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House training series part 1: The basics

Making pet wishes come true!

Consistency, repetition and patience are key to teaching your dog house training. This article will cover the basics of house training. If you are having trouble, be sure to also read the articles House training difficulties, Submissive urination, Excitement urination and Separation anxiety .

If you have a puppy under 6 months old, s/he may have to eliminate up to 10 times per day, and will not have the muscle control to hold it for long. Knowing that can help you keep your expectations for your puppy’s training realistic.

Adult dogs will have better muscle control. If an adult dog is eliminating in the house after previously being house trained, be sure to get to the veterinarian to check for physical causes. If the issue is not physical, check the articles linked above, or contact a local trainer for behavioral insight.

Small dogs and Toy breeds may take longer to house train due to developmental rates, smaller bladders, and higher vulnerability to cold Minnesota temperatures.

Crate training works with a dog’s natural den instincts, and typically works quickly as it is natural for a dog not to want to soil in a confined area. However, dogs from puppy mills and/or pups who were confined to a crate for extended periods of time (to the point where they had no choice but to soil there) will take longer to pick up this type of training.

You will want to utilize the dog crate as the dog’s “safe place”. The crate should never be used for punishment or isolation, and a dog should never be forced into it (a treat will usually do the trick). Your dog’s crate should be comfortable, quiet (but not isolated from you), and temperate. The crate size should be large enough for your dog to sit up in, and stand up and turn around in. The crate should not be so large that the dog can soil in one part and sleep in another. If you have a puppy, you can section off part of a larger crate until s/he grows larger. Safety precautions dictate that bars should not be more than 2” apart and you should remove the dogs collar when s/he is inside so that it cannot catch on the crate.

For best results, choose an elimination spot in your yard and whenever you come home, immediately take your dog out of the crate and to that spot. Designate a verbal cue like “hurry up” or “go potty” to repeat to the dog each time as well. When your dog eliminates outdoors in the spot, reward him/her with lavish verbal praise. You may want to give an additional reward as well, like a special treat.

Before you leave the home, you should do the same process, and your dog should be taken out several times daily. A routine schedule is best, so the dog becomes familiar with the pattern of having an opportunity to eliminate at the same times each day. If you work outside of the home, hiring a dog walker can be very helpful during house training. Ideally, someone should be giving the dog who is 17 weeks or older a potty break every 4-5 hours. Puppies need much more frequent outings.

Accidents will happen. It’s important not to yell at your dog when s/he has an accident. Yelling or other abusive behaviors create fearful dogs and worsen behavioral problems. If you are not present when the accident occurs, clean it up as soon as possible using an enzymatic cleaner. Be sure you don’t use cleaners that have an ammonia base. Ammonia odor is similar to that of urine, and may actually encourage your dog to eliminate in that spot again. If you catch you dog in the act of soiling, make a loud, unusual sound to interrupt the action and then immediately rush your pup to the elimination spot.

Most dogs will communicate the need to go out with signals. If you see any of these, immediately take your dog out. Common signals are:

  • Sniffing
  • Wandering in circles
  • Whining
  • Starting to squat
  • Standing or pacing by the door
  • Running from you to the door
  • Looking from you to the door
  • Scratching at the door
  • Attention soliciting behavior

With consistency, routine, repetition and lots of patience your dog can learn to observe the house rules.

Fairy Dogparents
 Plymouth, Minnesota