ClickerSolutions Training Articles

Housetraining Your Puppy

I have housetrained many puppies with great success, in all seasons. The method below is not my invention. In fact, it is not a "method". Instead, it is understanding the dog's needs, physiology, behavior and ability to learn.

The Crate

Crate your dog when you can't watch him. You and the puppy need a safe place for him to go when you can't watch him every second, where he won't learn bad habits. Dogs are DEN animals. A crate is like a den. A small room like a bathroom or back porch is not the same. It is too big, the ceiling too high, and nothing like a den. If you can't afford a crate, borrow one. A crate for your dog is as important as a bed for your child. Keep the crate in a busy convenient location such as the kitchen or living room where the family spends a lot of time.

When you eat dinner, he goes in the crate. When the phone rings, he goes in the crate before you answer the phone. When you leave for work, the dog goes in the crate. When he eats, he eats in the crate. When he naps, put him in his crate. When you just need a break from puppy watching, crate him! Put him in the crate in a happy voice, have a nice soft fleece for him to lay on, give him a favorite chewtoy and shut the door. Ignore fussing, don't talk to him, and don't let him out when he is fussing. If he learns that fussing gets him out of the crate to be with you, then he will fuss louder every time.

Elimination

Put the collar and leash on the puppy to take him outside, even if you have a fenced yard. This physical connection is very important for bonding and training. The leash is not for corrections or pulling the dog, but only to keep the pup close to you. He should not wear a collar when he is inside, as he may get tangled in it and injure himself. I have seen puppies get their lower jaw hooked on a collar, or foot stuck through a collar. It is too great a risk.

Do not rely on a puppy to tell you when it's time to go out. That is expecting too much responsibility and communication at too early an age. It is up to you, the adult human, to know when he needs to go out. Watch his activity level and the clock.

A 12 wk puppy who is busy playing may need to urinate every 15-20 minutes, whereas a resting puppy might go for an hour, and a sleeping puppy can go 8 hours at night. Activity makes urine! Activity makes urine! Repeat this 10 times, slowly. This is a very important lesson for new puppy owners.

Go to the place where you want him to eliminate, and be as boring as possible. Stay in one place. This is not a walk for sniffing and exploring.

Use commands for elimination. I use a different word for each function, "Quickly" for urinate, and "Hurry up!" for defecate. You can choose your own words, just be sure they are not words used in everyday conversation, or at least have a unique way of saying it. One friend of mine uses "Zoom" for urinate. Each function uses different muscle groups so they are different behaviors. Say "Quickly!" repeatedly until the pup urinates. It becomes a habit for both of you, and soon you will only need to say it once and he will go immediately. This is the ONLY TIME I recommend saying a command repeatedly in training.

If you are clicker training, click and treat (c/t) as the urine stream ends. The click ends the behavior. OVER-REACT with joy when the pup goes. WOW!! Good Boy! Aren't you wonderful!! in a high pitched very happy voice. Be a clown for your puppy! Make him believe you think he is incredible for eliminating outside. Give him a treat and toss a ball or play chase or let him walk around and explore. You want him to learn that first he urinates, then the fun begins.

Since this is such an important part of training your pet, we use triple rewards, Praise, Treat and Play. Eventually he will go before you say the command. This is great!

The behavior behind this training: Dogs develop substrate preferences for eliminating. By substrate, I mean what they feel under their feet. In their first few weeks of life they need their mother to lick them to stimulate elimination. Around 4 weeks of age they begin to control this themselves. It is a self-rewarding behavior because it feels good. They associate this good feeling with the environment they are in at the time. This is about the same time they are walking well enough to go outside. If they are taken outside enough, several times a day, during this period of development (4 through 8 weeks) they will associate the good feeling of relieving themselves with the grass under their feet, the sky above, and all the smells and sounds of the outdoors. The tactile experience, the texture under the feet, becomes the cue.

If your puppy does not already have this outdoor experience, then you can provide it for him now, to retrain the "substrate preference" he has already learned. Take the pup out about once per hour. This is after play, eating, sleeping, etc. If the puppy can't hold his urine from the crate to the back door while walking, carry him for the first week or so. After a busy play session, take the puppy out, even if it's only been 15 minutes since he last went out. Physical activity produces urine. Inactivity slows the production of urine. This is why a puppy can sleep all night without wetting in the crate, but will urinate on the floor as soon as you let him out of the crate.

Dogs have an instinctive sense of cleanliness for their den. They are reluctant to wet or soil it, and will keep it clean and dry if physically possible. Eventually this sense of cleanliness will extend to your entire house.

IGNORE ACCIDENTS IN THE HOUSE. This is the hard part, especially if you have ignorant people telling you to punish.

If the puppy has an accident, it is due to your lack of observation of activity and timing, not the puppy's fault. With practice your timing will get better. Remember, you are new at this too! Punishment will just make him think you are unpredictable, a jerk and he can't trust you. We don't punish human babies for going in their diapers, nor is there any place for punishing a puppy for going in the house.

The basic lesson is: Reward behavior you want repeated. Ignore behavior you don't want. Of course, you need to clean up the accident. Blot up the urine, use a good soapy cleaner such as Fantastic, and rinse with white distilled vinegar. The vinegar chemically counteracts the urine and the soap.

SLOWLY you will be able to extend the time between eliminations to 1 1/4 hour, then 1 1/2, etc. Watch your pup's needs. It is his bladder maturity that controls the timing, not your agenda. Be patient!

Review

Learning to eliminate outside is a holistic experience for the pup. The sensation of emptying the bladder and bowels feels good. It is self-reinforcing. The pup will learn to associate that good feeling with the snow, grass, or gravel, etc, under his feet, the sky above, the leash on his collar, and your praise. What could be better? His world is dependable, rewarding and trustworthy. As the dog gets older he will remember the habit of eliminating first, every time he goes out. Keep up with the commands so they are embedded in the behavior. This becomes valuable when traveling, visiting a large city, relatives, a quick trip out in a rainstorm, etc.

Summary

  • Crate the puppy when you can't watch him.
  • Ignore fussing in the crate.
  • Leash him to take him out.
  • Teach him to eliminate on command.
  • Reward him for eliminating with praise, a treat and a brief play session.

Wendy Dreyer
Arboretum Australian Shepherds
27 Dunbar Road
Quaker Hill, CT 06375
glennwen@idt.net
copyright 1999 Wendy Dreyer

 

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