Overview: Focus on Rewarding the Right Behavior
The two keys to house training a puppy who will be your pet are to
- Take your puppy out before he needs to go, and
- Reward him well for going in the right place
For future service dog puppies, you also need to
- Train your puppy to go on cue (when you tell him to)
- And EVENTUALLY (not yet), he’ll need to learn NOT to potty when you don’t tell him to
How Puppies Think about Pottying
Of course, your puppy needs to eliminate bodily waste (pee and poo) and will do this when the urge is strong no matter what else is happening, so the key to house training is to set up conditions so that the urge hits when and where you want him to go. Punishing for toileting in the wrong spot is counterproductive because it can make your puppy a “privacy pooper” (or “privacy pee-er”) who will go and hide behind furniture or in another room to pee or poop.
Peeing and pooping are internally reinforcing. That is, the puppy feels relief when he goes. As owners, the trick is to teach him that it PAYS BETTER to go where we want him to go. This means we have to be ready to reward well every time the puppy goes in the right spot.
Dogs are very cued in to specific contexts. We think of pottying in terms of “indoors” and “outdoors,” but it takes a while for a puppy to get this concept. The puppy might think the right place to potty is “on the rose bush” and not realize the rest of the lawn is equally good. And if there is something inside your house that seems like the rose bush, he might think that’s another good place to potty.
This is why we often get in trouble when we punish a puppy for pottying in the wrong place. It doesn’t teach him where he should go, and he might not realize we’re yelling because he’s going in the wrong spot. He might think he should not potty in front of us anymore and go behind the couch or when we’re in another room instead. This is why it is so important to take the puppy to the correct toileting spot and reward him for going there.
Use a Crate
House training is a thousand percent easier if you use a crate. Use your puppy’s instinct to keep his living area clean by confining him to a small crate whenever he is not “empty.” Leave a chew or toy in the crate, but no blanket or towel (which will soak up pee if he has an accident, removing motivation to keep it dry next time). Take your puppy out to potty every time as soon as you let him out from his crate.
TIP: You must go out with your puppy!
If you just let him out, you won’t know if he pottied and you won’t be able to reward him properly.
It’s also important that you reward him right there, outside, as soon as he finishes peeing or pooping.
Many owners who struggle with house training don’t realize it’s because they praise the puppy for peeing outside and then call him to the kitchen, ask him to sit, then give him a treat. This puppy has NO idea he’s being rewarded for pottying in the right place. He thinks he’s being rewarded for sitting in the kitchen!
Train Your Puppy to Potty in the Right Time and Place
Every puppy is different in terms of their muscle development and bladder control, but a general guideline is that a puppy can “hold it” for one hour longer than he is months old (i.e., a two-month old puppy can usually hold it for three hours).
Always take your puppy out to potty right before confining him and half an hour after he eats or drinks. Also always take him out immediately after your pup…
- Wakes up
- Eats or drinks
- Plays or has a training session
- Exits his crate
Follow these steps every time you take your puppy out:
1. Be boring until he does his business. Just stand there, no playing, talking, etc., while waiting.
2. When he starts to go, praise quietly (so you don’t distract or interrupt him).
3. After he finishes, praise enthusiastically and reward with great treats and play right then and there. Make pottying in the proper location really pay off for him so he’ll want to do it again next time!
TIP: Train Your Puppy to Potty on Cue (When Asked)
Training your pup to go on cue makes house training easier. When your dog is grown, you’ll love the convenience! For service dogs, pottying on cue is essential. (More on this in a future post.)
To train your puppy to toilet on cue, take your puppy to the desired spot.
Watch your puppy closely. When you think she’s just about to go (pee or poo, it doesn’t matter), say “Hurry up!”
When she finishes, praise, then reward. That’s it!
What If the Puppy Has an Accident?
If your puppy has an accident, don’t punish or scold. Just clean it up thoroughly with an enzymatic cleaner. (Don’t use ammonia. It smells like pee to dogs!) Use this accident as a learning opportunity: What was the puppy doing right before the accident that may have been a clue he had to go? How long had it been since the puppy was out? Did the puppy have too much freedom?
Most of all, have patience and faith. Some puppies have better muscular control than others. Some have easier clues to decipher when they need to go. If you’re having a rough go of it, just hang on. You’ll get there!
- No food or water before bed. Pick up your puppy’s water an hour before bedtime.
- Look for your puppy’s subtle potty signals, such as sniffing, circling, looking at the door
- Keep a potty journal – what time he went, where, and what happened right before