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Implementing an efficient and effective housetraining plan is one of the kindest things you can do for your new puppy or adult dog. After all, once your dog is housetrained he can enjoy freedom in your home and lots of fun time spent with his family.
The easiest, most efficient and most effective way to housetrain a dog is to focus being a good doggy time manager. This means making sure your dog is in the right place (inside on paper or outside on grass or concrete) at the right time (when he needs to eliminate) and rewarding him for eliminating in the right spot. Many repetitions of being rewarded for going in the right spot will help your dog develop a strong habit and desire to do so. This is a housetrained dog.
Without a doubt, the most common mistake owners make is allowing their new puppy or dog to run loose in their home before he is housetrained. It is inevitable the dog will eliminate and unfortunately, it is likely he will be punished for doing so. A few things happen as a result of this scenario. Each time your pup eliminates in the home, the habit of doing so becomes stronger. And each time you reprimand your pup for doing so it's likely you're teaching him two things; You aren't such a nice person after all, and you don't like to see him eliminate.
So, the relationship between you and your dog is damaged, and your dog learns to hide from you (i.e. he eliminates behind the couch or when you are gone) when he needs to go. This is a common result of punishment training; what you are punishing for is not always what the dog thinks he is being punished for.
Aside from being ineffective and having negative side effects, focusing on reprimanding your dog for going in the wrong spot is very time consuming. If this method works at all, by the time it does you have spent a lot of time cleaning up mistakes and your pup has ruined your carpeting. A much easier and more effective approach is to use the following time management tools to prevent mistakes and to accurately predict when your pup needs to eliminate so you can get him to the right spot and reward him for going there. As a rule of thumb, very young puppies need to eliminate at least every 2-4 hours.
They also need to go immediately after waking up or playing and about a half an hour after eating or drinking. Basically, they need to go a lot! But, to even more accurately predict when your pup needs to eliminate, a good doggy time manager uses four tools for success: supervision, a crate, a long term confinement area, and a feeding, watering and walking schedule. The proper use of these four tools will ensure housetraining success as promptly as possible.
On Leash SupervisionJust as you wouldn't allow a very young child to wander around your home unsupervised neither should you allow your dog before he is housetrained. Doing so means your pup will make lots of mistakes. Until your pup is housetrained keep him on a leash when you are spending time with him. You can hold the leash in your hand or step on the end of it if you are relaxing in front of the TV, reading, or on the computer. If your pup is right by your side on a leash, playing with you or his toys, he can't be doing an endless list of wrong things, in this case making housetraining mistakes. This is no different than carefully supervising a 2-year-old child in your home. But, since you can't hold your dog's paw like you can hold a child's hand and since most pups move more quickly than children, the leash gives you a gentle, effective way to control your pup.
After approximately 45-60 minutes by your side, it is likely that your pup will need to eliminate. So, take him to his doggy toilet and reward him for being an extra smart pup and going in the right place.
Some owners feel having the leash on indoors is too restrictive, but it takes only a few seconds for your pup to get into trouble. So, it is really much kinder to use the leash to help him avoid problems now so he can enjoy more freedom later.
Short term confinement
Every dog needs to learn to build bladder and bowel muscle control. The best way to do this is with the aid of a crate. Most dogs will not soil their crate if left in there for a period of time that is reasonable for their age and level of training. The crate helps your pup learn to 'hold it' and gives you a way to very accurately predict when your pup does need to eliminate. If your pup has been napping in his crate for an hour or so chances are he will need to eliminate when he wakes up. So, you can take him to his designated doggie toilet and reward him lavishly for going in the right spot.
Some people feel it is unfair to confine a dog to a crate. But, if you think about it a crate is similar to a child's playpen or crib, except a crate has a top on it. Just as you would carefully and responsibly confine a child when you can't watch over them, so should you carefully and responsibly confine your pup when you can't watch over him. When used properly a crate accelerates housetraining and therefore accelerates your dog's eventual access to safe areas of your home.
You can help your pup learn to enjoy resting in his crate by feeding him his meals in there, giving him plenty of food stuffed toys to play with (the Busy Buddy line is great!), and being careful to limit confinement to only as long as you think he can 'hold it' and gradually increasing the duration. Keep in mind that while a crate is an invaluable housetraining tool it should not become a long term lifestyle for your dog. A crate is a tool that helps you keep your pup safe and teach him the skills he needs so he may eventually enjoy freedom in the home. Neither young pups nor adult dogs should be confined to a crate all day and night.
Crate Duration Guideline
9-10 weeks Approx. 30-60 minutes (only when the puppy is sleepy)11-14 weeks Approximately 1-2 hours15-16 weeks Approximately 3-4 hours17+ weeks Approximately 4+ hours (6 hours maximum)
Long term confinement
Very young puppies can not be expected to 'hold it' for more than a few hours. So, when you need to leave your young puppy alone for longer than you think he can reasonable hold it in his crate, don't confine him there. Instead, confine him to an area where he has everything he needs: a crate to sleep in, chewtoys and most importantly an indoor toilet (paper or a litter pan). A bathroom, small kitchen or an exercise pen will do. As with supervision and a crate, a long term confinement area is meant to set your dog up for success. When he is confined in this area he can't make mistakes in the home and he learns appropriate behaviors, such as eliminating on paper and chewing his toys.
