Puppies are wonderful. They are cute, cuddly and adorable. They lick your face and tug at your shoes and look upon life as one big game. They are the greatest example of living for the moment.
We have much to learn from them. Bringing a puppy into your home can be one of your most enjoyable and memorable experiences. It can also turn your life upside down and be one of the most stressful events you will experience. They often bark and whine and make as much noise as a newborn baby can, if not more. When finished licking your face, they proceed to playfully, but painfully, bite your hands with their razor-sharp puppy teeth. They can find your brand-new Nikes, among numerous other household targets, and quickly convert them from your gym shoes to your gardening shoes. Worst of all, they show no hesitation in using your living room rug, and any other convenient location, as their personal bathroom. Still, few things can bring a smile to someone’s face as quickly as a puppy.
With proper obedience training started at an early age, many of these pitfalls are dramatically lessened. It is next to impossible to stay angry at a puppy for long. Puppies are wonderful.
We will not be bold enough to try to cover all the many facets of training a new pup. Instead, we will concentrate on what I believe to be the best way to housetrain a pup, or rather, how to get them to treat your living room as a living room and the backyard as their bathroom.
Dogs are den animals by nature. In the wild they live in packs and dens serve as their homes for shelter and warmth. In a pack it is socially unacceptable for a dog to urinate or defecate in their den. So it should be with our homes. We are not a big advocate of paper training. By going on paper, we feel this essentially teaches a puppy to go to the bathroom in the house and not outside, the way they should. We believe the safest, most humane and efficient way to house train a puppy is through crate training. If done properly, a crate or kennel is not just a cage for a pup, but rather can become their den within your home. It is not just a place of confinement, but also a place they learn to love.
We first recommend buying an appropriately sized kennel for your pups size when full-grown or be prepared to buy another larger crate later during their first year. It should be large enough for them to stand up and turn around in. They should be able to stretch out their legs fully and sleep comfortably. You should put a pillow, blanket or towel in the crate that you do not mind being chewed on or soiled. The crate should be placed in a common area where family members plan on spending a lot of time with the pup, such as the kitchen or living room, and ideally as close to an outside door as possible.
The most important aspect of house training a pup is positive reinforcement. Take your puppy outside when they are done eating, sleeping and playing. These are the times when they are most likely to have to urinate or defecate. Ideally you want to take them outside through the same door each time. Lead them or carry them to an acceptable area in your yard. As soon as they go to the bathroom, give them verbal praise very enthusiastically by telling them they are a good boy/girl. Fuss over them and let them know what they did was great and occasionally give them a dog treat.
If you catch them in the act of going to the bathroom inside, interrupt what they are doing by clapping or loudly saying their name, scoop them up and take them outside as quickly as possible. Ideally they will finish outside what they were doing inside. In no way, shape or form do I advocate scolding or striking a puppy or sticking their nose in what they did, inside. This is negative reinforcement and can lead to other behavioral problems. If anything, we should hit ourselves over the head with a newspaper for not paying closer attention to our puppy. Dogs love to be praised and rewarded. They will quickly realize that when they go to the bathroom outside they are rewarded and when they go inside they are not. They will naturally start to ask to go outside through the same door that you have been using. How they tell you this will vary, but often they will go and sit, whine and/or scratch at the door. When they get to this point you can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
An additional point in regard to feeding is that puppies should be fed on a schedule 3 times a day and not free choice. They should have access to their food for about 5-10 minutes and then the food should be removed. They will learn that this is their opportunity to eat and take advantage of it. As the stomach starts to digest their meal the colon is stimulated to contract and they are more likely to have to defecate after they eat. This obviously aids house training. As their feedings are placed on a schedule, so are their bowel movements.
Keeping a pup in their crate when they cannot be supervised greatly decreases the chances of having accidents inside. They start to bond with their crate as their den and realize that if they go to the bathroom in their crate they have to live with it until you return home. Most puppies will cry and whine when they are first put in their crates, but once they get accustomed to it the crying will decrease dramatically. Also, sporadically leaving treats in the crate that the pup will later find will help teach them that their crate really is a good place after all.
Every puppy is different in how quickly they will become house trained. Most pups enter their new home around 8 weeks of age. With effective positive reinforcement and crate training they can often be house trained by 10 to 12 weeks of age. The full process can take until 16 weeks of age. In our opinion large breeds house train faster than small breed dogs. We need to be patient and remind ourselves that, just like children, puppies will make mistakes and have set backs. With positive reinforcement and regular obedience training we will be able to spend more time playing with our new pups and less time cleaning up after them.