One of the most common questions asked by new dog owners is how to potty-train their dog. And one of the primary factors guiding those adopting a dog is that it’s housebroken. Of course, no pet owner wants a pet that has accidents. And yet house-soiling affects nearly 40% of dogs with diagnosed behavioral problems. House-soiling is consequently one of the most common reasons dogs are surrendered to shelters.
Clearly, house-soiling is a big problem. It’s such a major issue that I’m dedicating three articles to the topic. The best way to deal with house-soiling is to avoid it entirely by potty-training your dog when you first bring him home. I’ll tell you how to do that in this article. My next article will cover what do if your house-trained dog starts having accidents, which can have either a medical or behavioral cause. My third and final article will cover senior incontinence.
Potty training struggles are more common in new puppies and rescue dogs of all types. I’d recommend starting a routine for new dogs to get them on a consistent cycle right away. This will help them understand the process of potty training. —Dr. Erika Madison, Vintage Heights
Begin house training your puppy when he is between 12 and 16 weeks old. Be patient and consistent. You are teaching your puppy to control his bladder until he can go outside. It could take from six months to a year for your puppy to be trained. Follow the steps below.
- Control your puppy’s diet. Puppies have immature digestive systems, so they can’t handle a lot of food at one time. Feed your puppy several small meals throughout the day rather than one or two big meals and then remove access to food between those meals.
- Schedule your puppy’s potty breaks. Puppies have small bladders and the more often you take your puppy outside the better. Plan to take your puppy out first thing in the morning, last thing at night, after your puppy eats or drinks, after naps, and after playtime.” Dr. Walton of Pet Care Center of Lincoln also advised, “If a dog is crying or pacing in the middle of the night, it likely needs to go outside. Don’t ignore, especially with puppies.”
- Should you notice your puppy is about to relieve himself inside, say a quick “No!” Then redirect your puppy to the door or scoop up your puppy and quickly take him outside.
- Take your puppy outside on a leash and direct him to the same spot each time. His scent will prompt him to go.
- Stay with your puppy when outside. It’s important to supervise your puppy not only for training purposes but, if you don’t have a fenced yard that has been puppy-proofed, to keep him from wandering away from your house and out of trouble in general.
- Praise your puppy for relieving himself outside. When he potties or poops, let him know he’s just achieved the greatest victory of all time. Reward with a treat, a walk, or some equally high incentive. This will help reinforce your puppy’s behavior.
- Never punish your puppy for peeing or pooping inside. Scolding your puppy for accidents will only make him afraid of you. Your puppy won’t understand what he’s done wrong and may end up relieving himself where his messes won’t be discovered. If your puppy does have an accident inside, clean the area to remove the scent.
Dr. Amy Walton also advised making a protected area for dogs to relieve themselves in harsh weather. Keep trips outside brief but more frequent. Scoop areas that have snow, so that grass or dirt is exposed.
Crating is the generally quickest way to house break your puppy, because a crate takes advantage of your puppy’s natural instincts to keep her sleeping area clean. To integrate a crate into your house-training regiment, you need to consider its size, placement, and contents. Start with a crate that is just big enough for your puppy to comfortably stand up, turn around, and lie down. For added comfort use a light blanket or a towel unless your puppy views the bedding as a potty pad. Don’t place any food or water in the crate, as eating or drinking will increase your puppy’s need to use the bathroom. Place the crate in one of the busiest rooms of your house to ensure your puppy doesn’t feel isolated from the family and start to view the crate as punishment.
Your puppy should view the crate as a positive. Teach your puppy that its crate is a wonderful place to be by leaving its door open when not in use and tossing in the occasional treat throughout the day. Once your puppy is comfortable going in its crate to eat, it’s time to begin teaching her to be comfortable in the crate when the door is closed. Toss a treat into the cage and close the door behind your puppy. Stand in front of the crate and hand her more treats through the door. Then open the door and let her out. Using the crate to feed your puppy his regular meals will also help him view the crate as a pleasurable place.
Labrador Training Headquarters cautions that there are situations in which you shouldn’t use a crate:
- NEVER crate a puppy for longer than they can hold their bladder.
- NEVER crate a puppy or dog that has a history of eliminating in her crate.
- NEVER crate a dog with a medical problem or diarrhea.
When used properly, combining crate training with potty training can be the perfect way to handle absences and longer periods between potty breaks. A crate encourages a puppy to “hold” their need to use the bathroom, which will teach him that he can control his bladder, and in this way greatly speed up the potty-training process.