House breaking a puppy is one of the most crucial ways in which you have to raise a dog. Dogs have to go to the toilet, that can’t be helped, but where they go to the toilet can (and should) be controlled.
A lot of people choose to have their dog do their business in the garden. It is important from the start to make sure that your puppy knows that going to the toilet in the garden as doing the right thing.
Toilet trigger phrase
You need to take your puppy outside every few hours so that they can take care of their business. When he or she does, you should repeat a phrase to them, while they are in the process. Repeat this phrase, and then praise the puppy when it has finished, and soon it will associate going to the toilet with that phrase.
This trigger phrase can then be used to tell your dog when it is okay to go to the bathroom, and be used to hurry him or her up so that you don’t have to wait around for them to go. What trigger phrase should you use? Anything that you wouldn’t be embarrassed about saying in public, and something that won’t accidentally get said to the dog when they shouldn’t relieve themselves. A phrase like “go potty” or “hurry up” could work well.
After 2-3 weeks, the puppy should go to the toilet when it hears this command as it will then know it is in a good place to do its business.
Where should your dog go to the toilet
You need to choose where you want your puppy to learn to use as a toilet. Consistency is quite important, so you need to choose a place that will be able to be used continuously.
If your puppy is to do its business outside, it is no use setting him or her up to use the spot where you will want to put the barbecue in 6 months’ time.
Usually dogs are taught to use the garden for their business, but if you have a dog run, you may want it to be in there to keep it contained, but make sure there is enough room in there for the dog to keep its distance from the soiled area.
Alternatively, if your dog is a small one, and if you are not likely going to be able to get home in order to let your dog outside during the day, you may consider paper training them. The same process to training your dog to potty responsibly applies to paper training, but simply on a papered area, a litter box, a box of soil and turf, or absorbent toilet pads, placed in a room out the way. A utility room or garage that the dog can always access would be a perfect place.
As with the garden spot, this potty area shouldn’t be moved, and you need to be dedicated to the location of it; avoid setting up near cooking areas, the front door where you greet guests, or by the bed. Also, don’t let your puppy decide where to locate the newspaper or pads! Sometimes owners place the pads down in random locations across the house because “that’s just where he goes.” This is inconvenient and unnecessary with proper training.
How to potty train your puppy
Once you have an area set up, you can begin raising your puppy to use it.
To start, you should take your puppy outside every few hours to the designated toilet spot, on a lead. The lead will make sure that he or she does not get distracted and run around and forget to go to the toilet.
Furthermore, taking them out on a lead will let you know that they have relieved themselves properly. If you just let your dog outside and don’t go with them, then let him or her back indoors without knowing if they have actually used the toilet or not, they could have an accident inside.
Take them to the spot and wait for them to relive themselves, and say your trigger phrase to them over and over again, and, once they are done, praise them thoroughly, but only with attention or a game.
Using treats as praise may not give the best results. Your dog may get too excited to get the treat and not fully go to the toilet, and then have an accident when he or she gets back inside.
Over time, as your puppy grows, they should need less frequent toilet trips out. Gradually extend the time between going, especially if you take your dog outside and they seem uninterested in going to the toilet.
As you do more and more toilet trips outside, you may find that your dog begins to show signs of wanting to get out into the garden when they want to go to the toilet. This is useful if they do, although not all dogs develop these indications. Keep an eye out for signs, such as whining or pawing at the door, when it is time for them to go.
Eventually you should be able to let your dog out into the garden and they will go to the designated area by themselves to do their business. You should still go out too, early on, to make sure they are behaving as they should off the lead, and to make sure they relieve themselves properly.
Gradually, however, they will need less and less supervision until they can go all by themselves.
Even when your dog is fully capable of taking themselves up the garden to use the toilet, you should still be aware of the time and whether they need to be let out throughout the day. Not all dogs will be explicit when they want to go outside to relieve themselves.
