The topic of housetraining is one that comes up many times a day the world over when a new puppy or rescue dog joins a home. As it’s a question we see a lot, I thought I’d do a blog post with the inside scoop on potty training. There is a lot of information out there in cyberspace on ‘housebreaking’. Let’s face it, we don’t really want to ‘break’ our puppy or dog, so my top tips focus on the details that start good habits early and will benefit the relationship you will have with your dog.
The Poop on Planning
Prior to bringing home your puppy consult with your breeder (and mark down) what has been the puppy’s normal routine for feeding and pottying. If you have a rescue puppy or dog, try to find out as much as you can. Once home, take a few days to gradually change that schedule to better suit your own timetable.
Predictable patterns anticipating the puppy’s need to potty will help to prevent accidents. Try and organize yourself to take the puppy out prior to the scheduled time. Most puppies will need to go out: once they wake up, immediately after a meal and another hour after that, after a big play session with you or another puppy and immediately after a swim. Think about restricting access to water 2 hours prior to your bedtime to avoid having to get out of bed in the middle of the night for a restless puppy.
Learn what is normal for your puppy. “Feature” is a two spot peeer and she always has been, right from the day I got her at 7 weeks old. I had her checked for a bladder infection because I thought it was strange. What I had to learn was that was “normal” for her. Learn what is normal for your puppy.
Start Good Habits Early ~ A Simple Yet Effective Investment of Your Time
A simple, but not necessarily an easy lesson, is teaching your puppy to “potty” on leash. For the first 5 or 6 months of my puppies lives, I take them out to pee or poop on leash.
Not only does this encourage the puppy to seek out a particular area of the yard of my choosing to do her business, but most importantly, it teaches her it is a good thing to urinate and defecate while on leash, close by to me.
This means that I am not going to be one of those people at an agility trial (or anywhere away from home) out on a rainy night walking my dog back and forth on that tiny strip of grass at my hotel, begging and pleading my dog to pee or poop on leash!
Although this lesson is a simple one, it isn’t necessarily an easy one. For anyone with a fenced in backyard, it may be much easier to just turn the puppy out off leash to work things out in his own time rather than stand around waiting for a leashed puppy to do his business. However, every behaviour has a consequence. Choosing to save a little time, taking the easy road with puppy today, means you will likely be wasting a great deal more time waiting for an adult dog to eliminate on leash tomorrow!
Sleeping Through the Night ~ “Don’t Wake Da Mama”
My dogs are raised with the understanding of the night time golden rule of “Don’t wake da mama!”. I establish this by making sure any time a puppy wakes me up, it is as uneventful as possible.
When I get a new puppy, I put her in her crate on top of a chair beside my bed at night. This way she sleeps right near my face. She can hear me breathe and practically feel my breath. As we both fall asleep, I stick my fingers through the crate door for a few minutes. I have never had a puppy cry or fuss at night, plus I get to fall asleep looking at my beautiful new puppy!
If the puppy conveys the need to go out I say nothing… I reach in and then I carry her outside to see if she needs to relieve herself. I do not allow the puppy the reinforcement of walking on her own. This is also the only time I do not interact with my puppies after they have pottied outside. I may quietly praise her, but I say very little and offer no other reinforcement as I pick the puppy up once again, go inside and return her to her crate without further interaction.
Making these midnight trips outside as uneventful as possible helps to make sure they do not happen very often. With my all of the puppies that I have raised, it has been rare that any one of them ever wakes me up more than one or two nights before they learn to sleep through the entire night.
This routine is to downplay the reinforcement the puppy receives for waking you up at night. Most puppies should learn bladder basics within a week or two. If this isn’t your puppy make a chart of each time the puppy pees or poops so you can start to predict future events.
For these late evening potty trips, I use an oversized leash and clip it around the width of the collar so I don’t have to get a tiny puppy lead clip onto a tiny puppy collar ring.
I’ll share more on puppy sleeping arrangements and daytime routine in another blog.
The Poop on Naming the Action
Take the puppy on leash to the exact spot in the yard you would like him to continue using. Choose a word or phrase that you want to use in the future to prompt him to start doing his business. Wait until the puppy starts to eliminate and then quietly repeat your new cue over and over while he pees.
You can choose a single word like “potty” or “duties” or a phrase such as “hurry up” or “do your business”. For the first couple of weeks, you can add a tidbit of a treat after the puppy is done his potty. Play time can follow each time as well as a fun reward (but only during waking hours!).
The Poop on Roadside Stops
Some dogs like to defecate a long distance away from you, others may prefer long grass. I recommend you don’t facilitate those puppy desires because there will be times when you do not have the option of removing your dog’s leash to let him run away for his poop. Get him used to a new routine. Start as soon as the puppy comes home and clip him on leash every time you take him outside on so that he learns he can do his business on leash, with you close by any surface that is handy.
Housetraining Effort Now = Future Joy for You and Your Dog
So there you have it, my top tips for housetraining your puppy or dog. Following these tips now will ultimately lessen the frustration of a dog who has ‘accidents’ in the home, or who ‘won’t potty on lead’ …. the things that might annoy or even anger you as your puppy grows.
Getting to know your puppy’s potty schedule and what is ‘normal’ for your dog will help you notice any changes that may be important for your dog’s health.
Putting in the effort now will bring you many rewards in your life with your dog. Let me know in the comments your top tips for housetraining.
Today I am grateful for everyone who considers their dog an important member of their family.
Update: I also have a podcast on the topic of potty training and you can listen, watch the video and get the transcript at the link below:
Potty Train Your Puppy in a Week (Easy 3 Step Process)