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all articles by Lisa Lafferty unless otherwise noted.  Some previously published on K9Station (defunct) under author's previous name Lisa Giroux

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Housetraining

by Lisa Lafferty

...Whether you have a puppy or an older dog, a new dog or a a dog you've had for a while that is suddenly having issues, here is advice you can use.  Throw away everything you have heard before, start fresh with an open mind, read this article, and you will succeed...

There are a few basic things that a puppy needs to learn in order to become reliably housetrained.  Dogs have no idea that humans consider pee and poo in the house reprehensible!  THERE IS NO NATURAL INSTINCT THAT TELLS THE DOG NOT TO GO IN YOUR HOME. 

It usually takes about 3 weeks of extremely sharp observation and confinement, followed by a gradual reduction of supervision that lasts until the dog is 6-7 months of age before the dog can be trusted not to eliminate indoors while unsupervised in a home. 

Dogs learn to be clean in the rooms you spend the most time in first, and then areas that are further away from the places you spend the most time.

Here are the three basic things you need to teach your new puppy: 

  1. Proper place to relieve itself.

  2. Develop bladder control…ability to conscientiously “hold it” for a gradually increasing time period.

  3. An idea of where it is NOT ok to relieve itself.

#1--Proper Place to Relieve

Make sure the puppy is relieving itself in the designated area each time it voids.  The puppy has absolutely no responsibility in this…it’s all up to YOU as the handler to predict and take action, and get the puppy out there when it’s time to go.  How is this possible? 

First of all, consider training the dog to go potty on cue.  This makes life very, very easy for you down the road.  This is easily done with either a puppy or an older dog.  Visit Training to Potty On Cue for directions.

Predict when the pup needs to go.  Very young puppies of 7 weeks of age will need to go during the day about once every 45 minutes or more.  Plan to get the puppy outside as soon as possible after he eats, heavily drinks, wakes up, or has an active playtime.  This means that for the first week or so, you must plan on being able to give near-total attention to what the puppy is doing.  When puppy goes in the right spot, reward with lavish voice praise and give a treat as the puppy is voiding, actually in the “position.”  Make sure the rewards are given immediately, or the puppy will not understand why it is being rewarded.   If your puppy constantly goes to the bathroom in the RIGHT SPOT, he will soon want to be there when he feels the urge.  Again, I urge you to visit Training to Potty On Cue .

Secondly, you need to try to totally prevent accidents.  If your puppy goes to the bathroom in your home,  he has learned that your house is an OK place to void.  Each time he repeats this experience, it is cementing in his little brain that the house is the place to do it.  You must prevent these accidents from happening by paying sharp attention to the puppy.  The best way to train a puppy to pee in the house is by allowing him to pee in the house.  Practice makes perfect, after all!

Use of confinement is a very helpful tool during the housetraining of a puppy.  Because even very young dogs will avoid elimination in small areas, keeping the puppy confined to a small space will allow you to avoid many accidents.  You can do this with a crate, by leashing the puppy to you, or by making a small partition near where you will be, daytime and night.  The confinement space must be small enough that the puppy cannot go to one end, void, and go to the other end and lie down.  If you have an adult-size crate for a tiny puppy, make it smaller by stacking bricks or old canned goods in the back, or by making a wire partition. 

Confinement is not, by any means, a cruel thing to teach a dog.  Dogs who are taught to relax in a confined area will regard that area as their den, a place to go where they can rest undisturbed.  Dogs that are crate-trained will often CHOOSE to sleep or relax in their confinement area on their own for the rest of their life.  They will also be less stressed later in life should they need to be confined at the vet or rested after an injury.  Visits to other’s homes, vacations, etc are made easier if you have a dog that is comfortable in a crate or confined to a small area.  Please see the Crate Training/Confinement Training article for directions.

The puppy must never be out of your sight while unconfined.  This means NEVER.  If you cannot have your eyes directly on your puppy, even if he has just eliminated, confine him.

#2—Developing Bladder Control

7-week old pups will need to go very often because their little bodies are not capable of retaining very much urine, and also they have no idea that they SHOULD “hold it.”  With baby puppies, it’s basically “feel the need and let it flow.”  However, after only a few days to a week the time period they are capable of “holding it” will drastically increase as they physically develop, and your training program will be teaching them to “hold it.” 

Confinement, in the beginning, can be a great tool for developing bladder control.  Puppies can rest in a crate for up to about 1 ½ hours during the day, longer at night, before needing to be let out.  This will actually increase the volume their bladders can handle, and will aid in housetraining. Puppies that are active in their crates (heavy chewing, or possibly just restless behavior or vocalizing) need to be let out more often.   

