The key to successful house training, more than anything else, is supervision. Constant supervision of a puppy’s free play time is critical to have successful house training. If at any time you cannot fully supervise the puppy (100% of your attention - this doesn‘t mean watching TV while puppy is playing, it means CONSTANT supervision while puppy is out) , it should be in a kennel or another confined, safe enclosed area. It only takes about ten seconds for you to turn away and for your puppy to eliminate on the floor. Every elimination error on the floor is one elimination that you did not get to reward outdoors. So keep accidents to a minimum, and supervise your puppy during the entire time puppy is active.
Having a puppy confined does not always have to be in a kennel. A very useful tool to teach puppies and older dogs is to have them lie on a mat quietly. Some people call these "play stations". It consists of a mat, with some of the puppy’s favourite toys that the puppy only ever gets while on the mat. If the puppy is not on the mat, it doesn’t have access to those toys (things like Stuffed Kongs, or a favourite chew bone) Because puppies have short attention spans, you can create these play stations by using a tie-down. A tie-down is a short leash (approximately 3 feet long) that is attached to a bolt securely fastened to a wall (or a strong piece of furniture), that allows the puppy to play quietly on the mat, but prevents the puppy from roaming the room unwatched. This way you can keep an eye on the puppy’s actions, and the puppy is not confined to a kennel even though it can’t have access to the whole room. This is intended for occasional use for short periods of time only. It is not intended to be over used in place of proper supervision and play time. As the puppy matures and ages, you can teach the puppy to stay on the mat without the tie-down.
Puppies will always need to eliminate at the following times: after sleeping, after eating, after playtime, before bedtime. However this is not the only time they need to eliminate. Small puppies may go every half hour when awake, as their bladders are very small. At a very young age they are not physically able to hold their bladders for long periods of time. As they age, the time they can hold it increases. You can figure that a puppy can hold its bladder for a length of time of its age in months plus one hour. So if you have a three month old puppy, it should be able to hold it in its kennel for four hours. However, don’t take this as the golden rule, as puppies are all individuals, and some will mature at different rates than others! Also remember that holding it in the kennel for four hours and holding it while out playing for four hours are two completely different scenarios! Don’t count on a puppy roaming the house to hold it for four hours.
So, your first rule is supervision. Now that we have that down, you also now know when the main times a puppy will eliminate are. Now you can deal with the times in between. During "free time", the puppy may begin to show signs of needing to eliminate. Some of these signs are sniffing the ground, circling quickly, and finally, squatting. If you see any of these signs, pick up puppy and get her outside before she goes on the floor. If the puppy starts to go before you reach it, or if you "catch the puppy in that act", say a word such as "Ah ah" or "Outside!" in a neutral voice (do not yell), pick the puppy up and take it outside immediately. Even if you don’t see those signs, it’s a good idea to take the puppy out regularly, at least for the first while, to allow the puppy the chance to make her own decision.
When outside, pick one location that the puppy will always eliminate in. If you have a fenced backyard, pick a section of it to use as housetraining area. The reason for this is that it will smell familiar to the puppy (it’s own elimination scents will cause it to go there again in future), and it will set up a routine for the puppy to know where to go. Even if as an adult you plan to allow the dog to go anywhere in the yard (such as a fenced backyard), it is easier on the pup to have a smaller area to learn from in the beginning. When the puppy begins to eliminate, say a cue word, such as "Hurry up" or "Go Potty". When the puppy finished, give the puppy a treat, praise, or play a game with the pup. This will allow the puppy to begin to learn a cue to eliminate, as well rewarding the experience will leave a lasting impression on the puppy. Dogs do what works. Behaviours that are rewarded will be repeated. So, by rewarding proper elimination in the proper place, proper elimination behaviour will be repeated. If you clicker train your puppy, this is a fabulous thing to use the clicker to teach!
At some point in time, you may come across a puddle or a small pile that you did not see the puppy perform. If you do this, simply quietly clean up the mess, with no fuss at the puppy. Most importantly, contrary to the old style of housetraining, do NOT rub the puppy’s face in it! The puppy will not make the association between your fuming in anger and it’s behaviour of three minutes before. The only thing you will cause the puppy to learn in this case is that in the presence of pee or poop, you are a "dangerous, scary person", and that will be the beginning of teaching the puppy to learn to eliminate in out-of-the-way areas, or to eliminate when you aren’t around. That is a bad habit to create, so don’t create it at all. The best thing to take away from a situation like this - take it as a learning lesson to watch the puppy more closely. If the puppy does go on the floor, it is not the puppy’s fault, but an error on the caregiver’s part. Remember, the puppy is not big enough or mature enough to hold it yet, and doesn’t yet know where to go, so it’s up to you to help your puppy make the right decisions, and that happens through prevention, supervision, and reward.
One important thing to take note of is how you clean up an area in the house if an accident occurs. Proper cleaning of the area is important so that the puppy is not inclined to use that spot to eliminate in the future. If the puppy smells signs of its past actions, it may be tempted to make a repeat attempt at eliminating. If you are cleaning it up from carpet, use an enzymatic cleaner to do the job. Soap and water, most times, doesn’t work. An old way to clean carpet was to use vinegar to repel dogs from going back to old spots, however vinegar gives off the smell similar to ammonia, a component of urine, and may attract the puppy to the spot rather than repel it. There are many great enzyme cleaners you can find from your vet or pet stores that will do the job.