Start by covering the entire floor with paper. This way your pup can't make any mistakes off the paper. After a week, leave a small section of the floor uncovered. If your pup makes even one mistake off the paper, re-cover the entire area and try again in a few days. If 90% of the floor was covered and he chose to go on the 10% that wasn't, he needs a little more time to develop a strong preference for going on paper. If he doesn't make any mistakes for a few days uncover a bit more. Continue until you are down to a small square, appropriate to your dog's size. If you want your dog to learn to go in a low-sided litter box, simply transfer the paper there. Be sure to reward your dog lavishly when he chooses the right spot.
Unless you intend for your pup to be papertrained for life, you should keep paper down only until your dog is old enough to have sufficient control to hold it for 3-4 hours in his crate. This is usually around 4-5 months old, but depends on the individual dog and how good you have been about helping the dog build muscle control using supervision and his short term confinement area.
At this point, you will no longer use the long term confinement area. Instead, confine him to his crate when you can't watch him. Your dog should get at least one relief walk in the middle. Again, this varies with each dog and with your daily schedule. Even the best trained adult dog shouldn't be expected to hold it for more than 9 hours. Pushing a dog to do so is unfair and may cause a serious backslide in housetraining.
Feeding and Watering ScheduleTo make things even easier on your pup, control his intake of food and water. If your pup has unlimited access to both, chances are he will need to eliminate constantly. Provide your pup with a big bowl of water 5-10 times a day and feed him 2-3 times a day and you will have a much easier time predicting when he needs to go.
Hooray! He's Housetrained! Or is He?
Lots of pups start getting the idea of where they should go within a few weeks of following this advice. But, things will rapidly regress if you slack off and assume your pup is completely housetrained when in reality he is just starting to understand what is expected. I usually advise people to hold off giving their dog full freedom in the house until they are at least 1-year-old. This may seem like a long time, but it is much smarter to lay a very strong housetraining foundation than to rush things along and have a 2 year-old dog who still occasionally makes mistakes in the house.
When your dog is first being expected to hold it throughout the day, don't let him roam freely throughout the house. Instead, start with very brief absences and keep him confined to one room that is as dog-proofed as possible. This way any potential mistakes are confined to one area. If he makes a mistake just take a step back for a little while.
Most importantly, don't forget to continue to reward your adult dog for going in the right spot. Housetraining can deteriorate at any time. Offering the occasional "What a great dog you are!" and a tasty treat for choosing the right spot is a great way to remind your dog that going in his designated doggy toilet is much more rewarding than going on the carpet.
10 Easy Steps to Cratetraining
While dogs certainly are descended from den animals it doesn't mean they will immediately take to being confined to a den. So, it is a good idea to follow these steps to help your pup become gradually accustomed to his crate.
1. Chose a crate appropriate for your pup. He should be able to stand up, turn around, lie down, shift position and stretch. However, if the crate is too large, your pup may not be as likely to inhibit his elimination. If you have purchased a larger crate, in anticipation of your puppy's adult size, consider placing dividers in it to make it temporarily smaller.
2. It is usually better not to use a dog pad or bed in the crate until your puppy is less likely to chew it or eliminate on it and push it to the side. I usually suggest waiting until the pup is at least 4-5 months old.
3. Start by leaving the crate in the long term confinement area with the door open. Most pups will use this as their sleeping area without any prompting. If he doesn't, encourage him to investigate the kennel by putting a treat in the front half so he doesn't have to step all the way in and then gradually toss a treat farther in.
4. When he goes in on his own without hesitation, have him stay in it for a minute or so by tossing in tiny bits of treats as you gently block the door with your hand. After a few repetitions of this, if he doesn't try to push his way past your hand, you can close the door.
5. The first confinement session should be after a period of play, exercise, and elimination (e.g., when the pup is ready to take a nap). When your pup is in the crate, toss in a continuous stream of very tiny treats. Ignore your pup when you open the door and he steps out. Repeat this many times, gradually increasing the time when the door is closed. This way your pup learns it is more rewarding in the kennel with the door closed than out of it. Be careful not to push things. A good trainer goes slowly and makes it easy on the puppy.
6. Turn the crate into a 'magic box.' If you were given $500 every time you walked into your bedroom chances are you would start to love going there. The same holds true for your pup, except his version of $500 is food and toys. Give your puppy his favorite treats and toys when he is in his crate. And for at least a month feed your dog at least one of his meals in his crate each day.
7. Be sure your pup always has one or two well stuffed chew toys to keep him busy when he is in his crate. My dog's favorites are sterilized, white, hollow bones stuffed with cheese, meat or peanut butter. The puppy won't get much of the food out, but he will spend a lot of time trying. After 30 to 60 minutes chewing his toys or napping you can take the pup to his designated toilet and reward him with hugs, kisses and treats when he goes in the right spot!
8. For the crate to remain a positive retreat never use it for punishment. You can, however, use the crate to avoid potential problems (e.g. chewing, jumping). If you use social isolation, or "time-out," place the dog in a separate room instead of the crate.
9. While most pups have a natural sense of cleanliness and will keep their sleeping place clean, that instinct can be destroyed if the pup is left in his crate when he needs to eliminate and he has not yet developed sufficient bladder and bowel muscle control. In this case he is essentially forced to soil the crate. Once the pup decides the crate is where he is supposed to eliminate you will have a much harder time housetraining. So, make a point to begin using the crate for very short periods of times only when you are sure the pup is empty. As the pup matures you can gradually increase his time in the crate.
10. Once your dog is housetrained you do not need to confine him to his crate. However, most dogs develop a strong attachment to their crate and it is a good idea to keep it in your home so your adult dog always has his own private place.