Housebreaking Your Puppy
One of the biggest challenges puppy owners face is that of teaching their puppy where to eliminate---and that that place is not on the living room carpet. The best time to begin this lesson is between 7 and 9 weeks of age. Before that time, puppies don’t appear to be able to either grasp the idea or control themselves sufficiently. After 9 weeks of age, puppies seem to prefer using whatever surface or place they were using between 7 and 9 weeks of age. This is why puppies raised inside can be more difficult to house train than those raised with constant access to the outside. Every time your puppy eliminates inside, it reinforces that place as an acceptable place to go, so it's vitally important that you not let your puppy have a chance to go in the wrong place, and lots of chances to go in the right place, during this critical time.
Rush your puppy outside (or to his indoor potty area) at the slightest cue he may need to eliminate, at regular intervals, and after certain activities.
- Immediately after a puppy awakens, he must urinate.
- In the middle of playing, he must urinate.
- If he exercises a lot he’ll drink a lot more water, and a while later he’ll also have to urinate.
- Every few hours, he has to urinate. A standard rule of thumb is that a puppy can hold himself for as many hours as he is months old, to an upper limit of about six hours. He may be able to go longer overnight or during periods of inactivity, especially if he has not had a lot to eat or drink in the hour or so beforehand.
- Within 15 minutes after eating, he must defecate (the act of eating puts into motion peristaltic gut action). You can help your puppy to have a regular bowel movement by feeding him on schedule and making sure you don’t give him novel foods that may cause diarrhea.
- If he starts whining for no reason, chances are he has to defecate.
- If he's sniffing and circling, and if his anus is puckering, he has to defecate.
Unfortunately, you can't just push the puppy out the door alone and think you've done your part. Left alone, the typical puppy simply waits at the door to rejoin you. Once let back inside, he relaxes enough to eliminate on your floor. No matter how busy you are, you need to go outside with your puppy. Ignore his attempts to play until he does his duty. Then wait until he's just finishing, praise him and give him a treat---just as you would any other behavior you're trying to teach him. Don't rush him back inside once he's done; otherwise he'll learn that eliminating does away with his outdoor time with you, and he may learn to delay.
Because you can't watch your puppy constantly, confining him when indoors can be a powerful tool for housetraining. Young puppies avoid eliminating in their sleeping and eating area, so if you restrict your puppy to a very small area where he eats and sleeps he’s less likely to eliminate there. You can use the crate as his small area, making sure it’s not so large that he can simply use half of it for his bathroom. You can block off an overly large crate with a box or divider. You must let the puppy out of the crate regularly, because if you force him to have accidents in it, he’ll give up trying to hold it at all. Confine your puppy when you can’t supervise him. Let him out often, immediately taking him to his potty area. Once he’s eliminated, don’t put him back in the crate. Use the time to socialize, play, snuggle and do all the fun things that makes having a puppy worth all the work.
Once he’s housetrained using the crate, expand his den area by placing his bed or crate in a tiny enclosed area—an area only a couple of feet beyond the boundary of his bed. Do everything you can to prevent him from soiling this area; that is, keep him on a frequent outdoor potty break schedule. Gradually expand his area as he goes without soiling it, until eventually he has access to an entire room. If you want him to learn to use an indoor potty, you can place that within his confined area.
If you can’t be home to take him out as often as he needs to go, use puppy urine pads (ask for puppy pee pads in the pet store) or sod sections as an indoor potty area. These can be moved outdoors---or to a permanent indoor potty area---once soiled to teach your puppy to go there.
Despite your best efforts, your puppy will eliminate in the wrong place at times. Overzealous corrections, such as yelling, spanking and rubbing the dog's nose in his mess, can work against your house training efforts. At worst, the dog may learn never to eliminate in front of you, and to simply do it in another room while you're not looking. Instead, if you catch him in the act, give a startling “No!” and scoop him up to take to his potty area. Once there, be sure to reward him when he goes in the right place. Clean the soiled area with a non-ammonia based cleaner, preferably one with enzyme odor-killing action. Then keep the dog away from that area, as he is likely to use it again.