Housetraining isn’t particularly tricky but it does call for vigilance, patience, plenty of commitment and above all, consistency. Get used to spending a significant amount of time in your garden, whatever the time of day, with your puppy on a lead, waiting to be ever so enthusiastic about puppy pee and poop.
If you are someone who does a lot of planning, and you should be if you’re getting a puppy, consider the time of year you bring your puppy home. Believe me, its a lot easier to make those frequent trips out into the garden in the long warm days of summer than during long cold winter nights.
The alternative to training your dog to go straight outside is to ‘paper’ train him that is to train him to go on newspaper, rather than in the garden. However, unless you own a toy breed, at some point you’ll want to re-train your pup to outside. Personally I think house training a dog once is enough, why go through the process twice? Especially since you’ll have to ‘untrain’ the pup not to use paper anymore, as well as training it to go outside. Therefore I advise ‘biting the bullet’ and going straight for the garden option.
Every un housetrained puppy or dog will have accidents in the house, and more likely, several. Expect this—it’s part of living with a puppy. However the more consistent you are in following the basic housetraining procedures, the faster your puppy will learn acceptable behaviour. It may take several weeks to housetrain your puppy, and with some of the smaller breeds, it might take longer. In addition some dogs, particularly submissive dogs may urinate when excited, particularly when greeting someone they feel is dominant. This isn’t a house training issue, and will be considered in a different article.
Establish a routine
Like babies, puppies do best on a regular routine. The routine teaches him that there are times to eat, times to play, and times to potty.
Generally speaking, a puppy can control his bladder one hour for every month of age. So if you’re puppy is two months old, he can hold it for about two hours. Don’t go longer than this between bathroom breaks or he’s guaranteed to have an accident. You will be there to help him out, as of course you wouldn’t have a puppy if you work all day.
Take your puppy outside frequently—at least every two hours—and immediately after he wakes up, during and after playing, and after eating or drinking. You must take him out, not merely put him in the garden. This is essential, firstly because the first thing he will do is want to come back in with you and forget all about ‘business’. Secondly how is he going to know if he does something good, if you’re not there to tell him. And ‘every two hours’ means, in the rain, snow, dark etc as well, a summer pup, instead of a winter pup should be sounding quite appealing by now.
Pick a bathroom spot outside, and always take your puppy to that spot on his lead. Its very useful to train you puppy to go when you want him too, as well as where. This is accomplished by waiting till he starts to go, then using an appropriate word. You can use different words for peeing and pooping, or use one word such as ‘get busy’ for both. Remember that you might have to use the word in public, and that other people may have to take your dog out, so consider the word your use carefully!
Once he’s familiar with the command, you’ll find you can eventually use it before he eliminates to remind him what to do, thus cutting down on the amount of time you need to spend outside for ‘bathroom’ breaks, which leaves more time for playing. You can also make sure he’s ‘been’ on your property before taking him on a longer walk, if you’re not overly fond of poo bags, but you will have them with you anyway, won’t you.
Reward your puppy every time he eliminates outdoors. Praise him or give him a treat—but remember to do so immediately after he’s finished eliminating, not after he comes back inside the house. This step is vital, because rewarding your dog for eliminating outdoors is the only way he’ll know what’s expected of him.
Important:Before rewarding him, be sure he’s finished eliminating. Puppies are easily distracted. If you praise him too soon, he may forget to finish until he’s back in the house. Using a higher pitched voice works well, yes I know you sound silly, but the pup will love it, and will do his best to repeat the action that made you sound like a hamster on helium.
Have a regular feeding routine. What goes in to a puppy, must come out of a puppy, and one with a regular feeding routine is a lot easier to predict. Depending on their age, puppies usually need to be fed three or four times a day. Feeding your puppy at the same times each day will make it more likely that he’ll eliminate at consistent times as well, and that makes housetraining easier for both of you.
Pick up your puppy’s water dish about two and a half hours before bedtime to reduce the likelihood that he’ll need to potty during the night. Most puppies can sleep for approximately seven hours without having to eliminate.
