House Breaking a Puppy
Written by Dr. Laurie Green
House Breaking a Puppy
Written by Dr. Laurie Green
To successfully housebreak your puppy, you must commit the time, have patience, and give consistent, clear communications. In fact, before you even think of bringing a puppy home, plan to take 1-2 weeks off work, so you have uninterrupted time to focus on the new pup. Otherwise, it will take much longer to train your pup where to go, and you will be much more frustrated. And avoid getting a puppy in winter if you are in a cold climate. The foul weather and snow make it that much harder to convince your new pup to go outside.
Some of what we'll tell you here will seem counter-intuitive, but trust us, it works. Also, many commonly held beliefs about dog behavior and how to train pups are quite incorrect, so be prepared to let go of incorrect information you may have been given.
Puppies, like people, learn new skills at different rates, so be patient. Even if you think she should "get it by now", you're asking her to make several leaps of understanding. It will take a while for her to develop the solid understanding of where she is to go, and where she is NOT to go. Her understanding of what is her den, and therefore not to be soiled, versus what is non-den is quite different from your perspective. It will take her a while to consistently understand that ALL areas of the house are den, and therefore not to be soiled.
First of all, puppies need to urinate and defecate frequently, sometimes as often as once an hour. There will be many accidents, especially at first. Never lose your temper at the pup, and always use simple, consistent one- or two-word commands. Otherwise, your pup could become frightened and confused about what you expect of her.
Learn to notice the clues that indicate your puppy needs to go. These include restlessness, sniffing the floor, or returning to a previously soiled spot. Also, your pup will need to go about 5-20 minutes after eating, sleeping or playing. When you take her outside to go, take her to the same spot each time, and don't play with her at that time. You want her to focus on one thing only -- going in the right area. As soon as she goes, praise and reward her enthusiastically, and give her a small food treat to reinforce that she did the right thing. While she's going, just tell her "good girl" very softly so you don't interrupt her. Save the enthusiasm for when she's done.
While you're going through housebreaking, you must keep the puppy close to you at ALL times, so that she does not have the opportunity to fail. This means starting the puppy out in a small area of the house and following her nonstop. Alternatively, attach one end of a leash to her and the other end to you, so that the pup is no farther away from you than the end of the leash, and you can watch her more easily as you do other things around the house.
When you are not able to watch the puppy, then she goes into a kennel. Or, if you have a fenced yard and the weather is good and there is nothing harmful she could get into, you can put her outside. However putting her outside when you aren't watching her means you lose the opportunity to reward her for going outside as she should. The kennel is a preferable training tool. A young pup 7-9 weeks old should be in a kennel for no more than 2 hours at a time; she can't hold her urine or feces for longer than that.
If you catch her in the act of going in the house, you can do one of two things. The most common advice previously given was to correct her with a firm "NO" and immediately take her to the proper toilet area. This may not effectively discourage her from going indoors. What often happens instead is that puppies learn to make sure you aren't watching when they go indoors, so they go behind the couch, in a closet, etc.
Newer understanding of dog behavior says that instead of punishing on the spot, you do everything you can to prevent indoor accidents. If they happen, ignore them. (This is the counter-intuitive part). You don't want to give the dog ANY attention for this mistake. Simply put her in her kennel, or outside, when she's finished, say nothing to her, don't even look at her, and clean up the mess thoroughly using an enzymatic cleaner. Then redouble your efforts to get her out before she has an accident, and keep her confined in a kennel that she will be unlikely to soil when you can't watch her.
Don't spank a pup for her accidents! She's going through an important learning phase and needs a lot of your patience. You'll likely frighten or confuse her if you physically punish her. And NEVER punish a puppy after the fact. Let me repeat that. NEVER punish a puppy after the fact!! Remember, any time you correct a puppy, she will think she is being punished for whatever she is doing at the time you correct her. That's why you can only correct her (gently!) when you catch her in the act (if you choose to go that route - see above caution about unintended consequences when you punish a dog for going in the house).
Also, never rub a puppy's nose in her accidents -- that will only frighten her and may encourage her to eat her droppings. It does not train her to stop going in that spot. She is not capable of making the reasoning leap that this is an area she previously soiled, and that's why you're punishing her. Dogs are oriented to the present. Unpleasant experiences (like having her nose rubbed in urine or feces) will be associated with what she just did - which in this case was likely coming to you. How eager will she be to come to you if she keeps having these unpleasant experiences associated with coming to you?
