Congratulations on the new addition! Whether you have a puppy, or you are adopting an adult dog, you are going to have to deal with the basics of house-training – even a “house-trained” adult dog needs to learn that “don’t ‘go’ in THAT house” applies to “don’t ‘go’ in THIS house”.
There are 3 stages to learning this lesson:
You CAN hold it
Not in the house
TELL ME when you need to go
1. You CAN hold it
In the first place, your puppy is NOT a baby. He is a kid. By the time a puppy is old enough to go to a new home (6-8 weeks) he is the equivalent of a grade 1 to 3 student. Kids do not go to school in diapers…
I am not a big fan of pee pads: your message to your new little family member should be “not in the house” – pee pads are saying DO go in the house. Unless you are going to use pee pads all through adulthood (like some small dogs that live in highrises where “Outside” is a major expedition), then don’t give him a pee pad to say “yes, go here in the house” and then change the rules by taking away the pee pads (“No! Not in the house! Bad dog!” – Huh?).
The goal is giving him the expectation that you do want him to hold it – he does not have to “let go” the moment he feels a little pressure in his bladder or bowels. This means:
- When you can not be with him, confine him. Crate training is your best friend! A dog’s instinct is not to mess where he sleeps (although some pups have a harder time with this than others). The crate should only have enough for him to comfortably stand up, turn around, and lay back down. This means if you bought a crate big enough to fit adult size, and it does not come with a divider, then stuff a box in the back of it so the pup only uses the front. The point is not having enough space to have an “en suite bathroom” – if he can take a few steps, go potty, then go back to bed, there is not reason to hold it!
- When you can be with him, glue him to you like velcro. He should never be more than a couple of meters away from you. This could mean closed doors and baby gates to keep him in your space, or it could mean keeping him on a leash close to you. Good doggy etiquette is to “excuse yourself” from the rest of the pack to go to the bathroom; if he gets to wander to the next room and let go whenever, then, again, he has no reason to hold it. Keeping him near you helps because:
- If he is in your space, he is less likely to go to the bathroom and more likely to hold it.
- If he does decide “oh well, when you gotta go you gotta go” then if he is in your space there is a chance that you will notice the “sniff and circle”, and INTERCEPT! Scoop him up and outside, and turn what was about to be an accident into a success you can celebrate and reinforce.
- If you do not notice soon enough and he does pee or poop, then, if he is still “going”, you have a teachable moment: put a negative emotional tag on the act of “going” by loudly saying something like “NO! DON’T! BAD!” and then hustling him outside.
- Note however, that you can NOT scold him after the fact. If you do not catch him still going, do NOT scold him, do not rub his nose in it. People think dogs get this because the dog will give a big “I’m sorry! I’m sorry” in their body language; but, they are sorry that you are mad at them. They do not get that what they did 2 minutes ago was a bad thing. It is way to abstract for them to think “OK, so you are mad at me and there is a mess on the floor. Therefore that means that you are mad at me FOR the mess on the floor. And the squat and strain thing produces the mess on the floor; therefore that is what I should not do.” NO WAY do they get that. Put the negative emotional tag ON the act of squat and strain, or don’t bother. If you missed the squat and strain, then the most you can do is express a little quiet discuss and hustle him out of sight to do Secret Cleanup.
- So what is Secret Cleanup?
- Put the dog out of sight, like in a bathroom or laundry room, while you clean up. Do not use his crate for this – he knows you are mad at him, and the crate should never feel like a prison. Having him out of sight means he does not get any positive feedback from the situation; if he gets to be out with you, he will just love that you are down at ground level, and hey, that rag your are swishing around looks like fun, can he pounce on it and play with it too?
Deodorize! Make it a secret after the fact. Dogs have very sensitive noses, and can detect odour molecules in the parts-per-million. And you are NEVER going to clean up every single molecule. So, render whatever molecules are left unrecognizable. The enzymes and/or peroxide react with the odour molecules to break them apart into smaller fragments, that do not register on the nose the same way.
2. Not In The House
Pretty much all of the “hold it” lessons above apply to the lesson DON’T go in the house; the other side of the same coin is DO go outside (or in some cases, partly outside like pads on a balcony or in a garage).
This means that you do need to go outside with him, and when he “goes” in the right spot, verbally praise him (save the petting for when he is done, or he will start doing happy wiggle-butt in the middle of elimination…).
You can even reinforce that you want the mess in a particular place in the yard: do not give him free run of the yard, keep him in the desired spot with a leash or by blocking with your feet. Then, when he does perform, give lots of praise and then say “look, now you are free to explore and play in the other parts of the yard!!”
You can also “prime” him to perform in a particular spot by bringing scent there. If you have cleaned up a poop, or wiped up pee with a paper towel, take those messes to the desired toilet-part of the yard and put them there – dogs will tend to eliminate where they smell other pee and poop.
You can not just turn a puppy out, and then tell him what a great job he has done when he comes back to the door. As far as he is concerned, he is getting rewarded FOR coming to the door. What he did a couple of minutes ago is no longer on his mind. So, even in awful weather, be a brave human and go out with him while training!
3. Tell me
This lesson comes into effect once your puppy has the idea that outside is where he is supposed to be to eliminate. This may be indicated by his going to the door of his own accord, or by doing the uncomfortable, antsy “gotta pee” dance when he is holding it. He may get “not here”, but not quite have figured out where to go. If he just quietly goes to the door and looks around wishing for someone to get his message and let him out, then sooner or later he is going to give up on waiting and just go in the house; that is a setback in training.
So, if you want him to actually draw your attention, work on a signal:
- Maybe a bark is the simplest signal. In that case, when he is at the door and you know he does want to go out, then hype him up: “do ya wanna go outside? Do ya? Outside? Outside?!?” when he gets excited enough to make a noise, praise him and show that hey, like magic, now the door opens!
- Some people encourage a scratch – it works great on a glass door he can not damage, or you can mount a kick plate to a door where you want him to scratch. Again, wait until you know he wants out: then, while using the words (“Outside? Do you want Outside?”) lift up a paw to make a scratch – hey presto, magic again, the door now will open!
- Bells are a good trick too – some people hang a strap of sleigh bells off the doorknob. When he makes them make a sound, either on his own or with you guiding a paw then WOW, jingle makes the door open!
Good training makes for a happy relationship between you and your dog! House-training is only part of the training picture, but it is a significant one; unresolved house-training issues are one of the top reasons for people to give up on their dogs and surrender them to shelters.
Get him off to a good toileting start right from the beginning, and you are setting your dog up for a happy dog-human relationship for the years to follow.