Housetraining a Pup

Pet Tales
by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.

When a new puppy or kitten arrives in your home there is fun and excitement ahead, to be sure. However, there is some work and challenge, as well. House-training is probably the task most owners like the least.

Now with a kitten, it's usually ridiculously simple. Get a couple of boxes, fill them with an appropriate litter material, make sure the kitten knows where to find them, and that's about it. It will probably require a bit more time and effort to train your pup in proper bathroom etiquette. If you follow some general guidelines for housebreaking puppies, though, it shouldn't be a terrible ordeal for pup or owner. Here are some rules I recommend be followed.

Go into the training process realizing that it will be a learning experience for both pup and owner. The better you get to know your puppy, the quicker will go the training. Watch your pup carefully and learn to read the signals that indicate a trip to the bathroom is needed. It may help if you bell the puppy, in order to have a better idea of where it is when not directly in your sight.

 Plan where you want the toilet area for your dog to be. Choose a few restricted areas in the beginning and return to these areas each time with your pup. You go to these areas frequently, usually immediately after your pup awakens (even if just a nap), after play, or within 10-15 minutes of eating. If the pup is on a leash, shorten the leash to encourage walking in quite a confined area. If not on leash, the owner should stand still and not play, talk or interact with the pup, until it has eliminated.  It is important for them to make a connection with these places and what should happen there. Don't play and socialize with the pup when you get there. There is time to play and have fun after they eliminate.

Try to avoid any distractions for the pup in the toilet area. It is permissible to allow cautious sniffing. The odour from previously passed stool or urine is a powerful trigger for a pup to go again. Praise the dog as soon as it squats. Praise the dog when it eliminates in the appropriate area. Remember you are not rewarding the act; rather you are reinforcing the location. Some owners try to use words or sound signals to help train their dogs to eliminate on command.

Do not punish a puppy that has a break in its training. Punishment is very ineffective in changing behaviour. Punishment, after the fact, may create even more confusion and fear around elimination for the pup. If you come upon a pup in the act of having an accident it should be startled to get its attention and stop eliminating and then immediately take it the toilet area. Any area in the house where an accident has occurred must be thoroughly cleaned and if possible the pup kept away from this area for awhile in order that any remaining odours not stimulate another house-soiling.

Whenever the pup is the least bit unsupervised, it should be confined in a crate or similar small area. It should regard such an area as its home or den and therefore it will try very hard not to pass stool or urine in that area. After being in this area for even a short while, it will be best to allow a bathroom stop when the puppy is first taken out. If you must go down steps or stairs to take the pup to eliminate, carry it. Wrapping the pup in a towel to carry it outside may help prevent the stimulation to eliminate from just being placed on the floor, as sometimes occurs in very young puppies.

Remember the key words in training a puppy are consistency and patience. With these virtues firmly in place, an owner is likely to be amazed at how quickly and smoothly house-training a puppy can go. Nothing better cements the human-dog bond than to have a well behaved, well house-trained pet in the home.