‘Get a puppy’, they said. ‘It will be fun’, they said. Pffft, whoever ‘they’ are clearly never had to deal with a little shark-toothed monster. We recently adopted a little mix breed (and I use the term “little” very loosely. He has grown way more than we ever expected!), and while it has been very rewarding, it is extremely trying at times. One of the biggest challenges that you will face, besides biting/chewing, which is a whole article on its own, is house training your puppy.
We quickly learnt that when a puppy has to go, they HAVE TO GO. Whether it’s on the floor, the couch, the bed or even on you (they do not discriminate), they eliminate. Not to mention the little surprises that they leave for you. Nothing compares to getting up in the middle of the night to use the loo and your toes touchdown into a squishy little pile. There is nothing glamourous about house training. Nothing.
The reason for these little accidents is simple: your puppies’ bladder muscles are not yet fully developed. They physically cannot hold it. Puppies only fully develop control over their bladders at around 4-6 months of age. So, depending on the age of your puppy, it is unrealistic and unfair to expect him/her to be house trained before this time.
In our case, we were incredibly lucky that Oliver got the hang of it really quickly, and he was fully house trained by around 10-12 weeks old. It was no easy feat, though. It took a lot of encouragement, patience and cleaning products, but we got there. It is also important to remember that every dog is different and develops at a different rate. If your puppy is taking a bit longer to grasp the concept, just keep calm, read the tips and keep on trying. It does get better.
Creating a routine is very important. This pertains to feedings, walks, playtime and bathroom breaks. This teaches your puppy where and when to do their business and it creates an expectation. They learn to anticipate what is going to happen next. You should take your puppy outside or to the desired area first thing when they wake up, directly after meals, after play time, before you go out and before bedtime. For the first month or so you will have to take them outside during the course of the night as well. The general rule of thumb is that a puppy can hold their bladder for the same duration as their age i.e. 2 months old= 2 hours, 3 months old= 3 hours.
I found the following schedule worked really well for Oliver and it only entailed getting up once during the night: 9 pm, 11 pm, 2 am, 5/6 am. Even if Oliver didn’t wake me up during the night, I still got up and let him out. This avoided any accidents during the night.
As they say, patience is a virtue. And you are going to need a lot of it! Chances are that your puppy won’t immediately do their thing when you take them outside and you will have to hang around patiently until they do. A good trick, which will also come in handy as they get older, is to use a specific word while they are relieving themselves. Eventually your puppy/dog will associate that word with the action and they will be able to go on cue, or at the very least it will be a reminder of what they are supposed to do.
3. Positive Reinforcement
Get ready to become your puppy’s cheerleader. Positive reinforcement is the most powerful tool that you can use. When your puppy does their business outside, go wild, like it is the greatest thing you have ever seen. Praise them, clap, tell them they are good boys and girls, use your best high-pitched, squeaky voice, embrace them. Let your inner “Bring It On” character out. You can also reward them with a small puppy-friendly treat.
Also, accidents are going to happen. When they do, do not make a big fuss or shout/scold your puppy. Simply clean it up and move on. Old methods, like putting your puppy’s nose in the pee, do not work and will make your puppy fear you. Rather reinforce all positive behaviour and ignore unwanted ones.
As with most things pertaining to training, consistency is key. Your puppy is not going to learn to eliminate outside if you do not stick to your routine and take them out every couple of hours or after activities. By being inconsistent, you are sending your puppy confusing messages and house training is going to take you five times longer. While it is inconvenient to get up in the middle of the night, if you are consistent, it will be short lived and you will be back to sleeping through in no time.
5. Cleaning Products
Do yourself a favour and invest in some good quality cleaning products, made specifically for urine and odour removal. Puppies and dogs are drawn to go to the same places over and over again, so if you don’t clean up any accidents in the house properly, they will most likely continue to wee there. Just make sure that the products you use are animal friendly and keep them well out of reach of curious puppies.
6. Make plans for when you are away
If you are going to be out of the house for more than 2-3 hours at a time, then you may have to make other arrangements to let your puppy out. It is crucial that the routine is followed if you are to successfully house train your puppy. You could ask a neighbour or pet sitter to come over, or, alternatively, you can use puppy pads for indoor elimination when you aren’t there. The use of puppy pads can prolong your house training though, so use them only if you have no other option.