How to Potty Train a Puppy
I adore animals—especially dogs, so I've done my share of potty training. Potty training or housebreaking a puppy isn't as difficult as you might think. However it does take patience, consistency, and understanding. Puppies are like toddlers—their bladders are small, their attention span is short, and teaching them anything effectively requires an effort on your part to be diligent and consistent.
Your first step is to research and choose a solid training method that is reasonable for you to accomplish given your lifestyle and capacity. Additionally, of course, it has to be a method that is healthy and humane for the pup. When choosing a method, be prepared to stick with it and be consistent, otherwise you will only confuse your pet. You may find that several methods work well together, such as using a combination of crate training, clicker training, and using housebreaking pads which are three very popular training methods that will be discussed below in this article.
Housebreaking means teaching a dog to relieve himself either outside or in a specific location within the house. First, consider the breed you're getting, and decide where you want him to relieve himself. Small breeds do very well with an outdoor or indoor program using pads.
- A housebreaking pad (or puppy pad, piddle pad, wee pad, pee pad, pooch pad) is a rectangular absorbent pad with a plastic backing that you can put anywhere in your home.
- You can buy disposable or washable pads that can be reused, or even make your own. For example, a vinyl tablecloth works great as long as you cover it with something absorbent like newspaper. You can cut the tablecloth into any size you want and cover it with several layers of newspaper. After it's soiled, throw the newspaper away, clean the pad off, and lay out new layers of clean newspaper. Disposable pads are by far the most convenient, and you can generally buy them for a reasonable price.
- Pads are normally used for training purposes or for elderly incontinent dogs. However, if your new pet is a small breed, like a Chihuahua or a Pomeranian, then you can train him to use a pad and continue to use one throughout his adult life.
- This is probably the easiest method:
- Simply choose a location in your house to place the pad.
- When you see signs that he needs to go relieve himself, like sniffing and walking around in a circle, then pick him up and place him on the pad.
- When he's finished, reward him. He'll get the idea very quickly to go to the pad to do his business, then you can start moving the pad closer to an exit door leading to the outside area where you want him to eventually end up relieving himself.
- Once the pad has been moved to your exit door, watch for times when he goes in that direction and follow him. Instead of letting him go on the pad, open the door and take him outside and praise him for doing his business outside. Soon, he will have the idea and start barking for you to open the door so he can go out.
The only problem sometimes associated with using pads is that the dog is trained to know that it's okay to relieve himself in the house, so you might end up with accidents in unwanted locations, like on throw rugs or anything that resembles a piddle pad. However, I suspect that this is only true if you prolong the use of pads before making the switch to outdoors exclusively. Most puppies are very easy to train. Once they understand how to use a pad, then they are ready to start learning how to relieve themselves outside, and this can happen within a matter of days.
Using a Crate
Crate training involves purchasing a crate and putting your pup in it when you can not supervise him, and at night when you sleep.
- This method works well because a dog generally will not soil the area where he sleeps.
- A crate will also also prevent them from getting into trouble and possibly injuring themselves when you're not available to watch over them.
- What's also great is that the puppy will quickly pick up on the fact that he can hold his bladder and that it's not necessary to go every single time the urge hits.
Some things to keep in mind if you're opting for this method:
- The crate should be large enough for the puppy to be comfortable sleeping, but not so large that he can soil one end and go sleep on the other end. This defeats the whole purpose. In fact, if by some rare chance he soils it, that might actually indicate you've left him in there too long. This could become a habit, so don't leave him in there for long periods of time until he can gain better control of the urge to relieve himself.
- Put something soft, like a small blanket, in the crate for the pop to sleep on. You can put a chew toy in there as well, for times during the day when you can't supervise him.
- The crate is never used for punishment. The idea is to use it when you're not around. It should represent a safe place where the puppy wants to go.
Clicker training is used for many different purposes, such as housebreaking, stopping excessive barking, controlling aggression, and promoting positive behavior in general. The clicker is a small device that makes a distinctive clicking sound when you press the button. The sound followed by positive reinforcement lets them know they've done something good.
This method is different from using verbal commands, because it always makes the same exact sound and has the same meaning each time you use it. Unlike your voice, which can vary in tone and have different meanings.
- You can use the clicker during the housebreaking process to let your puppy know when he's done his business in the right place.
- Make sure you follow up immediately with positive reinforcement— your choice of either a small treat or affection.
If you're consistent in using a clicker to indicate all good things, then housebreaking should be a snap.
Using a Clicker for Potty Training
Important Things to Keep in Mind
- One of the most important aspects of potty training is making sure that you or someone in your family has time to spend training the new pup. This can simply mean having a long weekend at home to get things started.
- Know that a puppy will not have the ability to hold their bladder for extended periods of time. Supposedly, at about 8 to 9 weeks old, most can hold out for 7 to 8 hours. However, I've seen it take a little longer for one to control the bladder for that long. No adult dog should have to hold their bladder over 10 hours—ever.
- Understand predictable pee times. There are specific times when a puppy will need to go: after waking from a nap, about 30 minutes after eating, and after playing. So train yourself to automatically take the puppy where you want him to relieve himself at those times.
- Establish a schedule for times to take them out (from morning to night) and follow it relentlessly until they are house-trained.
- Always praise him for doing his business in the right place.
- Never punish a dog over an accident—that will only make him afraid of you. Clean it up and watch him more closely. If you catch him having an accident, gently pick him up (I usually take the accident with me if I can) and put him (and the accident) where you want him to relieve himself.
Puppies need love, understanding, and patience. They should never be left unsupervised, and if you don't want to use a crate, then puppy-proof one room or area of your house so that there will be a safe place for him to be left alone when you can't watch after him. Put a housebreaking pad in the area with him if you'll be away for long period of time.
If you find that all of your housebreaking efforts aren't working, and your puppy can't seem to hold his bladder or bowel movements for increasingly longer periods of time, then take him to the vet because there could be a medical problem.