Where Every Puppy is a Small Wonder
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How Do I House Train My Puppy?
Not surprisingly, this is the question that is most on the minds of new puppy owners. I apologize that it's taken me so long to address this concern. The dogs and puppies keep Jan and I so busy that it's hard to find the time to write around here. Over the course of the 25 or so years that I've been sharing my life with dogs, I've house trained a lot of puppies so, if experience counts, I think I qualify as an expert. The goal, as I see it, is to make house training as painless as possible for both you and your puppy. Keeping the process positive is the name of the game. It can be done!
I can't even begin to tell you how many frantic calls we've received from new puppy owners lamenting that the puppy peed on their carpet or pooped in their shoe or made a mess under their bed. "What do I do?" they cry. The answer is very simple. Never allow an untrained puppy to have access to rooms with carpet, rooms with places where he can hide and not be noticed or supervised. Never give an untrained puppy the run of the house. Remember he's a baby. He isn't physically, emotionally, or cognitively ready or able to negotiate a large area such as your entire house or apartment. Puppies don't develop the muscle control to "hold it" until they are 12 - 14 weeks old. When he has to go he has little warning and can't stop it from happening. Even once he understands that you are happy when he goes on the pee pad or newspaper or outside, he has very little time to get to the preferred spot before it is happening. If the pee pad is VERY handy he will race over to it and do his business. If you're very adept at reading his body language, grab him up off the floor and race outside with him, he will do the deed in the grass. BUT... if the pee pad is in the laundry room and puppy is dashing around the living room when the need strikes him, he is going to squat and relieve himself on your carpet. He is not being a bad puppy. He's being a baby. And, as a baby, it falls to you, his human, to make sure he is in the right place at the right time. In this scenario the puppy has been placed in a situation where he has access to more space than he can master. He is too far away from the "right" place to possibly get there in time and, in the few seconds he has before the deed is happening, he might not even remember where the right place IS. He has been given too much freedom in an amazingly huge world full of more distractions than his senses can manage.
If you're a parent you may remember potty training your child. Remember the little, chubby-legged toddler who proudly sat on his potty and peed like a big boy? You clapped your hands and told him emphatically, "Good job!" And yet, if he were outside playing in the yard, pushing his Tonka truck or watching the antics of other children, would he run for the house to use the potty? No! He probably wouldn't. By the time he realizes he has to go, waits another two seconds because he doesn't want to leave his toy or he gets distracted by a shiny beetle in the grass, it's all over but the diaper change. With or without fur, babies are babies. They don't have a lot of control over things and they're very easily distracted from the task at hand. While potty training, keep the trainee close to the potty.
The Best Set-up for a Young Puppy
Most people are familiar with the term, "crate training" as an aid to house breaking. Unfortunately, many people do not know that crate training is a gradual process not an instant cure. Remember that puppies do not have the muscle development to "hold it" until they are 12 - 14 weeks old. Knowing this, does it seem like a good idea to lock an 8 week old puppy in a crate and go to work for 7 - 8 hours? What's going to happen? Of course! The puppy is going to mess in his crate. You, the human, have forced the puppy to dirty his bed and then spend the day living and sleeping in it. You come home tired from a long day and are faced with urine and feces ground into the puppy's blanket or bed and probably a fair amount on the puppy as well. After several days you begin to dread going home, knowing what you have to deal with. You begin to wonder why you wanted a puppy and if you made a mistake bringing him into your life. Stop! We know where this kind of thinking ends up and usually that is with the puppy being advertised or returned to the breeder. It doesn't have to be this way.
A puppy's natural instinct is to move away from where he eats and sleeps to do his business. I've seen puppies as young as 2 weeks crawl away from the nest (bed) to do their business and then crawl back. This is an innate sense. Given a choice, no puppy wants to mess in his bed. Locking a puppy in a crate that is not old enough to have developed control of his bowels and bladder takes away the puppy's choice to leave the nest to relieve himself. Over time, a puppy will actually adapt to living in his own filth, the natural instinct will be defeated, and a dirty dog will have been created who may continue to mess in his crate even as an adult. Here's how to avoid all this:
While You're at Work or Anytime You Can't Watch Him...
Invest in an exercise pen, also called an X-pen. An X-Pen consists of 8 wire panels connected to each other with "J" clips so that all 8 panels fold up for storage or open up into different configurations to suit your needs. They come in different heights, 18", 24", and 36". I recommend using the 24" even for small breed puppies. Prices vary. Gold coated, black powder coated, or plain galvanized will affect the price. You don't need an expensive X-Pen.
Invest in a crate that is the right size for your puppy now. You may have to buy a bigger crate as the puppy grows but don't try to save money by buying a crate that is big enough for the puppy to grow into. It will backfire. The crate you buy should be tall enough for the puppy to stand up without his head touching the top of the crate. It should be deep enough that he can lay on his side, fully stretched out. And it should be wide enough that he can turn around and lay down with his legs outstretched. Anything bigger is too big. If the crate is too big the puppy will choose one end to potty in and the other to sleep in.
Assemble your crate WITHOUT the door. Attach one end of your exercise pen to the left side of the crate doorway and the other end to the right side with wire or strap ties (see photo below). If you use wire make sure the ends are outside of the pen and crate so your puppy can't get scratched or poked.
