How to Housetrain Your Puppy

Your puppy is not the one in charge of its potty schedule — you are! As in all areas of training, you will set the rules as to what is expected of your little dog — and whether your new dog is a pup or an adult, you are also in charge of the housetraining process.

Your goal should be to prevent accidents, not to continually catch the dog in the act. To do this successfully, you need to know how often your furry friend will need to take care of business. Puppies under three months of age have very little bladder control. They usually let you know it's time to go by circling and sniffing the floor. Their powerful little noses are seeking a familiar smell that tells them the area has been used before so it's okay to use it again. You need to be tuned in to such signals. You'll often catch the pup in the nick of time and make a mad dash for the door, but it's better to anticipate the need and carry your dog outside or to the potty area before it starts signaling its intentions, usually twenty to thirty minutes after it eats and every two hours when you first bring it home.

No dog should have the run of the house until it has earned the privilege by mastering the housetraining process.

If you obtained your puppy from a breeder, its housetraining may have begun before you brought it home, but if it came from a pet store, house-training is as unfamiliar as space travel to the little dog. Unfortunately, pet-store puppies get used to soiling their cages or pens. Although dogs naturally prefer to live in a clean environment that does not smell like feces, they get used to the odor when they have no choice. Undoing this behavior will take time and patience.

Some experts recommend feeding the pup in its crate to keep matters more controlled while you are housetraining. But pups are not very neat diners, so this means more work for you keeping the crate clean. Most people prefer the feeding area in the kitchen, preferably with a baby gate in place to keep the pup from going into other rooms. After mealtime, remember that you have approximately twenty-five minutes before your puppy needs to relieve itself. Carry the dog outside to the potty area, and let it take all the time it needs to do its business. Keeping it on a leash outside may help it to focus on the job at hand, rather than following its nose all over the yard.

Your daily routine will go like this. When you wake up in the morning, carry the pup out before you even have your coffee. Carrying it is important — once those little feet hit the floor, it will want to relieve itself. Let it get used to feeling the grass under its feet and associating that with going potty. Use consistent verbal cues as well, such as “Go potty” or “Do your business” every time you go out. After the pup relieves itself, reward it with a treat and let it play inside in a safe area where you can keep an eye on it for about an hour. Feed the pup, confine it for twenty to thirty minutes, and then once again, out you go! During its first month with you, your pup will probably eat four meals a day, so that's a lot of feeding, waiting, and hustling in and out for potty trips. Plan accordingly.

Puppies need to go potty when they wake up in the morning, twenty to thirty minutes after each meal, after each nap, and before going to bed for the night.

Keeping your pup on a predictable routine and not offering water after 4:00 or 5:00 P.M. will also help. Your little sprite will soon get the message and be able to last longer between potty calls. By then, you'll be getting good at picking up the signals, but you'll still have to move fast when it's time to go!

Some owners train their dogs to ring a bell when they need to go out. It sounds far-fetched, but it's not that hard to do. Hang a wind chime or bell on a string off the doorknob, just at your dog's nose level. Ring it every time you go out to potty, using a verbal cue as well, like “Want to go potty?” or “Want to go out?” Reinforce it by going outside the door yourself with a favorite treat or toy, closing the door all or part way, and calling to your dog, using the same words. When it noses the bell, let it out and give it the treat or toy and lots of praise. Every time you ask the dog that same question, and when it runs to the door and rings the bell, reward it with praise and a treat. Dogs live to please, and positive reinforcement is a powerful motivator.

Hold off on major redecorating projects for six months or so after the pup's arrival. There may still be an occasional accident, but once it has achieved that wonderful state of being housetrained, you'll hardly remember these busy days when you had to keep reminding yourself that “This too shall pass.”

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