Woman’s Best Friend: Housetraining Puppies and Staying the Course

Woman’s Best Friend: Housetraining Puppies and Staying the Course

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Housetraining can take some time, so don’t be worried or frustrated if it has been a couple of months and your dog still isn’t getting it. Housetraining can take some time, so don’t be worried or frustrated if it has been a couple of months and your dog still isn’t getting it. Be patient, and stay the course! Remember, dogs learn through experiences. You can’t just tell your dog not to go potty inside. Your dog will learn what you are trying to communicate by adding up consistent experiences.

Here are some tips on housetraining your dog successfully.

  • Be one step ahead of your pup. Try to anticipate when your puppy has to “go potty” and bring him outside, before he goes inside. When your pup eliminates outside, happily praise him “good potty!”, or whatever word you choose to use.
  • Learn your pup’s potty schedule. Common times are: when they’ve just woken up from a nap, just eaten, or just finished playing. This will help you anticipate and achieve Tip #1 successfully.
  • Keep a consistent feeding schedule. For young puppies (younger than three or four months) this is usually three meals per day. Otherwise, two meals per day is standard. Better to structure meals, rather than leaving food available all the time.
  • Leave water available for your pup, so he is free to drink however much he wants.  Exceptions to this would be if you know he is going to need to hold his bladder for an extended period of time. You don’t want him to “fill his tank” with water right before bedtime, for example. Otherwise it is good to let him drink as much as he wants, so that his bladder learns how to hold higher volumes of water and the muscles strengthen. Also to prevent dehydration!
  • Have a potty-free area. This is usually a small space that is comfortable, but restricted so your pup won’t want to go potty while in it. Puppies, when raised in a healthy environment with their mom, learn from weeks-old to keep their living/sleeping space clean, and to do their business away from where they hang out. Once the puppies start moving around, a good breeder will provide a potty area that is away from the living/feeding space. Keep in mind that this “removed area” could be, to a puppy, the other end of a room, or pen, that has papers down. The potty-free area has to be quite small, relative to the size of the pup. Kennels or crates can work very well for this, as can puppy pens. You can also attach a leash to your belt and keep her close to you that way. The main thing is that you’ve found a space that you know your pup won’t go potty, so when she can’t be watched, you know she’s not having an accident.
  • Prevent accidents. If you need to take a shower, or leave the house, or be otherwise distracted, best to put your pup in their potty-free area, so you don’t later find an accident in the house. If your puppy goes potty in the house and you didn’t see it happen – then that is your mistake, not your dog’s. Ask yourself, “What could I have done to prevent this?”
  • Always catch the accidents, so you can take the opportunity to educate. Catch him as soon as he starts to squat to pee or poop, and then abruptly tell him “No!”  Scoop him up and run him outside, or to the designated potty area. Hopefully you have caught him before he started to go and then when he finishes going to the bathroom in the appropriate place, praise him with a heartfelt “Good Potty!” Be calm, and genuine, with your praise. We want him to feel how happy you are with him going potty outside, and how unhappy you are with him for going inside. Don’t get angry and freak out over accidents, but be clear with your tone that going potty inside is not acceptable.
  • Be consistent. Know that potty training is a process and it can take some puppies months to get it. Generally speaking, your dog’s success is a mirror of your consistency, so commit to the process and stick with it until your pup gets the hang of it.
  • Don’t give your dog too much freedom, too quickly. Wait until your pup hasn’t had ONE accident for at least six weeks before giving her more freedom in the house. The last thing you want is to relax too soon and then have your pup regress because they weren’t ready for more freedom.
  • Be patient. Some puppies catch on quickly and others take more time. If you feel that you should be making more progress than you are, consult with a trainer to see if there is anything you can adjust to help your pup get the idea. Also, start with appropriate basic obedience training. Engaging your dog’s brain in training can help him grasp the concepts of housetraining more readily. Now he has a context for your communication, so the connections can be made more easily.
  • Don’t correct mistakes your puppy makes, if you find them after-the-fact. Your puppy won’t understand, if your correction comes late – even if your dog gives you a guilty look when you get home. “He knows he’s not supposed to”, doesn’t apply here. Don’t try to theorize whether your dog “knows” or “doesn’t know”, because the reality is that they will either “do”, or “do not”. If your dog continually does something you don’t want him to, then there is something that you need to adjust, so you are a better teacher.
  • Clean up any accidents thoroughly! Dogs’ sense of smell is incredible and the more of their own excrement they smell in their living space, the more they will think they should continue to go in that space. Wash, wash, wash and even have your carpets professionally cleaned if necessary. There are a lot of great, natural products to get urine odor out of floors and carpeting. Ask your smaller, neighborhood pet store what products they have gotten the best feedback about.
  • Feed a high-quality food. This is very important, anyway, but the better quality your puppy’s food, the less she will poop, because there is ideally no indigestible filler in the food. If the food contains lots of filler, then that just passes through the system, resulting in more poop for you and your pup to manage. Yuck!  Higher quality food also has an overall positive impact on digestion, immune function, urine pH, etc…  #1 rule to good health is good nutrition! Ask your local, small, natural pet store what foods they recommend, and try to go with a food that isn’t highly processed, like raw, cooked, freeze-dried or dehydrated foods. There are lots of options!
  • If your puppy has to go potty frequently and can’t seem to hold it for much time at all, then ask your vet about a possible urinary tract infection or other digestive issue, like worms or giardia, that may cause diarrhea. If there is something medical going on, this must be addressed FIRST. Once that is ruled out or cleared up, then follow steps 1-13 and you should find success and have a nicely housetrained dog!

Julie Forbes is a dog behavior and training consultant in Seattle, Washington. Julie is the owner of Sensitive Dog, and is the host of The Dog Show with Julie Forbes.

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