by Marty Smith, DVM and Race Foster, DVM
Drs. Foster & Smith, Inc.
If your dog is going to live inside the home, and in America over 90%
of our pets do, you are going to have to go through the housebreaking
process unless you have grossly different hygienic standards than most.
It isn't hard, it needn't be messy and it needn't be a struggle. It doesn't
have to take a long time. Remember that it is a training issue and you'll
need to have more than casual input. It will take some of your time but
the more involved you get, the shorter that span will be.
Housebreaking Rule Number One: This is The Most Important Rule
- If you don't catch your puppy doing it then don't punish him for it!
Housebreaking Rule Number Two: Praise your puppy when things go
right. Don't let this be a situation where your only action is saying
"No" when they are caught in the midst of using the wrong area.
If they do it right - let them know!
Starting Inside: There are several ways to housebreak a puppy. With the
first, you can put down papers or pretreated pads, encouraging them to
use these areas for going to the bathroom. The pads are scented with a
chemical that attracts the puppy to use them. Whenever you see them starting
into their "pre-potty pattern", such as walking around and sniffing
the floor, you gently pick them up without talking and carry them over
to the papers/pad and then praise them when they go to the bathroom (Rule
When all goes well and they are using the papers consistently, the papers
are either moved closer to the door and/or another set is placed outside.
The transition is made from concentrating the toilet habits to one spot
inside the home to one spot outside the home. Finally the papers inside
are eliminated. The only problem with this method is that for a period
of time it encourages the animal to eliminate inside the home. In our
experience, housebreaking may take longer when this method is used.
Crate Training: The second popular method of housebreaking involves
the use of a crate or cage. The often-stated reasoning is that the animal
is placed in a cage that is just large enough to be a bed. Dogs don't
like to soil their beds for they would be forced to lay in the mess. It
works and while in these confines most pups will control their bladder
and bowels for a longer time than we would expect. Young puppies, at 8
or 9 weeks of age can often last for 7 or 8 hours, however we would never
recommend leaving them unattended in a crate for that long in most circumstances.
During housebreaking, whenever the puppy is inside the home but can't
be watched, it is placed in the crate. This might be while you are cooking,
reading to the children or even away from the home. The last thing you
do before you put the puppy in the crate is take him outside to his favorite
spot. The first thing you do when you take the animal out of the crate
is another trip outside. No food or water goes in the crate, just a blanket
and maybe a chew toy to occupy his time. Overnight is definitely crate
time. As your faith in the puppy grows, leave him out for longer and longer
periods of time.
Most people do not recognize an important advantage of crate training.
It does more than just stop the animal from messing in the house. It also
teaches the puppy something very important. The puppy learns that when
the urge to urinate or defecate occurs, it can hold it. Just because the
pup feels like it needs to relieve itself, the pup learns that it doesn't
have to. This is thought to be the main reason why puppies that have gone
through crate training have fewer mistakes later on.
Make sure you buy the right size cage. You want one that has the floor
space that provides just enough for the puppy to lie down. But cages are
useful throughout a dog's life and it would be nice if you didn't have
to keep buying more as it grows. That isn't necessary. Simply purchase
one that will be big enough for it as an adult but choose a model that
comes with or has a divider panel as an accessory. With these you can
adjust the position of the panel so that the space inside the cage available
to the pet can grow as it does.
Using too large of a crate can often cause long term problems. The puppy
will go to one corner of the cage and urinate or defecate. After a while,
it will then run through it tracking it all over the cage. If this is
allowed to continue, the instincts about not soiling its bed or laying
in the mess will be forgotten and the puppy will soon be doing it every
day when placed in the crate. Now a housebreaking method has turned into
a behavioral problem as the puppy's newly formed hygienic habits becomes
its way of life.
Constant Supervision: The last method involves no papers, pads
or crates. Rather you chose to spend all the time necessary with the puppy.
This works very well for people who live and work in their homes, retired
persons or in situations where the owners are always with the animal.
