Housetraining your puppy

The most rapid and successful means of housetraining a puppy is to take advantage of the instinctual desire for cleanliness.  Dogs are born with a natural drive to keep their den clean.  The den is a place of safety, shelter and a place to sleep.  Dens are not spacious.  They are small areas just big enough for the dog to stand up, turn around and lie down.  When a bitch has a litter, she will fastidiously consume all the waste products from her puppies.  As soon as the puppies are old enough to walk, they will leave the nest to urinate and defecate.  Down through the centuries, nature has selected for this behavior because the decreased exposure to disease causing organisms and parasites has meant higher puppy survival.  By gradually teaching the puppy that his den includes the entire interior of your home, we can take advantage of this instinctual behavior to housetrain the puppy.

Confinement Areas

To help get the puppy off to a good start, you need to set up two areas-a long-term confinement area and a short-term confinement area.  The long-term confinement area should be used whenever the puppy will be alone and unsupervised for longer than its natural bladder control period (for an 8-week-old puppy, long-term means anything over an hour).  This area should contain:  a crate (either plastic or wire large enough to fit your dog’s adult size), papers for elimination, water bowl, chew toys (preferably a stuffed rubber Kong toy) and no items which puppy shouldn’t be allowed to get into.  For many households, a puppy-proofed utility room, bathroom, gated kitchen or wire pen enclosure will work just fine.  The crate is left open inside this area.  The short-term confinement area should be used when the puppy is supervised or when someone will be available to take the puppy to the elimination area.  This area can be just the crate or it can be a leash attached to the owner or a spot in the house.  Again, provide a chew toy in this location.  

Elimination Areas

During short-term confinement, someone should be responsible for taking the puppy to the elimination area (every hour on the hour for an 8-week-old puppy).  The puppy should be taken to the area and someone should calmly repeat a catch phrase such as, “Hurry up and be a good boy” or “do your business” until the pup eliminates.  After he does, praise the puppy and give him a chewy food reward.  

If during short-term confinement, you catch him in the act of eliminating, say “outside” in a firm, even tone, take the puppy to the correct area and allow him to finish.  Do not physically punish the pup, do not rub his nose in it and do not get visibly hysterical-the pup will learn to not eliminate when you are around but may still do it when unsupervised.  You risk destroying the bond between you and your puppy when harsh discipline is meted out.  Most puppies respond to positive reinforcement so well that punishment is rarely indicated.  

If you discover that the puppy has had an accident while not being supervised, calmly remove pup from the area.  Clean the area thoroughly with an odor neutralizer, such as Anti-Icky Poo (sold here) and remind yourself to not leave a puppy unsupervised again.  Do not consider punishment at this time.  You should try to prevent all accidents.

Natural Reflexes

It is helpful to remember that puppies have natural reflexes that tell it when it needs to eliminate.  If you recognize these times, housetraining should proceed smoothly.  Puppies will eliminate after eating, drinking, sleeping and playing.   Someone should be responsible for taking puppy to the elimination area after these activities occur.  Feeding the puppy two to three times per day in 20-minute mealtimes will aid in quicker housetraining than puppies with access to food all the time.

As the puppy grows, the bladder can be controlled for longer time periods.  By the time a puppy is 16 weeks old, he can refrain from elimination for four to eight hours. Most puppies are fairly well trained by this time, although accidents may still occur on occasion.

It is important to note that even young puppies (9 weeks old) may have bladder control through a longer stretch at night because while sleeping the reflexes that tell the pup to eliminate are not occurring.  Therefore, do not expect the pup to have the same control through the day that he has at night.

If you are having difficulty getting your puppy to housetrain, do not give up.  Call your veterinarian for additional information.

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