House Training – The Puppy Papers

I find that learning Canine behavior is much easier if you think like a dog…or at least know how a dog thinks. With one basic canine concept anybody can easily house train a dog. That is, dogs don’t want to soil where they sleep and spend their time. Now, it is pretty obvious that they don’t recognize this until they are at least 8 weeks of age. But, if you give them enough chances to eliminate away from their “den” they will oblige you. The problem is that we usually aren’t as available as they need us to be.

This is where crate training comes in. By confining a puppy to a small area they will instinctively hold their waste. If they can’t get away from it they will learn to hold it. It is our obligation to make sure they get a chance outside of the crate often enough. Before 8 weeks they need to go out as often as every 2 hours. By 12 weeks they might last 4 hours. You’ll have to wait another 4 weeks before their kidneys mature enough to hold it for 6 hours. If you are having trouble with urination try withholding water for a couple hours before they go to bed and they may get through the night. Don’t leave water in the cage until they can be trusted and are at least 16 weeks old.

You don’t necessarily have to use a dog crate. The concept is to confine them to a small enough space that they can’t get away from the excrement. A small pen made between furniture etc. will suffice. Growing puppies that mess their crates need a smaller crate. Try putting a box in the crate to reduce the inside space and remove it when they grow up. During the early months when they really can’t hold on too long it can work to bring them to work in a crate. If the weather is right (not too cold or hot) you could even leave them in the car with the windows open. It is easy to get them out at the requisite time since it only takes a minute. Remember that they probably have to go when you get there. So, get them right outside. Every time they eliminate outside it is reinforced. Ditto for messing in the house. We want success.

The big challenge comes when they are at large in the house. To the new puppy it is one big poop pad except for where they sleep. So, be careful about letting them roam. Did you ever notice how they soil the oddest places…like where they never spend time? You find the bomb in the spare bedroom when getting it set up for guests. Over time the entire house will be their den. Until they learn this, keep them confined to common areas they’ll more easily recognize as home turf. If the puppy has just eliminated (especially both #1 and #2) you can relax and let them roam a bit. Knowing that they are empty makes it easier to let your guard down so the puppy can explore without soiling. This is how the house becomes “theirs”.

With hard-to-house-train puppies try keeping them on a leash while in the house. Attach the leash to the couch you are sitting on or the table you are at. Keep it affixed to your belt and have the puppy move around the house with you. The simple act of being confined by the leash will give them second thoughts about soiling. The same concept is in play here as they can’t get away from the mess. But, if you catch them in the act you should offer a correction like a loud bark or “No”. Then whisk them outside and praise them to reinforce the idea. There is no need to “rub their nose in it”. But, letting them get the smell and pairing that smell with going outside is worth the energy.

A fun way for a dog to let you know it needs to go out is with a bell. Try attaching a bell next to the door(s). Ring it and open the door. Usher the puppy out at first. Play near the bell and whenever it bumps into the bell open the door and let them out. After a while they learn to ring it when they want to go out. It will be fun for them to ask and receive. Once they get the concept it steam rolls.

Some breeds are harder to house train then others. The smaller breeds are more difficult. It is not uncommon to see Cocker Spaniels who cannot be trained. A big part of the problem is that many of these smaller breeds can be dominant aggressive. They are actually soiling the house in an effort to establish their turf. This can be a clash with another dog or even a family member. Many owners of small breed dogs actually give them the message that they are in charge. When they treat them to the contrary they get confused and try to set you straight.

With aging some dogs seem to forget their house training. Often this is preceded by trouble getting around due to arthritis or old injuries. Their puppy house training was a long time ago. Let’s just say that they are not very concerned about the consequences anymore. So, we may need to do a refresher course with our geriatric canine pals. Once again simply confining them to a smaller area for a while should get them back on track. A trip to the Vet for some arthritis medicine may help as well.

A well house trained adult dog that starts house soiling may be trying to tell you something. They may have a medical condition that is causing the problem. If the stools are loose or the urine bloody you can’t blame your pet. They need your help to get them to your Vet. How long has it been since you let them out? Did they do their business? Make sure that you are not too blame.

The truth is that Puppies really don’t want to soil their den. One problem is that we live in much bigger dens than they would. With vigilance and care we can easily teach them what goes where and when. Simple. Right?

Dr. Mangini graduated from The Purdue School of Veterinary Medicine in 1984 with high honors (Cum Laude) and has been practicing veterinary medicine, surgery and behavior for 28 years.

Chris Mangini, DVM
Woodstock Veterinary Animal Care