If your puppy does wake you up in the night, don’t make a big deal of it; otherwise, he will think it is time to play and won’t want to go back to sleep. Turn on as few lights as possible, don’t talk to or play with your puppy, take him outside, on his lead to do his business, and return him to his bed.
Don’t give your puppy an opportunity to soil in the house; keep an eye on him whenever he’s indoors. You can do this by confining him to the room that you’re in. Watch for signs your puppy needs to eliminate. Some signs are obvious, such as barking or scratching at the door, squatting, restlessness, sniffing around, or circling. When you see these signs, immediately grab the leash and take him outside to his bathroom spot. If he eliminates, praise him lavishly and reward him with a treat.
Keep your puppy on lead in the garden. During the housetraining process, your garden should be treated like any other room in your house. Give your puppy some freedom in the house and garden only after he is reliably housetrained.
Personally I’ve found crate training a puppy invaluable, its useful both in the housetraining phase, the chewing phase and throughout a dogs life. Once accustomed to a crate the dog thinks of it as his den, and is happy to spend the night, and portions of the day in there if needed, it’s also useful when travelling, a safe home away from home on trips. See the additional article on crate training.
If your puppy has spent several hours in confinement, you’ll need to take him directly to his bathroom spot, quickly as he’ll have a bursting bladder, and be excited ( not a good combination!) as soon as you let him out, and praise him when he eliminates.
Expect your puppy to have a few accidents in the house—it’s a normal part of housetraining. Here’s what to do when that happens:
Interrupt your puppy when you catch him in the act of eliminating in the house.
Say “OUTSIDE!” Immediately take him to his bathroom spot, praise him, and give him a treat if he finishes eliminating there.
Don’t punish your puppy for eliminating in the house. If you find a soiled area, it’s too late to administer a correction. Just clean it up. Rubbing your puppy’s nose in it, taking him to the spot and scolding him, or any other punishment will only make him afraid of you or afraid to eliminate in your presence. In fact, punishment will often do more harm than good.
Clean the soiled area thoroughly. Puppies are highly motivated to continue soiling in areas that smell like urine or faeces. Check with your vet or pet store for products designed specifically to clean areas soiled by pets.
It’s extremely important that you use the supervision and confinement procedures outlined above to minimize the number of accidents. If you allow your puppy to eliminate frequently in the house, he’ll get confused about where he’s supposed to eliminate, which will prolong the housetraining process. This is the main reason why starting the training outside, rather than paper training first is a good idea.
When you’re away
A puppy under six months of age cannot be expected to control his bladder for more than a few hours at a time (approximately one hour for each month of age). If you have to be away from home more than four or five hours a day, this may not be the best time for you to get a puppy; instead, you may want to consider an older dog, who can wait for your return.
If you already have a puppy and must be away for long periods of time, you’ll need to:
Arrange for someone, such as a responsible neighbour or a professional pet sitter, to take him outside to eliminate.
If this isn’t possible, and it should be if you are a responsible dog owner you can train him to eliminate in a specific place indoors. Be aware, however, that doing so can prolong the process of housetraining. Teaching your puppy to eliminate on newspaper may create a life-long surface preference, meaning that even as an adult he may eliminate on any newspaper lying around the living room.
Most breeders use a form of paper training while the puppies are still with them, as it’s almost impossible to housetrain a whole litter of very young puppies. You can continue this method if for some unforeseen reason your puppy has to be left alone for periods of time. Confine the pup to an area with enough room for a sleeping space, a playing space, and a separate place to eliminate. Puppy ‘playpens’ are available from pet stores for this purpose if you haven’t got a suitable room.
In the designated elimination area, use either newspapers (cover the area with several layers of newspaper) or puppy pads (products designed to attract puppies to pee) or an earth box. To make an earth box, place soil or a piece of turf in a container such as a child’s small, plastic swimming pool. You can also find dog litter products at a pet supply store.
However, the very best way to housetrain your pup, is to take the time, and dedication to do it yourself. Remember you’ll have your dog for many years; a few weeks of early effort can really set you up for a successful relationship.