Whenever they see the puppy doing its "pre-potty pattern" they
hustle it outside. It is important that the dog is watched at all times
and that no mistakes are allowed to occur. This method has less room for
error as there is nothing like a cage to restrict the animal's urges nor
is there a place for it to relieve such as the papers or pad. When she
is taken outside, watch the puppy closely and as soon as all goes as planned,
she should be praised and then brought back inside immediately. You want
the dog to understand that the purpose for going outside was to go to
the bathroom. Don't start playing, make it a trip for a reason. Verbal
communications help this method and we'll discuss them soon. For those
with the time, this is a good method. We still recommend having a crate
available as a backup when the owners have to be away from the animal.
Specific verbal communications will also help the two of you understand
what's desired. It's an excellent idea to always use a word when it's
time to head to the bathroom. We like "Outside?". Remember that
whenever you use a verbal command or signal, it's important that everybody
in the family always uses the same word in the same way. Think of the
word "Outside" in this situation not only as a question you're
asking the pup but also as an indication that you want to go there. Some
dogs may get into the habit of going to the door when they want to go
outside. This is great when it happens but it isn't as common as some
believe. We've found that it is better to use verbal commands to initiate
this sort of activity rather than waiting for the puppy to learn this
behavior on its own. It seems like your consistent use of a word or phrase
like "Outside" will cause the puppy to come to you rather than
the door when he needs to go outside. The pup more quickly sees you as
part of the overall activity of getting it where he needs to go. We believe
this is much better.
Once outside we try to encourage them to get on with the act in question.
We use the phrase "Do your numbers". This is probably a hold
over from our own parenthood and hearing children use the "Number
1" or "Number 2" phrases. Others use "Do It"
, "Potty" or "Hurry Up". As soon as they eliminate
it is very important to praise then with a "Good Dog" and then
come back inside immediately. Again, make this trip that started outside
with a specific word "Outside" be for a purpose. If we are taking
the pup out to play with a ball or go for a walk we won't use this word
even if we know they will eliminate while we are outside.
an "accident" happens
One of the key issues in housebreaking is to follow Rule Number One: If
you don't catch your puppy doing it then don't punish it for it! We don't
care what someone else may tell you or what you read, if you find a mess
that was left when you weren't there, clean it up and forget it.
Discipline won't help because unless you catch the puppy in the act, it
will have no idea what the scolding is for. Your puppy has urinated and
defecated hundreds of times before it met you. Mom or the breeder always
cleaned it up. Nobody made a fuss before and they will not put the punishment,
regardless of its form, together with something they've done without incident
numerous times before. Especially if they did it more than 30 seconds
ago! Puppies are just like our children. Unless something was really fun
(and a repetitious act like going to the bathroom isn't), they are not
thinking about what they did in the past. They're thinking about what
they can do in the future. At this point in their life a puppy's memory
is very, very poor.
Anyway, let's face it. It was your fault not the pup's. If you had been
watching, you would have noticed the puppy suddenly walking or running
around in circles with his nose down smelling for the perfect spot to
go to the bathroom. It's just as consistent as the taxi cab driver behind
you honking immediately when the light changes. The puppy will show the
same behavior every time. It may vary a little from pup to pup but they
always show their own "pre-potty pattern" before the act.
The same should be said as to your first reaction when you actually catch
them in the act of urinating or defecating. It's your fault, you weren't
watching for or paying attention to the signals. Don't get mad. Quickly,
but calmly pick them up and without raising your voice sternly say "No".
Carry them outside or to their papers. It will help to push their tail
down while you are carrying them as this will often help them to stop
urinating or defecating any more.
They're going to be excited when you get them outside or to the papers,
but stay there with them a while and if they finish the job reward them
with simple praise like "Good Dog".
Housebreaking Rule Number One: If you don't catch
your puppy doing it then don't punish him for it!
In the disciplining of dogs, just like in physics, every action has a
reaction and for training purposes these may not be beneficial! If you
overreact and severely scold or scare the heck out of a puppy for making
what is in your mind a mistake, your training is probably going backwards.