Housebreaking a puppy through the night
Unfortunately, the first nights with a puppy are never easy. The dog will need to be looked after throughout the night, and taken for frequent toilet trips.
The key to this is routine and consistency. Set your alarm to wake you every two hours in order to take him or her outside to relieve themselves, but remember, night time is all about toilet training.
You don’t want your puppy to build associations with you waking up in the night and having a good time. Take your puppy out to his designated toilet area, make sure they go (using the trigger phrase) and then take them back inside, calmly letting them know they have done well.
If your puppy wakes you up by barking and whining, take them out. If they need to go, and you force them to go inside or in their crate by not giving them the opportunity of outside, it could cause a breakdown in your training.
However, you should not praise them too much or give them treats in the night, as this will encourage them to wake you up in the future for a midnight party.
As the nights pass, your puppy should be able to last better between your scheduled wake up toilet appointments, which should be about two hours apart and progress through the night.
Once they seem comfortable with this routine, you can begin to extend the length of time between potty trips so that the puppy gradually becomes used to spending longer in bed. A good place to start would be putting two and a half hours between each toilet trip, instead of just two hours. Once the puppy is used to that, increase this to three hours, and so on, until, eventually, your puppy can last the whole night.
Don’t expect this to happen quickly, however. Housebreaking a puppy is a long process, lasting several weeks or even months. Slow, steady and consistency is the key to housebreaking your puppy.
It is often thought that telling your dog off if he or she makes a mess in the house is a good way to reinforce the fact they shouldn’t do it. This isn’t true.
When raising a puppy to behave properly, giving them a treat when they do something right, is a more effective way of influencing their behaviour than scolding them when they do something wrong (these methods are known as ‘positive reinforcement’ and ‘positive punishment’ respectively, even though there is nothing positive about punishing a dog!)
You should be keeping vigilant watch over your dog in the early days, and so you should be aware should he or she suddenly squat in the house and begin to get down to business. The dog will naturally want to do this in private, but it is your responsibility to make sure that this doesn’t happen.
If you catch your dog doing this, a sharp “NO!” should stop them, and immediately take them outside to the designated potty area (or to the dog run or the indoor potty mat, wherever you have chosen) and let them do their business there. Then praise them as normal.
Furthermore, scolding your dog for relieving themselves indoors and not praising them for going outdoors may build the wrong associations.
Rather than think “I just got told off for weeing indoors, I should go outside next time”, your puppy may think “I just got told off for being caught weeing, I should hide better next time”. This would obviously make catching your puppy making a mistake a lot harder, and secret corner-puddles or under-the-sofa-puddles may start to stink up your home.
If you find an accident in your home, dragging your dog over to it and scolding it will likely just confuse it. Telling off usually doesn’t work in dogs after the action has been done. They don’t associate the punishment and the action they did in the past like we would.
Conversely, praising the puppy when it has done its business in the correct spot will make it build associations between going to the toilet in that spot and good feelings, so will want to do it there more often.
Even if you have praised your pet for going outside, housebreaking a puppy is a long process and you need to stay on the ball to make sure that your puppy does not have an accident indoors.
You should take your puppy outside often when you first get them, to let them relieve themselves. If he or she seems uninterested in going, extend the time between trips slightly until they go every time. You can very slowly extend times between trips to train them to hold it longer.
But remember, it is still your responsibility. If your dog gets out of your sight and has an accident in the home, you can’t blame them. You need to give them the opportunity to get outside and do it correctly.
If you have a sneaky pup who likes to have accidents discretely around the home, consider using an umbilical cord method where you keep them on a lead in the home, with you at all times.
This will help you to notice when they are going to have an accident, and give you a chance to intervene.
Once you have gotten your puppy used to going in the proper place, you can begin to give him or her freedom from the lead again, but remember, it is still your responsibility to make sure they don’t have an accident and can get outside (or to their designated indoor potty area) regularly.