The ABC’s of Housebreaking
How exciting to have a new puppy, the joy of a new puppy can quickly erode if housebreaking is delayed. This article will cover the ABC’s of housebreaking to ensure you end up with a dog who understands where to “potty.”
A… Awareness. To effectively housetrain a puppy the owner and all family members must be aware of the puppy and her needs. A puppy needs to be watched constantly when out of her crate. This means if you are the one “in charge” of watching the pup, the phone rings you are going to be distracted, you must either pick up the pup, transfer watching to another family member, or place the pup in her crate until you can be available to monitor her.
All dogs will give a clue they need to go to the bathroom, it requires our supervision to notice and act quickly on these clues. Sometimes it is as subtle as dropping her head to sniff the carpet, turning in a circle, a change in tail carriage, or trotting behind a piece of furniture. The more you observe your pup the more you will learn about her cues.
Puppies are creatures of habit and these habits can vary from one pup to another. Knowing when your pup generally needs to potty helps. Most puppies go first thing in the morning, after waking from a nap or after eating. It also helps to learn if your puppy does all his “business” all at once or 2-3 times over a short interval.
Housebreaking is as much our learning about our puppy as the puppy learning about the “rules.”
B... Be Positive. Negative reinforcement does not have any place in effective housebreaking. NEVER punish or “rub his nose in it” to teach a puppy the rules. Dogs learn better with positive reinforcement and they retain the lessons longer. If there is a problem with housebreaking it is in the owner’s management of the puppy not the puppy.
It is critical the puppy understands when he has done the right thing. For most dogs, this involves praise and food. When you take the puppy out to use the bathroom use a consistent command, “Go Potty” or “Do your business.” It doesn’t matter what you say but use the same phrase each time. You must take the pup out and stay with him. Do not engage him in play until after he has “done his business.” As he is actively pottying, reward quietly “Good boy; Good, go potty” then offer a treat as soon as he finishes. Do not take him inside for his reward, in that you are not rewarding the potty, but his coming back inside. If you take him inside to treat, he will associate the treat with going inside and not pottying. After your puppy is done using the bathroom, you can play with him outside. Be sure not to immediately take him indoors after he finishes or he will associate going to the bathroom with end of play time. Stay outside with him and play for a few minutes. It helps to keep a small container by the door that you can grab on the way out to reward the pup.
If you miss a cue inside and he starts to go, try and whisk him outside. Grab treats on the way out and follow the procedure outlined above. If he has more to do you can reward him for doing it outside.
C... Confinement and Consistency. When a dog in the wild has a litter, the pups are kept in a small den. As they grow, the mom starts leading them away from the den to use the bathroom. This keeps the den clean. Dogs generally like to go to a “different” area to eliminate. This trait can help with housebreaking in that when you take them away from the Den (the house or crate) they are more likely to go to the bathroom. If the pup has run of the house he can just trot off into another room a “different” place and potty there. It is critical that he be confined to a crate or small area when not directly supervised. If you suspect your puppy needs to potty but is too busy chasing butterflies to get down to business, put him back in his crate. Wait ten minutes then take him directly outside. Sometimes, keeping your puppy on a leash outside can minimize some of the excessive distractions. This new change of area may stimulate him to go. Some people like to use a potty pad to create a separate place within the house to potty. Generally, this is not necessary unless you live in a high rise and access to the outdoors is limited or if housebreaking happens during the most severe winter and you have a tiny puppy. Dogs of all sizes can learn to go outdoors to eliminate without the use of potty pads.
The key to success is consistency. Be proactive, prevent soiling in the house and reward going outside. It is sometimes said that toy breeds are harder to housebreak. This is not true, they are clean little dogs. What often happens is inconsistency on the part of an owner. When you have a 2-pound puppy who wets on the kitchen floor and you can clean up the micro puddle with one paper towel, it does not make as big an impression on you. The solid accidents can be cleaned up with a tissue and flushed, oh well.
Now if that pup was a 20-pound German Shepherd and clean up involved a roll of paper towels and a gas mask, you would be more determined to not let it happen again and more vigilant in watching the pup. Also, people give large breeds less freedom initially in the house because their teeth can destroy more stuff, not as concerned with the 2-pound Yorkie. When a dog has too much free space to wander, there is more opportunity to walk away from the den to potty. If we are just as diligent with our tiny pups as their larger cousins, house breaking would be a cinch.
Remember housebreaking is just the first of many lessons you and your dog will learn together. Life is a journey and with a dog by your side each day can be a joy.
If you have a question or pet-related topic for Dr. Schenck to discuss in an upcoming article, email it to email@example.com.