Housetraining a Puppy | Author: Dr. Cliff Redford, Veterinarian
The exciting day is finally here! Your new puppy is coming home with a waggy tail, wet tongue and clean bill of health. For weeks, you’ve prepared the home with everything the internet says you will need. You’re equipped with a crate, a delightful bed and a monogrammed food bowl. You’ve purchased a pile of intellectually stimulating toys to keep your pet engaged for hours. And, you’ve even ensured your pooch will sport the trendiest sweaters and jackets at the dog park. You’re ready for this. But are you prepared for the amount of peeing and pooping that will occur inside the house instead of the backyard? Housetraining a puppy can quickly kill the joy of dog ownership unless you know what you are doing.
Housetraining a Puppy
One of the most important life skills you can teach your puppy is how to take care of itself and the home it shares with you. Dogs are naturally clean creatures. They do not enjoy urine-soaked rugs any more than humans. They just require guidance to understand the rules for eliminating their bowel and bladder. Housetraining can get you there. This is far easier to undertake with young pets. In general, puppies can hold their bladder for an hour for every one month of age. We recommend you begin the training in earnest when your puppy is between 12-16 weeks old. At that stage, the bladder and bowel are structurally mature to hold in waste for 3-4 hours.
Housetraining Rescue Dogs
Housetraining older dogs may prove more challenging. Rescue dogs, in particular, may have developed habits completely contrary to normal canine behaviour. Prolonged confinement might have forced your dog to eliminate where it sleeps. You may even find it eating its own waste. These can be distressing moments for pet owners, however, rest assured that with an abundance of patience, it is never too late to reshape your dog’s behaviour. A behavioural consultation with an expert can help.
As experienced veterinarians and seasoned pet owners, we know that behavioural disorders stem from root causes. It’s essential to get to the “why” behind your pet’s behaviour problems before resolving them. Contact us for a consultation with one of our staff.
Pee pads inside the house can make your life easier in the short term, particularly if you live in a condo or apartment. But it will only hinder and confuse your puppy from learning good habits. Such tools encourage your pet to urinate and defecate indoors. We advise our clients to get rid of them when they start housetraining their puppy.
Crate training is a much more effective strategy. New dog owners often balk at this idea until we explain the principle behind it. Dogs naturally gravitate to cavernous, den-like areas for security and comfort. Providing them with a cozy crate to call their own will motivate your pup to exercise bowel and bladder control because they like keeping their own spaces clean. Furthermore, crate training makes life easier, safer and convenient all around for visits to the vet and groomer, as well as long-distance travel.
Ensure you buy an appropriately sized crate for your dog. They should easily be able to lie down, stand up and turn around inside. You can also purchase modular crates or some with partitions that you can adjust as your puppy grows. If the crate is too large, then your puppy will happily use one side for elimination and the other for naps.
Dealing with Accidents
You can count on accidents occurring with puppies for up to a year. Dogs like clean personal spaces, but it takes a while for young ones to understand that the entire house is also their space. Accidents can happen due to incomplete house training or a change in the puppy’s environment. When you find fecal droppings and wet spots on the rug, never punish your puppy by hitting it or rubbing its face into the mess. He/she lacks the intelligence to connect your anger to their accident and it will only result in them fearing you. Clean up accidents with an enzymatic cleanser rather than ammonia-based products to minimize odours that might attract the puppy back to the same spot. And then instill punishment by “ignoring” them.
If you catch your puppy in the act quickly lead them outside. Reacting in anger could be counterproductive. You want to become familiar with their pre-toileting behaviour and not drive them into hiding out of fear when this occurs. Puppies will usually let you know when they feel the urge to go by whining or scratching. Pay close attention to these signs so you can react without delay. You want to ensure your puppy clearly understands that elimination should occur outdoors. You need to create ample opportunities to help them get there.
Schedule for Housetraining a Puppy
To that end, you will find it invaluable to establish a strict routine. Puppies have small bladders and bowels. Consequently, liquids and solids move quickly through their system. For the first few days, watch your puppy’s routine to establish a timetable.
In general, puppies need to urinate first thing in the morning. If you have an easily accessible backyard, you can quickly let them out and back in while you make your morning beverage. Just like humans, your puppy will likely require a bowel movement after its first meal, and you can plan for a longer outdoor session right after breakfast. Depending on your dog’s vaccination status, they can either go in the backyard, or this might be the perfect time to take them to the dog park.
Try to get your puppy behaviourally used to going to the same place each time because the familiar scent will prompt elimination. Outdoor time should occur after crate time, indoor play, and just before you leave them alone in the house. As puppies also like to explore and play, staying outside longer may help to curb accidents in the house later. Finally, establishing a regular evening elimination routine will help your puppy settle in for the night. Most can comfortably hold their bladders while they sleep.
Much of your puppy’s elimination needs will occur around meals. You should therefore limit them to 2 – 3 meals a day, and minimize the snacking. Also, a bored puppy will drink, and a puppy that drinks will need to pee. To this end, take away the water at least an hour before bedtime, and never leave water overnight in the crate.
Dogs love to make their owners happy. And pet owners should take full advantage of this dynamic when housetraining a puppy. Each time they finish the deed properly outside, make it the most momentous occasion of their life! Shower them with an abundance of praise, encouragement and rewards. Rewards can include delicious morsels of food, a generous scratch behind the ears, or even a long walk in a ravine. These small gestures will earn large dividends for you in the long run. Your puppy will easily gravitate to behaviours that generate admiration out of you and detest being ignored for bad behaviour.
Occasionally, we find puppies that exacerbate even the most patient of pet owners. If you have tried everything to housetrain your puppy, but to no avail, and are now on the verge of instilling punishment, please stop and come in to see us. Let us understand the reason for their behaviour problems. We can also examine them for physiological problems and help you with productive housetraining strategies.
ABOUT DR. CLIFF
Dr. Cliff Redford, DVM, is an experienced veterinarian and owner/operator of the Wellington Veterinary Hospital in Markham Ontario. Fondly known as Dr. Cliff to his clients, he has tended to the wellness of pets and animals for over two decades. Hands-on experience in his clinic, combined with animal advocacy and rescue missions locally and across the globe, has allowed him to curate a vast body of knowledge on animal health and welfare, including preventative counselling, soft tissue surgery, advanced dental procedures, internal medicine and emergency care.