Housetraining can be a daunting task. Some puppies take to it readily, and some are little more stubborn. Here are some tips to help you. The key to remember is each dog is different, and different methods work for different dogs.
One of the best ways to housetrain is through crate-training. Crate training is important for many other reasons:
- Great way to housetrain!
- The crate becomes a safe place for your dog
- You get your dog used to a crate so that going to the groomer or veterinarian, boarding, and traveling are much less traumatic
- Prevents destruction during teething. Teething usually starts at about 4-5 months of age and can go to 8-9 months, but chewing is a learned behavior, that your puppy will begin to enjoy if they get to do it early. Make sure they only have access to appropriate items to chew – dog toys and treats. NEVER give a puppy an old sock, shoe, or piece of clothing to chew on. They may not distinguish that from a new one – so they might think it is OK to chew your good shoes!
- Prevents destruction as your pup goes through their “teenage years.” Most dogs become adults around 2-3 years of age, so before this, confining them to a crate when they are not supervised prevents them from destroying your house and belongings.
- Can help decrease nervousness in unfamiliar situations and help decrease problems with separation anxiety
A crate should be a place of security and comfort, not a place you have to force your dog into.
- Bad experiences in a crate include lengthy confinement for many hours at a time, infrequent attention during confinement, and absence of attachment figures. For dogs that have had unpleasant experiences in a crate, confinement may be viewed in the same light as prison to an ex-inmate - an experience to be avoided.
- Good experiences in a crate include circumstances that permit the crate to be viewed as a retreat or place of comfort, freedom to come and go (the door is left open periodically so that the dog is not always confined), company inside or outside the crate, and regular feeding and bathroom trips.
For a dog that has been well acclimated, a crate can be a haven, a place of comfort, a retreat from the world…a den, in fact. Many dog owners think that, because dogs are den dwellers at heart, they will all automatically appreciate a crate. But real dens do not have doors. This is why care must be taken to encourage your dog to view his den as a retreat or sanctuary.
Tips for crate-training:
- Never use the crate as a place of punishment
- Make the crate a comfortable place by putting a blanket and perhaps some toys inside
- Make sure that no one disturbs the pup when he is inside the crate so the crate comes to be appreciated as a place of refuge
- Introduce the crate while still allowing freedom to come in and out of it. Praise the pup every time he goes in the crate. Confine the pup (shut the door of the crate) for short periods of time, at first, ensuring that company is at hand (either you or a closely bonded canine counterpart)
- Don't trick a puppy about the crate. Give a treat when the pup goes in, but don't be sneaky about shutting the door. Don't put the puppy into the crate when the puppy is sound asleep, to wake up trapped in a crate. That can cause the puppy to distrust both you and the crate.
- To start out with, the crate needs to be fairly small. You don’t want your puppy to be able to eliminate in one corner and sleep in the other, so you only want enough room for the puppy to be able to lie down in. For a fast-growing dog, you can partition off a larger crate with to meet this requirement.
- If you let your puppy out of the crate, take them outside and they do not urinate or defecate, put them back in the crate for 15-20 minutes then try again until they do go to the bathroom outside.
- People tend to make the mistake of giving the puppy attention for making noise in the crate. When you do this, you confirm the puppy's instinct that calling for help will bring someone. However, the worst thing to do is let the puppy yell for a long time, and then go to the puppy. Doing that teaches the puppy to persistently make noise in the crate. It communicates to the pup that you want to be notified with lots and lots of noise! You want the puppy to learn that it's okay to let you know of a need, but you will not come in response to loud racket. Check on the puppy after the puppy has become quiet again.
- Having the crate in your bedroom for sleeping tends to help because the puppy can hear, smell and possibly see you. Not being alone, the puppy usually finds it easier to get used to the crate. Your sleeping helps set the scene for the puppy to sleep, too.
- If your puppy isn't making it through the night without a potty break, schedule it so that the puppy doesn't have to wake you up and ask. Realize, too, that the puppy's body will awaken and need to potty whenever someone in the household gets up. That person or someone else will need to give the pup a potty break.
- Be careful not to abuse the crate. When you are at home and awake, supervise the puppy in person rather than using the crate. Puppies need exercise, mental stimulation and guidance from you in order to grow up healthy and happy. Too much crate time is not humane. Puppies sleep 14 hours a day or so. If the crate time is scheduled so the pup can use it for sleeping, that's ideal. Make the crate a pleasant place to rest. A few safe chew toys and a treat can help the puppy relax and drift off to dreamland. Everyone in the household can sleep better with a crate-trained puppy.
General Principles of Housetraing:
To housetrain a puppy you need 100% supervision. The puppy needs to be in the room with you as much as possible -- never loose in the house until much later. If you see the puppy start to have an accident, you don't punish or yell. You scoop the puppy up and rush them outside, in the hopes of getting her to finish there. When your pup eliminates in a designated area, praise and reward him immediately and play with him. People usually reward their pup for urinating outside only after they have brought him back indoors: This is a mistake because it rewards the pup for coming inside, not for eliminating outside. Instead, keep a few treats in your pocket and hand them out on the spot.
When should you take your puppy out? To start out with, every time you think about it, and then again 15 minutes later! As soon as they come out of the crate take them outside. As soon as they are done eating or drinking, take them outside. Most puppies will have to defecate within 30 minutes of eating.
When they are playing puppies will need to urinate and defecate more often, and they may get so involved in playing that they don’t realize it until it is too late – so take them out frequently when they are playing. Every time you take your puppy out, you are getting another opportunity to reward the puppy for doing the right thing, and to reinforce the behavior you want. For normal activity take them out every 30-60 minutes to start out with.
If the pup does not perform as required, bring him back in and confine him for 10 minutes before trying again. Confining him in a crate or tie him to your belt or a fixed object on a short (4-foot) lead. This restriction is not intended as a punishment but as a deterrent. Pups will not urinate or defecate where they stand unless they have no choice.
When you cannot watch your puppy they need to be in their safe place where they can't make mistakes, and the crate is an excellent choice for this place.
Keep the puppy on a good schedule of food, water and outings so the puppy's body will have the best chance of making it through the night without a bathroom break. If the pup does need a break during the night, make it very low-key with dim lights and soft voices and no playtime.
Unless you must leave your puppy alone for long hours it is not a good idea to use any method that involves teaching the dog to relieve themself in the house. It can confuse them and make complete housetraining take longer. Sometimes this problem is unavoidable if people have to be gone to work when puppies are young.
If you find an accident after the fact, oops, it's not the puppy's fault, it's the owner's fault! You weren't watching the puppy well enough. Never punish for housebreaking accidents. That can create much worse problems, such as a puppy who won't relieve in front of you at all, a puppy who gets defensive out of fear of punishment and starts snapping at people, or a puppy who starts submissively urinating.
Any accidents need to be thoroughly deodorized with either white vinegar (only works while the spot is still wet) or a bacterial enzyme odor eliminator product such as Nature's Miracle. This will neutralize the odor to your nose, but more importantly, to the puppy's much more sensitive nose. If you don't do this properly the scent of past mistakes will signal the dog to come back and use that spot again.
The next step in housetraining is turning your puppy into a well-behaved, well-socialized dog. This is important for all dogs, and should start as soon as your puppy has the appropriate vaccinations. Look for a puppy kindergarten class in your area and arrange to take your puppy when they reach the correct age. This can make a big difference as they mature, and the opportunity for it is over by the age of 6 months. Obedience clubs often have these classes, and you can find these clubs listed by state at www.akc.org.