So when you discover a soiled area, don't show it to your puppy or scold her for it, merely clean it up promptly using a product designed to eliminate pet stains and odors. The newer enzyme-based products available at veterinary clinics are very effective at removing stains and odors. And remember, don't let her watch you cleaning soiled areas. Why not? Because if she's in the middle of your cleaning process, she can smell the odor of her own urine and feces, and you fussing with it is giving her a kind of attention.
So then you might say, OK, if she recognizes that this is her soiled spot, why can't I punish her for it after the fact? Because, although she recognizes her own scent, she can't make the leap of understanding that you are punishing her for depositing it there sometime earlier. Punishment is ALWAYS linked in a dog's mind to what has JUST happened at the time of the punishment. The same goes for rewards. You must reward good behavior promptly, or you could inadvertently reward the wrong behavior.
New pups should be confined to smaller areas of the house at first. A house seems large and overwhelming to a pup, and makes it harder for her to differentiate between indoors and outdoors. At night or when you are gone, your pup should be confined to her kennel, which rapidly becomes her own special den. Dogs are less likely to soil their den area, and this helps with their training.
If you take her outside when you think she has to go and nothing happens, bring her inside and put her in her kennel for 5-15 minutes. Then take her outside again for a few minutes. Repeat this cycle until she goes. As soon as she goes, then she can stay outside her kennel. This kind of routine helps her focus on going when you want her to go. Also, be sure to pair some word or two with her act of going, so she will associate that with relieving herself. This is very handy when you're traveling, or on cold winter nights when you want her to go quickly.
As she starts to get the routine, start training her to also go while on the leash, in areas other than your yard, and on varied surfaces. That way, when you travel, she will have the confidence and experience to go wherever you need her to go.
You and your dog will make lots of mistakes during this time. None of us trains with perfection. That's OK! Your dog will do fine as long as you strive to be as consistent as possible. Your occasional training errors and frustrations (we all go through this) will not permanently scar your dog. Dogs are quite resiliant.
In summary, what you need to do is be very attentive to her, pay attention to her signals (they can be subtle) that she has to go, and enthusiastically reward her for going outside. While she's in the act of going, tell her "good dog" very softly so you don't interrupt her. After she's done, then get more enthusiastic. Pair some word with her going outside so she learns to go on command. Kennel her when you can't directly watch her. Do anything you can to prevent mistakes. You don't want her to get used to indoors as an optional place to go. It is MUCH easier to train her if she has little opportunity to fail.
With patience, time and persistence, you can successfully housebreak your pup.
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Teaching your dog to defecate or urinate on command is actually just a process of creating an association.
The command I use is, "Get Busy." But you can use any word or phrase that you please.
You're probably wondering why anyone would want to teach their dog an elimination command. And probably the best answer to this question is that it enables you to establish both a time and a place for your dog to eliminate.
For example, if you decide to go to bed early, and you don't want your dog to be uncomfortable for the next 7 or 8 hours, you can very easily take him outside and tell him to "do it now," because, "You won't have a chance to do it later since I'm going to bed."
Having an elimination command also allows you to tell your dog WHERE he should urinate or defecate. For example, if you're taking your pup for a stoll and he indicates that he needs to eliminate... you don't want him to merely stop and do his business in the middle of the sidewalk.
What an elimination command allows you to do is to walk the dog over to some bushes, or behind a building and tell him, "Here! Here is where you can 'get busy.'"
How to teach the "Get Busy" command .
Just like with any other command, your goal is to associate the phrase, "Get busy," with the action of either defecating or urinating.
Here's what you need to do in 5 easy steps:
1.) Take note of the usual times your dog needs to defecate or urinate.
2.) Take him to the usual spot where he likes to eliminate and walk him back and forth, repeating the phrase, "Get busy, get busy, get busy."
3.) When he begins to eliminate, continue saying, "Get busy." After five or six different occasions, your command will start to link with the behavior.
4.) A half second after he finishes, praise him.
5.) Repeat this process every time your dog needs to eliminate, and you'll soon find that he will begin to understand and at least make an attempt to evacuate the contents of his bladder on command.
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