A great way to control the success of housetraining is to feed scheduled meals. What goes in must come back out, so they say, and this works to your advantage for house training. Getting your pup on a meal schedule will greatly increase your chances of success for housetraining because you will know those times the puppy will have to eliminate after eating. Free feeding can wreak havoc on house training attempts (as well as cause other problems), so for your own benefit, schedule mealtimes for your puppy.
If you fully supervise your puppy, and properly clean up all areas of messes indoors that the puppy makes and you are still having problems, or the puppy is eliminating in its kennel even though it doesn’t ask to go out, you should make an appointment to see your veterinarian to ensure there is not an existing health problem such as urinary tract infection or urinary incontinence. If you do have a medical problem, you cannot begin to have successful house training until you get the pup back to proper health.
Also keep in mind there are other issues that can accompany house training problems for puppies. Puppies have a natural, in-born tendency to leave their sleeping area to eliminate. This occurs in litters from a very young age. Puppies that are raised in pet stores, or raised in very small, enclosed, kennel-style environments may have lost the natural tendency to leave their sleeping area to eliminate, and may have learned to eliminate in its kennel or sleeping area. This can create additional problems for the new puppy caregiver, and you have to become extra vigilant about house training as well as teaching the puppy that the kennel is a sleeping area and not a bathroom. However, if you get your puppy from a responsible breeder, you should have no problems with this issue because the puppies will have had ample space to live and grow in, as well as distinctly separate sleeping and bathroom areas.
If you can just remember the three main tips - prevention, supervision, and reward, you’ll be on a great path to a successfully housetrained puppy!(back to contents)
Housetraining for Working Dog Owners:
It is an unfortunate fact of life that many if not most people need to work for a living, but they need not be denied the joy of dog ownership as long as they are responsible dog owners and plan for their puppy/dog's wellbeing while they are not at home. If you usually work, but you plan to be off work at first when you take the puppy home, that is good as far as everyone adjusting and getting into a routine, but do not give the puppy 24/7 attention for a week or two and then one day out of the blue... BOOM.... be gone 8 hours a day every day. That is very very traumatic on a young puppy or even an older dog, and is one of the major causes of behaviour problems such as separation anxiety. You would need to be sure that the pup has time alone each day in preparation for when vacation is over. Use the vacation time wisely to get your pup out there and socialized, but be sure he also knows that he will be expected to spend some time alone with his toys and blankies etc. each and every day, sometimes in a crate for an hour or two, sometimes in a pen or where ever he will spend time in when you start work. He needs to know what sort of routine to expect for the day when you are all of a sudden gone. That does not mean ignore your pup all day every day, just to be careful to balance things out. Then he will know and be comfortable with the fact that he will not be entertained every waking minute of every day. A dog walker at noon or doggy daycare for a day or two a week when shots are finished is always helpful as well.
There is no set age a puppy can just magically all of a sudden be housetrained. It is a learning process and physical development process over time and every puppy is different. You start the process as soon as you get your puppy home, but the pup will in no way be reliable to not have accidents until it is 6 months of age or more. It will be very good by about 4 months of age IF the time and effort has been put into proper housetraining and supervision, but accidents can and usually do still occur, always due to the lack of supervision of the owners. It is of course harder on a pup when nobody is home all day, and you cannot kennel a young puppy all morning and all afternoon even if someone lets it out at noon, not until much much later, if ever. That is like being in jail to a puppy and will cause behaviour problems down the road.
The puppy would need to be in a safe enclosed area such as a gated bathroom or entry way, anywhere that he is safe and cannot get into any trouble with electric cords etc., or in an exercise pen, with papers in one area in case of the need to go when you are not home, and you can housetrain to the outdoors as usual when you are at home if you wish. When the pup is obviously old enough and *holding on* then the papers can be eliminated and the pup can graduate to being crated for either the morning period or the afternoon period, and then later still he can graduate to being crated for the entire work day if necessary, as long as he is let out to pee and exercise for a few minutes at lunch. A better scenario is the dog is crated for a half day (can be the morning or afternoon portion) and is let outside at lunch for potty break and exercise, and then left in a pen/designated area of the house for the other half day, or left loose in the house if he is mature and can be trusted alone in the home at that time.
This is all a longterm process, and by the time the pup is about 9-12 months old he should be able to hold it in a roomy crate or enclosed area all day with no mid day visit as long as he is properly exercised and *emptied* before leaving for work in the morning, and as long as he then has plenty of free time and attention in the evenings and weekends. (they usually stop eliminating in their enclosed area on their own as they mature physically and are old enough to do so, if kept meticulously clean all along. They will stop doing solid waste in their enclosed area first, it takes a little longer to hold on to urine for longer periods of time). It will take longer to accomplish the end result this way but there is no way around it if you work 8 hours a day. To try and do otherwise is cruel to a puppy. If you think ahead and plan for how to properly care for your puppy while you are at work, both you and your puppy will be much happier for it :-)(back to contents)