Often, I receive phone calls from people needing help house-training their puppies. Other callers ask for help with their dogs who have been house-trained but are now having accidents.
Before I go any further there is something I must make crystal clear, there is NEVER a good reason to put anyone’s nose in urine or feces. No training is occurring by doing this. The only thing being accomplished is making your pet think there is something wrong with you, resulting in the pet becoming fearful of you.
There are exceptions to everything, but generally, house training will be extremely difficult with puppies younger than 10 weeks old. At this age it is up to you to be diligent in taking the pup out on a regular schedule. This schedule will vary depending on the age and breed of the puppy. With very young pups it may be as often as every 30 minutes. You now have a baby in the house, so also plan on taking the puppy outside at least once during the overnight hours.
Puppies should go outside to potty first thing in the morning, immediately after every meal, after high-energy play periods, and the moment they wake up from sleeping. In addition to these potty times will be the puppy’s regular scheduled potty breaks. As the puppy grows, the time will increase between the scheduled breaks. Some breeds are notoriously difficult to house-train. Many small breeds have a faster metabolism and therefore need to eat, drink and pee and poop more often than larger puppies.
Sometimes puppies get distracted or excited by things when they are outside and forget to “go”. In this case it can be helpful to just stand in one place until the pup pees or poops. He can have only the length of the leash to move around. Once things get kind of boring he will go ahead and take care of business. If your pup doesn’t potty when you take him out, then place him back in the crate for about 10 minutes and try again.
If you have a timid or nervous pup, look away while it relieves itself. You might also find using a long-line (15’ or 20’ leash) helps. This way the dog can get to a more comfortable distance from you while doing its business.
Walk the same route when you take your puppy out. The pup will learn the routine and be aware of how much time is left before you head back into the house. Resist the temptation to run back in the house immediately after the dog “goes”. Even if your pup finishes all his business early on the route, complete the entire route before returning back inside. Puppies and dogs who want to stay outside longer will often put off relieving themselves if they know it means they will immediately be going back inside.
Until your puppy is house-trained you should always go outside with the puppy, so you know if they “went”, or not. If you want to, after (not during) the puppy potties give plenty of praise. Be aware that many puppies and dogs often pee two or three times before their bladders are completely emptied, and they may need to walk around for a bit before they can poop. Pay attention to the habits of your pet so you understand how to best manage them.
Inside the house, if your puppy is not completely house-trained, they should always remain in your sight. This may mean keeping a leash you are holding on the pup or putting them in their crate when you can’t watch them. A puppy should never have complete run of the house for several reasons, including the risk of house-training accidents.
In the event of an accident involving an older puppy or adult dog, the moment they start to potty in the house, use the leash to rush the puppy outside to the yard. You have less than 3 seconds to make this correction and the puppy/dog will associate it with the accident. If caught in the act every time, it will only take 3 or 4 times before the older puppy or adult dog begins to make the connection that you don’t want him to potty indoors. Most adult dogs can be house-trained in three days, or less, using this method. However, if you don’t catch them every time they have an accident they will have a hard time making the connection. Also, dogs who are spayed or neutered are much easier to house-train.
Sometimes people want to train a puppy to use pee pads. This is a good idea if you have a tiny breed puppy and it is in the middle of winter, or it is difficult for you to take the puppy outside on a vigorous potty schedule. I have found success using pee pads by placing them inside a crate that is the same size as the pad. The puppy is placed in the crate and when they relieve themselves the crate door is immediately opened and the puppy can come out. You have to pay attention and not leave them in the crate with the mess. As the puppy’s training progresses, you can leave the door to the crate open and the pup will go in and out, as needed. Having the pad in the crate prevents the puppy from missing the pad when he goes, since the walls of the crate prevent overshooting the edge of the pad. You can also attach two small crates together, with one side being the bed side and the other side being the bathroom side.
Do not expect children to house-train the dog. This is a job for adults. If the adults in the house aren’t willing commit to the task, then it is doomed to failure from the start. House-training must be made a priority in order to be successful, and there are no days off until it is done. House-training problems is given as one of the leading reasons why dogs are surrendered to animal shelters. Tragically, often a result of the pet owner simply not knowing how to teach the puppy.
When people call me about an adult dog who has been house-trained for years and is suddenly having accidents, I recommend first having the dog checked by a veterinarian. In most of these cases the dog has a urinary tract infection or some sort of illness causing the problem. Elderly dogs, especially females, just can’t hold their bladder as long as they used to, which results in accidents, particularly in the overnight hours. There are medications that can help with this. Sometimes older dogs suffer from dementia and start having accidents in the house. Be prepared that with senior dogs, you may have to start getting up during the night to give them a potty break.
There are situations where house-training accidents are really a dog at odds with someone in the home. In the dog’s mind, it is a battle over who is in charge, be it a human or another pet. Sudden onset of accidents can also be a result of high anxiety related to a change in the household, such as a new baby, or tension in the family. Typical house-training work will not help in cases where dominance or anxiety is at the root of the problem. Behavioral and leadership work is necessary to resolve these types of issues.
I’ve seen several cases where it is a female dog acting out toward its perceived human female rival. The dog will pee or poop on the person’s bed, shoes, or dirty clothes. The dog is trying to put its scent on top of the person’s scent. You might notice between dogs in the yard, one will pee on top of the spot where another dog just went. The second dog is trying to cancel out the first dogs mark and leave their scent. This is a subtle battle over the hierarchy. Since people don’t typically pee where the dog can mark over it, then the dog will mark on areas that smell the most like the person.