Because most people embarking on the adventure of housetraining will be doing so with a puppy, most of the information in this guide relates directly to puppies, but all the principles can be successfully applied to adult dogs as well.
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Since housetraining is probably the first thing you will teach your dog, it is important that the method you choose be one that instills a basis for trust and understanding. Housetraining does not need to be traumatic for you or your dog. What housetraining requires is persistence combined with a little knowledge. To make the process go smoothly, keep in mind some basic principles:
- Your dog is instinctively a clean animal.
- Your dog will be happy to follow your rules as long as he understands what they are.
- Your dog does not soil the house out of spite or to "get even" with you. Your dog soils the house for one of two reasons: either he doesn't understand that he shouldn't or he doesn't have the necessary control not to.
Keeping these principles in mind, your housetraining program can be divided into three parts:
- Taking advantage of your dog's instinct to be clean,
- Giving him clear-cut rules and
- Making it as easy as possible for him to succeed.
Take Advantage of Your Dog's Instinct to Be Clean
Most dogs will not soil their living/sleeping quarters, so use this instinct to your best advantage. When you can't watch your dog, confine him to a small area or a crate. A crate is a cage or travel type kennel, which serves as a sort of playpen and bed for your dog. It is a place where he can be safe, secure and out of trouble when you aren't able to supervise him. The crate should be just big enough for your dog to be able to stand up, lie down and turn around. Too much room will give him enough space to sleep in one end and soil the other. For best results, get your dog used to his new "room" gradually, using food or a toy to encourage him to go into it.
Once your dog is used to going into the crate, slowly increase the length of time you leave him in it with the door closed. Continue to give him a food reward every time he goes into the crate. Most dogs like having the den-like security a crate provides. Adult dogs can be left in a crate for up to 8 hours if necessary. Puppies, of course, need to eliminate much more often than adults. Puppies under 3 or 4 months of age have very little bladder and bowel control and should not be left in a crate for more than a couple of hours. As their control improves they can be confined for up to 4-6 hours at a time. Most puppies and dogs can sleep through the night in a crate because their body's metabolism slows down.
Give Your Dog Clear-Cut Rules
Dogs are not born knowing what we want. We must teach them our rules in a manner they can understand. Dogs understand absolutes: black and white, yes and no, pleasant and unpleasant. There are two absolutes in housetraining: eliminating outside is good and eliminating in the house is not.
Teach your dog where to go. Choose an area of your yard to serve as your dog's "bathroom". Take him there often, on leash, and wait for him to go. As soon as your dog goes to the bathroom, praise him and give him a reward. A piece of food or a toy usually works for most dogs. Teach him that the first order of business when he goes outside is to go to the bathroom. Always take him to his bathroom area first, then play with him or take him for a walk.
Teach your dog where not to go. If you catch your dog going to the bathroom in the house, utter a sharp "stop" or make some other startling noise to get him to stop. Immediately take him to his bathroom area and wait for him to go. Then praise and reward him. If you do not catch him in the act, DO NOT SCOLD HIM! Do not yell at him, drag him to the mess or rub his nose in it. He will not make the connection between your anger and his having gone to the bathroom earlier. Just clean up the mess and keep a closer watch on your dog next time. Use white vinegar and water for cleaning. It neutralizes the odor and will discourage your dog from going back to that spot.
Make it Easy for Your Dog to Succeed
Set a schedule. Take you dog out on a regular schedule - every hour or so for young puppies - and stick to that schedule, even on the weekends. Feed your dog on a regular schedule to help regulate his system. Puppies need to be fed 3 to 4 times a day and adult dogs twice daily. Regular feeding will enable you to know when your dog will probably need to go out.
Be alert. Keep a close eye on your dog. Watch for cues that he needs to go out. Circling and sniffing are strong indications that your puppy needs to go out. There are other times that your puppy will need to be taken to his bathroom area. He will need to go out after waking up (even from a short nap), after playing, after he has been confined, and after eating or drinking.
Use a crate. When you can't watch your dog, keep him in his crate. If he has been confined for a while, take your dog to his bathroom area before giving him freedom in the house or yard. If he does not go to the bathroom, put him back in his crate for a while and try again later. The fewer mistakes your dog makes, the faster he will become housetrained.
Feed a high quality diet. Many dog foods have excess salt, sugar and fillers that can interfere with housetraining efforts. If your dog is consuming a lot of salt, he will drink more and therefore have to urinate more. If he is getting too much bulk in his diet, he will have to move his bowels much more frequently. Stick to a high quality, naturally preserved, premium dog food. You will find these foods primarily in pet stores.
Monitor water intake. Give your dog lots of water in his food so he will be less likely to drink between meals. Always have water available, though, especially in hot weather. With young puppies it is a good idea to pick up water 2 or 3 hours before bedtime to enable them to sleep through the night without having to go out.
Make sure your dog is healthy. If you have followed the above guidelines and your dog appears to have no control at all or seems to have to eliminate more than you think is normal, he may have a problem like worms or a bladder infection. It is best to play it safe. If you suspect your dog has a problem, seek veterinary help.
Learning Takes Time!
There will be days when your puppy seems to be getting the idea and others when it feels like all your efforts have been in vain. DON'T BE DISCOURAGED! This is a normal part of the learning process. Your dog may even do well for several months and have a setback. This is a normal part of housetraining. Remember that dogs are individuals and learn at different rates. If you take it one step at a time and keep in mind how your dog learns, it won't be long before you turn around to realize you have a housetrained dog!