Housetraining a puppy

One of the biggest concerns new dog owners have about their new puppy is how to house train her effectively and quickly. There are several approaches you can take to house training a puppy and I will describe here the method I’ve used successfully for years.

Keep in mind that your young dog has very little control over what she produces until she’s about 4 months old so be patient!

First of all, take up any rugs that you can in areas where your puppy is allowed to walk and consider excluding her from anywhere with a fitted carpet until she’s reliably trained.

Decide where you would like your puppy to perform in your garden. It will be so much easier to clean up after her later on if you know where to look, and she will be happy knowing she’s doing what you want her to do. Keep in mind the following:

-Dogs like to return to the same place to pee, as it smells right and familiar to them.

-They really don’t like to soil their beds, but if they are forced to do this it will take longer to house train.

-Dogs will tend to choose the substrate they performed on as puppies, when they are grown up. Therefore, if you train your puppy to pee and poo on the grass that’s what she will want to do when she is fully grown. The substrate is more important to them than the location.

Set up a daily routine for the first six months. I know it sounds a long time but it’s worth it to have a clean house trained dog for the rest of his life!

Take your puppy outside at the following times:

  1.  First thing in the morning
  2. After playing, exercise or any other excitement.
  3. Immediately after meals
  4. Last thing at night before bed
  5. Once every hour during the day

Do not carry her outside and always stay with her when she is there. She will want to be with you and leaving her alone outside will not make her comfortable or show her what you want her to do. As she performs, say something appropriate like ‘Have a pee’ and congratulate her hugely when she’s finished, by petting and/or playing with her, or even giving her a treat.

Tip: Don’t get too excited when she’s actually performing otherwise she might stop to jump about!

If nothing happens after about 5 minutes, go back inside and try again later.

The signs to look out for that she may want to go are sniffing the floor, turning in circles, getting ready to squat down and later, moving hopefully towards the door. If you see any of these signs open the door immediately and call encouragingly to get her outside. Don’t pick her up as she needs to recognise the link between needing to go and getting out into the garden.

If you witness her going in the house don’t yell at her and don’t ever rub her nose in it! It is a cruel and unhelpful myth that this practice teaches house training. Your anger will distress her and make the learning process slower. She may even start to hide from you when she needs to go as she will learn that you disapprove. A puppy doesn’t initially realise she is doing wrong so just say ‘No’ firmly and get her outside quickly to finish what she was doing. Again, praise her hugely if she manages any of it outside.

Crate training

If you have provided your puppy with a dog crate this is an invaluable tool in helping you to house train her. The crate should be big enough for the dog’s bed and for her to turn around inside it, but no bigger. Dogs really don’t like to soil their beds and she will try to avoid this. If you buy a crate suitable for a fully-grown dog you can put a barrier at the back to effectively reduce its size until your puppy grows to fill the space. In this way you will help to avoid the possibility that the puppy will mess inside the crate.

When you bring your puppy back into the house, put her in her crate, always with something delicious to chew to keep her occupied. A hollow stuff toy such as a ‘Kong’, ‘Squirrel Dude’ or cow’s hoof is ideal and will keep her busy happily for some time. This practice gives her something rewarding to chew as well as peace of mind for you if you leave the room and it teaches her good habits. She will learn that the crate is a really good place to be. As she becomes accustomed to spending time in there, ensure that she is always calmly lying down before you release her so she doesn’t learn that barking, whining, or otherwise making a fuss, is the way to be let out. Put your puppy in the crate at all times when you cannot be with her, to avoid bad habits developing.

Problem solving

If house training seems to be taking longer than expected, think about the following possibilities.

  • You may be feeding your puppy an unsuitable puppy food.
  • You may be feeding her too much.
  • If you just leave the back door open for your puppy to come and go as she pleases, it may seem convenient but it can cause confusion in her mind and you are not in a position to supervise what she is doing. When the door is inadvertently closed she will not know what to do.
  • In the early weeks you may despair that your puppy will chose to come into the house to do her business. She will grow out of this if you continue with the house training principles, as her confidence grows.
  • Generally, stay with your puppy all the time to avoid problems, and when you can’t be with her put her safely in her crate with something delicious to chew to occupy her.
  • If you clean up after your puppy using standard disinfectants she will still be able to smell where she has performed and may return to the same spot. Also ammonia based cleaning products used around the house can smell like urine to your puppy, and lead to accidents. Use an enzyme cleaner designed to break down the waste molecules or try using dishwasher powder to do the job. You can follow this up with the disinfectant of your choice to be certain the area is clean and sweet smelling.

There are many methods of house training puppies overnight but the following is the method I have found to be really successful.

Take your puppy outside last thing at night and wait until she performs. Congratulate her hugely, lead her inside and put her in her crate, closing the door. Give her a hollow toy with a small amount of food inside to occupy her.

Every four to six hours overnight take your puppy outside to relieve herself. Don’t wait for her to cry but decide for yourself when to take her out. As the weeks pass her body will be able to hold waste for longer and the intervals between trips outside can increase until they are no longer necessary. Be sure to be very calm and quiet when taking the puppy outside (apart from congratulating her on performance) and return her to her bed straight away afterwards. You do not want her to associate your arrival in the night with fun and play time. Be guided by how desperate your puppy is to perform and slowly lengthen the interval between times you release her, until you have a puppy who sleeps cleanly all night.

Your puppy may have accidents and it could take some time. Some dogs learn very quickly but others take a few months to catch on. If you use an appropriate phrase when your pup performs you will eventually find that she will perform on command. You could even use a different phrase for peeing and pooing which will ultimately make your life so much easier. Before you go out or at bedtime, you can then be sure that your dog is comfortable and you don’t have to worry about a mess in the streets!

The main rules to keep in mind are to be patient and consistent. It’s likely to be 2 steps forward and one step back, but you will get there in the end!