, you can bet your bottom dollar that your puppy’s going to find it! I promise you that if you take the time to train your puppy, understand your pup’s needs and be kind and patient by using praise and rewards to teach him what you want, he will be housetrained in no time.
Housetraining a puppy will be a snap if you follow these simple irrefutable, verified rules.