House-training. It’s a whiz! Easy for me to say now as the struggles are far in the past. But I do recall how overwhelmingly constant the process was. As soon as you accept the fact that they either need to pee or poo every time you blink, and that your job is to see that they have the opportunity to do it outside and not inside and reward generously with a treat you will be well on your way to success. Potty training is often seen as a problem and as is true with so many behaviors that we see as “problems” it is really just a conflict between what dogs do naturally and the rules we want to institute. These rules are usually completely antithetical to a dogs natural instincts. Potty training is a great example of this. Many owners mistakenly think it is “natural” for a dog to “go” outside. When in fact, what is natural is that they go whenever and wherever the spirit moves them. But we have other plans! We want them to go on a regular and predictable basis, at our convenience, outside, preferably in one corner of the yard, with very little regard to their “systems requirements.”
Let’s go back to square one and refer to the principles I outlined in an earlier post.
Three Training Principals
- Dogs do what works. If a behavior is being repeated then it is working — for them, some how, some way. It is not always apparent.
- Practice makes perfect. If they are repeating an obnoxious behavior, then they are getting really good at it.
- Train an incompatible behavior
When it comes to the issue of potty training it is clear how “Dogs do what works” fits in. They have to go, so they do, and thus feel better. And the chances are good that they have gotten to practice doing this in the house or you wouldn’t be reading this. In order to keep it from working for them, we must manage the behavior. Our goal is to make it physically impossible for them to err. Hm. This is called “error-less” or “flawless” learning. Ideally, we would never allow them to err. That is a bit tricky in this case. While the most direct solution, based on the principle that what goes in must come out, would be not giving them anything to eat or drink, I am absolutely not recommending that!
Establish A Schedule
However, you can control access to food and drink thereby increasing the chances of your dog succeeding to go where and when you want him. “Free feeding” or allowing them access to food all day guarantees that that will have to go all day based on the principle of what goes in must come out. If it is going in all day, it follows, with puppies and young dogs, that it must come out all day which is probably not convenient for you. So the first step should be regulating your dogs intake, thus regulating his output. Puppies should be fed 2-3 times a day. Check that you are feeding a quality food. If corn is in the top ingredients I suggest you look for something different. Without getting too rigid here about feeding, which is actually a hotly debated topic at the moment, just keep in mind that corn especially is a filler. It is cheap, it is heavy, and it leads to a lot of poop for you to pick up. Since our goal is for you to whiz right through this potty training business I’d suggest you “eliminate” it.
So great. You have them on a schedule. And you are hoping that elimination will be predictable as well. It is, when you add in several other factors. Firstly, developmentally young puppies are just not able to control their bowels and bladders. Ten to twelve week old puppies will have to go every half hour or hour. If crated , and inactive, they will be able to hold it for longer periods.
They must also go outside also:
1. When they wake from a nap
2. 5-10 minutes after they have had food and water
3. When they have been playing and rough housing
Train An Appropriate Behavior
By taking him outside when he is most likely to go you are preventing him from practicing going in the house, and you are training a new behavior. Every half hour to one hour is best.
When you take him outside to go, have him on a leash and stay with him. Stand still in the area that you prefer him to soil in and be quiet. If you just release him to go wander outside the chances are very good that he will get interested in something out there, explore a bit, come in the house and then go. So it is a much more efficient use of your time to just stand out there with him on a leash, making no eye contact and having no interaction whatsoever until he does his business rather than letting him stroll around enjoying himself, coming in and having an accident and then you cleaning it up. Believe me, I know how annoying this can be when it is raining and 33 degrees outside. But remember that each time your puppy goes insidethe house they are one step closer to making that their habit. It is worth the time and effort. Ideally, we would be so good at our job that they would never have an accident at all inside. The reward for pottying outside is your attention and some play time. Take him to the same area each time is also useful in that he will be building up his scent in that area which will remind him when he is in that general area what he is suppose to do.
When you are in the house with a very young puppy they should either be in your sight, tethered to you or safely crated. If they are running loose and are out of sight, they are most assuredly up to no good. And puppies are exceptionally good at finding things to get into that could seriously hurt them. In your puppies eyes, everything is a potential chew toy. Puppy proofing the house should have been done before you brought your new puppy home ideally. If your puppy is tethered to you then you will become aware when he signals that he has to go. He may do this by sniffing and turning in circles, squatting or momentarily pausing in his exploring and getting a faraway look in his eyes. Whisk him outdoors immediately. If he has an accident then take that rolled up newspaper and beat yourself up, because you goofed. You weren’t watching closely enough.
When accidents occur be sure to clean them up using an enzymatic cleaner. These products breakdown odors and stains more effectively than any other means. By removing the scent completely you are lessening the chance that your puppy will be attracted to that area again.
When pottying outside becomes predictable and routine you may choose to add a cue while he is doing his business such “go potty.”
Photo Credit: -poon flickr