Maryland Dog Mag: House-Training Your Dog

A guide to house-training your puppy or dog.

House-training is an important step to living successfully with a dog. More than likely, it was the first thing you thought about when you planned to bring home your new puppy. It may also have been the thing that worried you the most. The good news is that house-breaking can be very easy if you follow some consistent guidelines. It’s important to remember that puppies do not house train themselves and using the house as their toilet is not something that they will outgrow. Training is a must and will require a commitment and lots of patience. It’s your job to make things easy so that your puppy can learn and succeed!

Mistake-free learning

By far, the simplest way to house-train a puppy is to use mistake-free learning, meaning that you never let him make a mistake by using the house as a toilet. Diligently supervise your puppy and watch for any indication that a potty incident is imminent and then quickly get him outside. If you can’t watch him, then you must crate him, even if it’s just for a minute. Remember, this isn’t punishment – it’s school. You can further prevent house-training accidents by making sure that your puppy is taken outside frequently. Your young puppy will need to go out every time he comes out of the crate, every time he wakes from a nap, every 10 – 15 minutes during playtime, approximately 20 minutes
after eating or drinking and additionally, every hour on the hour! That is a lot of ‘outside’ time, but the more opportunities your puppy has to go outside, the more opportunities you have to build good habits.

Feed your puppy on a regular schedule. Don’t leave food out all day and keep a journal of when he eats and drinks, and when he makes potty. This will help you know when he’ll likely have to go. Here’s a hint: young puppies eliminate very frequently. The number of times that they need to eliminate, however, will decrease as they get older. In addition to supervising and preventing mistakes, there are three fundamental things your puppy must learn for potty training to be successful. They must learn where to go, how to hold it, and most importantly, where not to go.

Teaching where to go

When you take him out, bring him to the spot where you want him to go. Stay there and be patient. Some puppies have no idea why you have them out there! When he finally does go, praise him and reinforce that good behavior with a treat. You can then take him on a walk. The walk can be a reward after he has done what you need him to do. By doing this, you ensure that when you take your puppy out his first order of business will always be to go potty. This is a great time-saver for the future. If he doesn’t go, take him back in the house, put him back in his crate, and wait 5 minutes before trying again. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that he probably didn’t have to go. If he hasn’t gone and you give him unsupervised freedom, you are sure to be cleaning up an accident in the near future.

Teaching holding it

Gradually, as your puppy has been successful in his house training, you can begin decreasing the frequency of your trips outside. Instead of taking him out every hour on the hour, try an hour and 15 minutes, and then an hour and a half. While you are increasing the interval, make sure to supervise your puppy a little more closely or crate him during the increased time.

As a rule of thumb for crate confinement, puppies can “hold it” one hour for every month of age, plus one. For example, a three-month-old puppy could likely stay in a crate for four hours. Remember, that is a rule of thumb, not a guarantee. Those numbers are for when they are confined and most likely sleeping. They cannot hold it that long when they are awake and active. Some puppies, especially the smaller breeds, won’t be able to physically hold it that long. Young puppies often cannot “hold it” all night, so set your alarm!

Teaching where not to go

Just as they need to learn where to go, puppies need to learn where to go, puppies need to learn what places are off-limits.
Just as he is about to make a mistake, make a sound loud enough to startle him but not scare him, and quickly take him outside. Once he goes outside, make a fuss praising him and be sure to reward him.

If you are supervising your puppy properly, then catching him in the act shouldn’t be a problem. If you didn’t see it happen, then you need to assess your supervision plan.
Don’t try to correct him when you discover the accident. After-the-fact reprimands make things worse!

Whether you are house-training a puppy or an older dog that just joined your family, the rules are the same. Your puppy or dog cannot have the run of the house until he has had no accidents for several months. Period. Use baby gates and crates to help confine him to where you can keep your eyes on him. If you haven’t been doing this already, the good news is, it isn’t too late! Start now!
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