Ahhh house training! Much like potty training for humans, there are many how-to’s and how-not-to’s, along with confusion, frustration, and the hourly temptation to give up. First of all, don’t give up! You and your puppy (or adult dog) can do this! There are going to be successes and failures and just when you think he’s getting the hang of it, he’ll regress again, just to stun you and have a day with no accidents. It’s all part of the process. Rome wasn’t built in a day….nor was a puppy house trained in a day. (Note : Throughout this article I refer to “puppies”, but the same remains true for adult dogs that you have just brought into your home. I also refer to the dogs as males in this article, but the same remains true for females.)
What can you do to set you and your puppy up for success?
- Have a schedule. Puppies have to go to the bathroom at pretty predictable times. Take your puppy outside as soon as you wake up, as soon as you get home, after meals, after nap time, and of course before bed. Taking your puppy out too often will be far more beneficial than not often enough.
- Watch for the signs. Your puppy is likely being quite clear about his intentions to find somewhere to use as a toilet, but if you’re not aware of his signals, you won’t be prepared to get him to an appropriate potty area. Watch for sniffing, circling, squatting, and general wandering throughout the house. This brings us to point number 3…
- Watch him like a hawk. While your puppy is still learning where is and is not an okay place to use as a toilet, you must be watching him at all times. When you’re unable to, make sure he’s enclosed in an area with a puppy pad (in an x-pen or gated in a bathroom or boot room is common). Let’s be honest…eliminating feels good! Your puppy has an uncomfortable sensation to urinate or defecate and doing so makes the sensation go away and therefore your puppy is being self-reinforced by the elimination of this uncomfortable feeling! He doesn’t know you have a preference between him peeing outside on the grass or on your $500 area rug…he just knows it feels good to go and gets rid of the uncomfortable feeling.
- Clean well. Your puppy will be enticed to return to an area that smells like pee or poo, so if he does have an accident, clean it well with an enzymatic cleaner. Make sure to use the enzymatic cleaner prior to any other soaps or carpet shampoos, as these can deactivate the enzymes.
- Don’t sweat it. If you find an accident or catch your puppy in the act, take a deep breath, grab some enzymatic cleaner and get on with your day. Yelling, rubbing your puppy’s nose in the accident or otherwise punishing the puppy for acting on his natural urges will not help and will only cause your puppy to fear you and potentially become more secretive about his pottying habits (“Mom gets mad when I pee so I better do it when she’s not looking!”).
- Do the math. A general guideline is that a puppy can hold their bladder for one hour for each month of their age. So if your puppy is 2 months old, they can be expected to hold it for 2 hours. Keep this in mind when creating expectations for your puppy.
- Consider a vet visit if you’re continuing to struggle. Sometimes there is a medical reason for why your puppy is struggling with housetraining.