House Breaking Your New Puppy

(This works the same way with older dogs that may be new to you.)

This is a follow-up piece to my last blog on crate training. In this piece, I will assume that you have now crate trained your puppy but if not, the following advice still applies.

New puppies, like babies, just go when they need to go. They don’t try to communicate with us to let them outside (this comes later) nor do they spend much time looking for an appropriate area to go. The only consideration they may have, and this is often lost on dogs who are kept in and forced to defecate in kennels, is that you don’t dirty where you sleep. For newly crate trained puppies this usually means they don’t go in their crate. It does not mean they don’t go in the house. So, what are the best ways to house train your puppy?

First pick a spot. This place should be near the house and is usually outside on the lawn, sidewalk – please remember to always pick up after your dog – or some other special place (here I am thinking about a special poop spot like the corner of the back yard.)

Second, eliminate accidents in the house. Remember that this is 100% your responsibility so if there is an accident it is your fault and not the puppy’s. Do not scold the puppy or rub their nose in it (this just makes you look like a crazy person to them and it interrupts the bonding process). When accidents happen, and they inevitably will despite our best efforts, simply clean it up with an enzyme based cleaner (there are several brands generally available in pet stores) and proceed with the training. Do not use ammonia based cleaners as these leave an ammonia smell behind; this smells like pee to puppies and attracts them to the area.

Your job is to get the puppy to go in a place of your choosing early and often. As soon as you awake in the morning, carry the puppy from the crate to your chosen spot and then put them down and wait. If you interact with the puppy at this point, it will distract them from what you want them to do, so wait quietly and patiently. As soon as they go say “good dog” softly and give them a tasty treat. If they pee but don’t poop right away, you may want to take them into the house for breakfast but watch them carefully, then after they eat return them to the ‘go spot’ to let them try again. Having your puppy on a regular feeding schedule will help you know when they are likely to need to poop. It is important that you move outside with the puppy so that you can reward them every time they pee or poop outside. Make sure you give them the treat at the ‘go spot’ so that they begin to associate being there with emptying themselves and getting a treat. Once they learn these connections they will attempt to go to the spot to get more treats.

Now, this is very important. Only empty dogs get to play in the house. Empty means both pee and poop soon after waking. Being empty allows them 30 to 45 minutes of monitored play with you, your children, or other animals. This rule continues throughout the day; the puppy has to pee and poop in the morning, and then pee throughout the day before being allowed to play in the house. If the puppy, during play starts looking for a place to go, simply take them outside to the ‘go spot’ and then reward them for going. When you are playing outdoors with the puppy or allowing them time to explore, make sure you have treats with you so that you can reward them every time they go. After they empty out feel free to take them inside to play for between 30 and 45 minutes, then take them outside before you gently put them into their crate for a nap. Puppies are like small children in that they pee and/or poop, eat, play and sleep in cycles throughout the day. Your job is to make sure they get enough visits outside to stay empty. If you play with the puppy and then they are ready for sleep before emptying, just make sure that the first thing they do upon waking is going directly to their ‘go spot’.

After a few days of this pattern, begin having the puppy follow you to the go spot and reward them after they go (generally not for the first pee in the morning when their bladder is likely to be very full but as you play, every 20 minutes or so have them follow you to the ‘go spot’). Once the puppy has the hang of this, you can teach them to alert you when they want or need to go out by hanging a bell from the door knob. The best bell for this is one shaped like the Liberty bell or church bells.

Begin by ringing the bell gently yourself every time you open the door and go outside. After the puppy has seen this a few times you can stick a little bit of peanut butter to the inside of the bell to encourage them to nose the bell and actually ring it. Every time they ring the bell you open the door, even if they just rang it while going for the peanut butter. Keep practicing until the puppy gets used to ringing the bell to go outside.