We set this up using a small pen that is just 12" high. It's perfect for small breed puppies that are 5 or 6 weeks old. Most 7 - 8 week old puppies would climb over this easily. I recommend that your X-pen be 24" high for a small breed puppy 8 weeks of age or older. Set the food and water bowls near the crate entrance. You'll be encouraging the puppy's natural instinct to go away from where he eats and sleeps to do his business. Place a pee pad or newspaper at the furthest end from the crate, again reinforcing the natural instinct to leave the den to go potty. It may seem like I'm harping on this but working with the puppy's instincts is going to pay off. As the puppy grows and gains control your whole house is going to become "the den" he goes away from to do his business.
When your puppy reaches 12 weeks old, install the door on the crate. Now the crate becomes a useful tool in helping the puppy learn to "hold it". Start by putting puppy in the crate with a couple of chew toys and closing the door for about an hour. After an hour, open the door, pick puppy up and put him on the pee pad or take him outside. If the crate is clean, no accidents, try two hours the next day. Gradually increase the time your puppy is closed in the crate. If he messes in the crate, he was left in it too long for his level of muscle development. Reduce the time by half an hour and start again to gradually increase the time. The puppy will have to "go" immediately when you open the door so pick him up and quickly get him to the area you want him to use. Now is a good time to start taking him straight outside because you're pretty much guaranteed he will do his business in the preferred place, thereby creating an opportunity to praise him profusely. In no time he will associate your happiness and praise with him going potty outside. You will be well on your way to having a completely house trained puppy.
If You or a Family Member are Home During the Day
You can still use the cr
ate and pen setup I've described or you may choose a smaller room in the house that is not carpeted to be your puppy's living area until he is house trained. A laundry room, kitchen, front or back entrance will serve the purpose. Buy a baby gate at WalMart and use it to block the puppy from entering other parts of the house. They have similar gates at the pet shops but they are twice the price because they are marketed for pets. Watch kijiji too as this type of baby equipment often shows up for a very reasonable price. The only real difference in training with someone at home during the day is that you will be able to take the puppy out frequently to do his business and opportunities to praise him will be much more frequent. Your puppy will be house trained to the outdoors faster than the puppy who is alone all day. You can still use the crate as a training tool and start closing him in for an hour at a time once he reaches 12 weeks of age. When you open the crate, pick your puppy up and take him straight outside to relieve himself. Remember, LOTS of praise! Return the puppy to his pen or room, leaving the crate open so he has time to eat, drink, play, and receive some attention and cuddles. Puppies pee frequently so take him out frequently. Shut him in his crate any time you cannot be available to watch him, ie. when you go out to get groceries or you're busy vacuuming or doing laundry. Your puppy will start to "hold it" for longer and longer periods and will start to give a signal that he needs to go outside. You need to be very in tune with your puppy's behavior so you will catch his signals. Some pups are very subtle about trying to let you know they have to go. Pestering you more than normal is a signal. Sitting in front of the door they usually go out is a signal. Not all puppies bark or whine to go out. Pay attention and you'll soon know "your" puppy's language for, "Take me out, please".
Hints and Tips
Puppies need to go poop 15 - 20 minutes after they eat so feeding on a schedule makes it easy to know when that one is coming. Feed the puppy, wait 15 - 20 minutes, take the puppy outside to the area you want him to use to do his business. When he goes potty give him lots and lots of praise.
Pick an area of the yard and go there every time. Do not play with the puppy or distract him in any way until he's done his business. You want to establish that this is potty time, not play time. If he wanders away from the preferred area, pick him up and take him back. Once he has done what he's there to do, move to another area of the yard and spend a little time playing with him. This separates play time from potty time for him and makes the association with going potty first, then playing.
I have found that by making an association between the bodily function and a simple word, I am actually able to get the puppy to "go" on command. As soon as he squats to pee, I say "pee pee" in a calm voice and repeat this over and over while he is peeing. No excitement or praise while he is in the act because a lot of puppies will be distracted by an excited tone and actually stop mid stream. When he is finished and starting to straighten up, that is the time to put on your excited, over joyed voice and say, "Pee pee! Good boy!". Do this every time you go outside for a few days and then start saying, "Pee pee" as soon as you put him on the ground, before he actually starts to pee. Before long he will hear the words and start looking for a place to relieve himself. You can do the same with the other bodily function, the smellier one. Remember that the words you use don't matter. You can use whatever words you are comfortable with, as long as you repeat them frequently during the act to create an association between the words and the function. You can replace "pee pee" with "do it" or "pinecone" or any other word as long as you use it consistently in association with the act going to the bathroom.
There are some ways to know when a young, untrained puppy has to go. Some rules of thumb are that puppies need to go whenever they awaken from a nap, right after a play session, shortly after they eat or drink, shortly after any period of stress or excitement. Some typical signs that your puppy has to go are sniffing the floor, turning in a circle while sniffing, suddenly stopping any behavior they've been engaged in.
If you are going to use a pee pad, get the tray that holds it in place as well. In my experience, without the tray, the puppy will drag the pad around like a toy and even shred it. The tray that the pad clamps into is well worth the investment.
Stay calm and stay positive! House training takes time. Make it as easy as possible on yourself. Remember that this isn't forever. Your puppy WILL get it and will bring you many years of unconditional love, laughs, and loyalty. It will all be worth it.