With housebreaking this is especially difficult for them to understand
as they are carrying out a natural body function. Carried one step farther
is the idea of rubbing a puppy's nose into a mistake it made, whether
you caught it or not. In the limits of a puppy's intelligence, please
explain to us the difference of rubbing its nose in its mess it left in
your kitchen an hour ago versus the one the neighbor's dog left in the
park two weeks ago. If the dog were smart enough to figure all of this
out, the only logical choice would be to permanently quit going to the
bathroom. Punishment rarely speeds up housebreaking. Often it makes the
dog nervous or afraid every time it needs to go to the bathroom.
We'll give you a perfect example of how this kind of disciplining causes
long-term problems between a dog and its owner. A client makes an appointment
to discuss a housebreaking problem. They're hoping that on physical exam
or through some testing we can find a medical reason for the animal's
inability to successfully make it through housebreaking. They readily
admit their frustration with the dog. The fecal and urine tests reveal
no problem. We assumed that would be the case and have no intention of
charging for those services. In the room the pup is showing a lot more
interest in the veterinarian than it is in its owners. The animal's eyes
are almost saying, "Please kidnap me from them". When the owner
reaches down to pet the dog on its head, the pup reflexively closes its
eyes and turns its head to the side. The dog reacts as if it were going
to be hit. What this tells us is that the dog has been punished for making
messes in the owners' absence. During this punishment the puppy is not,
and we repeat, the puppy is not thinking about what it might have done
two hours ago. It isn't thinking that it shouldn't make messes in the
house. The animal isn't even thinking about the messes.
The classic line that usually goes with this scenario then comes up "When
we get home we know he has made a mess because he always sulks or runs
and hides"! The dog isn't thinking about some mistake it may have
made. Rather, the pup has learned that when the people first get home,
for some reason it has yet to figure out, they are always in a bad mood
and it gets punished. The puppy has decided that maybe it would be better
to try to avoid them for awhile so it does try to hide. In this particular
case, discipline, misunderstood by the puppy, has caused it to fear its
owners and this will probably affect their relationship throughout the
life of the dog.
If you want housebreaking to go quickly, regardless of the method you
use, spend as much time as possible with your puppy. In an exam room,
one of us once listened to a client complain about how he had to take
some time off from work for his own mental health and also, but unrelated,
how the puppy wasn't doing too well in the housebreaking department. For
us this statement was just too good to be true. It was the perfect set-up
for our pitch. This gentleman, a bachelor, truly loved his puppy. We saw
them together everywhere. Still the problem was that he worked in a downtown
office and the pup was home. His work allowed him to get home frequently
but not always on a consistent schedule. There would be accidents when
he was gone and sometimes he was gone longer than the abilities or the
attention span of the puppy.
The solution was easy. We simply suggested his health and the puppy's
training would both do better if he stayed home for a week or so. It worked.
Under the man's watchful eye, he was always there at the time when he
was needed and in less than seven days the ten-week-old puppy was trained.
We aren't saying there was never another accident, but they were few and
far between. In the end the best of all worlds occurred. The man realized
his dog could be trusted and thereafter they spent their days together
at the man's office.
The feeding schedule you use can help or hinder housebreaking. You'll
soon notice that puppies will need to go outside soon after they wake
and also within 30 to 40 minutes after eating. Be consistent when you
feed the animal so you can predict when they need to relieve themselves.
Plan your trips outside around these patterns.
All of this may seem simple and it really is. The keys are that it will
take time and you must be consistent. And, of course, you must never lose
your temper or even get excited.
or submissive urination
Puppies may spontaneously urinate when excited. This may be when they
first see you, at meeting a new dog or when they are scared. It is often
referred to as submissive or excitement urination . Do not discipline
the puppy for this, as it is something they cannot control. Simply ignore
it and clean up the mess. If you don't overreact, they will usually outgrow
this between 4 and 7 months of age.
Your new puppy is home and you've started the housebreaking process. This
is just as much a part of training as the "Come" and "Stay"
commands. However, mistakes that occur with housebreaking can cause more
problems between you and your pet than those encountered with any other
form of training. Be patient and stay calm.
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