How to House-Train Your Puppy

Originally posted in 2008 on Ezine Articles. By Niki Tudge

DogSmith Puppy OneThere is no skill more important for your new puppy to master than reliable house-training. If you commit to a regular schedule, be patient and follow this training program you will have a happy, confident and ‘accident’ free puppy in no time.

Effectively house-training your dog is a three part process comprised of 1) managing the environment, 2) rewarding the correct behavior and 3) interrupting and redirecting unwanted behavior to prevent it happening again:

1) Managing the Environment -
In the beginning you will have to manage your puppy’s routine and restrict unsupervised time in the house to prevent any accidents. Restricting the puppy so it has no unsupervised freedom in the house is critical so your puppy does not develop a habit of going to the bathroom inside the house. If they do begin to relieve themselves inside you can interrupt this by getting their attention and quickly taking them outside to their toilet spot where the appropriate behavior (going to the bathroom) can be rewarded.

There are several ways to restrict your puppy’s indoor freedom.
a) You can put them on a leash tied to your belt as you move about doing your chores,
b) keep them in their crate for short periods (the length of time will depend on their age) or
c) designate a controlled area in the kitchen or bathroom that is equipped with newspaper or puppy pads if you have to be away from your puppy longer than they can be left on their own in their crate.
You do not want to leave them in a crate for so long that they have an accident in their bed and never use pads or newspapers inside the crate. This can set back house-training and crate training.

2) Rewarding the Behavior -
You will teach your dog where and when to go to the bathroom and reinforce this behavior with tasty treats and lots of affection. Dogs respond well to training. If a behavior is rewarded, in this case going to the bathroom outside, then the rewarded behavior will strengthen. There are some important points to note under this heading.
• Always take your puppy outside to a designated bathroom area, if necessary use a leash. Walk them around in a ten foot area. Do not leave this area until they have been to the bathroom. The first couple of times you do this prepare for a long wait.
• As soon as your puppy begins to relieve themselves praise them, as they finish give them a high value reward, not just a piece of their kibble but something that has a huge value, a piece of meat or a small piece of cheese.
• After they have completed their bathroom task, let them off leash to play. Stay outside with them for at least five minutes playing with them.
In the puppy’s mind this play is reward for going to the bathroom in the right area. You are there to ensure the tasty treat reward is delivered and as an extra reward they get some off leash play time. If you take your puppy straight back inside after they finish their bathroom task then they will prolong the time it takes to go to the bathroom to ensure they get their play time. You don’t want to let the process of them going to the bathroom to signal the end of playtime. Also, don’t let your puppy off leash until after they have finished with relieving themselves. If you let your puppy play off leash before they have gone to the bathroom you will not necessarily be able to verify they have not finished nor will you be able to reinforce the bathroom behavior at the right time. And sometimes puppies become so engrossed with playing; they forget to take care of “business”. This is why many people say “we were outside for 20 minutes playing and the minute we got back inside the puppy went to the bathroom”. When puppies play they forget to go to the bathroom.
If you do not have access to a fenced yard and you have to walk your dog for exercise or then it is important to follow this routine:
• Take your puppy to the designated bathroom area, as close to the house as possible
• After they have been rewarded for their bathroom habit then take them on their walk. The walk becomes a powerful reinforcement for them to go to the bathroom in the right location
• Don’t teach your dog that going for a walk ends if they go to the bathroom. If you walk your dog but take them home as soon as they have finished their bathroom task they may refuse to go to the bathroom while you are walking with them to avoid the walk ending.

3) Interrupting and Redirecting -
When you have managed your puppy’s bathroom process and built a solid history of rewarding your dog for ‘going’ when and where you want, then you can, if done fairly, interrupt and redirect any behavior that looks like it is a prelude (intense sniffing, squatting, circling etc.) to your puppy wanting or needing to go to the bathroom inside. Since you are managing your puppy’s environment and limiting their indoor freedom you should be able to pre-empt potential accidents. If you dog suddenly begins sniffing the floor and circling in one area he may be getting ready to relieve himself. Immediately interrupt this behavior by saying ‘no’ in a firm calm voice and quickly taking your dog outside to its toilet area.

• Keep the following points in mind while training your puppy – If your puppy does have an accident inside never punish it. Dogs are not capable of feeling guilty, nor do they do particular things to be nasty. What they do recognize is that people can be dangerous. If you punish your dog for going to the bathroom inside they will anticipate the punishment if they have any future accidents in the house. By punishing your dog for inside accidents you are teaching the dog that it is dangerous to go to the bathroom inside the house where you can see them. Your dog soon learns to sneak off and go to the bathroom in another room away from you. Remember, punishing your dog does not teach them the desired behavior (doing their business outside).
• As the dog owner you must make sure your puppy goes to the bathroom outside, and you must manage the environment inside until your dog is house-trained. If your dog is already using the carpet, or a hard surface or a crate to go to the bathroom inside then your commitment and compliance to the correct house-training steps will pay off with big dividends and a lifetime of good habits will follow.
• Puppies only have accidents inside the house because we allow them too. We are either not supervising them properly or we are not tracking their personal bathroom habits in terms of how long after they eat and drink they need to go to the bathroom. If your dog has an accident in the house, roll up a newspaper and bonk yourself over the head and say bad owner and then recommit to The DogSmith House Training Plan. Use the following suggested plan to house-train your dog.  Click on the House Training E-Book link.