Puppies that are less than 8-9 weeks of age may need to be let out during the night.  You can reduce the chances they will need to go at night by feeding them for the last time at around 6:00 p.m. and picking up water at 6:30.  Note:  Allowing totally free access to food will probably lengthen the training period and may cause problems later in life with feeding habits.  Consult your vet on your puppies’ food scheduling needs.  Get them out for the last time at around 10:30-11:00 (even if they are sleepy and acting like a rag doll).  It is best to confine the puppy right next to your bed in the first week so that you can hear his first stirrings.  He will probably awaken at around 2:00-3:00 a.m.  Because he is right beside your bed, you can hang a hand over and touch him and see if he will go back to sleep (he might just be wondering where his warm littermates are).  If he seems really restless, get up and take him out but be REALLY BORING.  Don’t teach your puppy that 3 a.m. is playtime!  Outdoors, eliminate, back to bed.  Don’t forget to praise even if you’re sleepy!  He’ll probably wake up again between 5:00-6:00. 

After a few days, most pups begin sleeping through the night.  After about the age of 9 weeks, if your puppy is still waking up and crying to go out, it’s probably habit and not real need.  Try ignoring him and see if he goes back to sleep.  If problems persist, consult a trainer.

If you have adopted an older dog that is not housetrained, he will need much the same routine.  If he has never learned to "hold it" a little, he might need to go out more often at first until he develops this learned behavior.

#3—Where is it NOT ok to go?

At some point, no matter how diligent you are, a puppy will have an accident on the floor.  If you have been adequately supervising the puppy, you should see the accident happening.  AS IT IS HAPPENING, make a sharp AHH AHH sound, clap your hands, grab puppy up and take him outdoors.  As soon as you arrive outdoors, say “good puppy” sweetly.  You must change your demeanor right away no matter how frustrated you might be.  You want the puppy to learn, “indoors Human doesn’t like it, outdoors Human thinks I’m a GOOD PUPPY.”  If you remain in a “bad mood,” you will be teaching the puppy that he needs to be very far away from you to go to the bathroom.  This can lead to the puppy avoiding eliminating in your presence outside, then coming indoors and not being able to hold it any longer and having accidents.  So, short form…puppy pees, you say AHH AHH and grab puppy and go outdoors, then you turn into Sweet Loving Praiseful Human the second you get out the door.   If you are using a trained cue as directed in the article, you can then give the cue and the puppy will understand the whole issue much better.

Housetraining a puppy successfully is largely the result of doing a LOT of good observation work in the first few weeks.  It’s not difficult but it does take a lot of your time and attention.  Keep in mind that the “hard stuff” is over within a very short time, and the after-effects of your efforts will last for the lifetime of the dog! 

Other Tips

  • Keep your doors shut in the house, or install baby gates so that you can confine the puppy into the same room with you.  Remember, out of sight means ACCIDENTS.

  • Even after the puppy seems pretty much housetrained, keep doors to other rooms in the house shut.  Puppies learn their housetraining room by room.  Their instinct tells them, “don’t pee where I live,” and you have to teach them that they do, indeed, live in the whole house and not just the kitchen or living room.  Spend time in less-popular rooms of the house with him…sit down and read a book for a while or something, so that he will understand “aha, we live HERE too” and will understand that he’s not to go to the bathroom there.  Accidents are common in back bedrooms and formal sitting rooms…he’s not trying to “hide it” or “get revenge,” he just doesn’t know those rooms are included yet.  As far as he’s concerned, they are fair game because “we don’t live there.”

  • Reward lavishly for any behavior such as going to the door or otherwise indicating that he needs to go out, but don’t expect this from your puppy.  Some dogs do it, some don’t.  Some dogs will just hold it until you happen to let them out, some will be more pro-active.  It is NEVER the puppies’ responsibility to tell you he has to go for the first few months of his life.  It is always up to you.  Some dogs can be trained to ring a hanging bell to ask for the door…great fun to teach and a very useful skill. 

  • As the puppy gets older, you may think that housetraining is “done.”  Usually at around 12 weeks, many puppies go through a period of time where it seems that they have tons of accidents and are “backsliding” in what they have learned.  This is usually because we have developed faith in them that they are “done” and we slack off on observation.  Drop off your constant observation gradually, not suddenly.  Best bet?  Keep the puppy close to you as much as possible.  That’s what all dogs want anyway!

  •  If you are visiting someone with your dog, never assume that he will know not to go in their home.  Keep him close by and keep your eyes peeled.  After he has voided outside a couple of times you can usually relax a bit about it, but not before.  Many people have been highly embarrassed by their “totally housetrained” dog doing the doo-doo on someone else’s rug.

Things NOT to do when housetraining

  • Don’t ever rub your puppy’s face into his urine or feces.  He will not connect his previous actions with what you are doing.  What he will learn from this all-too-commonly used exercise is that his master sometimes grabs him and rubs his face in poo and should therefore be avoided and looked at with distrust, especially if there happens to be poo in the room.  IT WILL NOT TEACH HIM ANYTHING CONSTRUCTIVE AND MAY SEVERELY DAMAGE YOUR RELATIONSHIP.

  • If you find an accident that you did not witness happening, clean it up and remind yourself to watch the puppy more closely, and forget about it.  Don’t bring the dog to the site and try to get him to understand you’re not happy.  Dogs only learn to associate things when they are very close together…would you tell the dog “sit,” and then wait 10 minutes to give him a treat?  He would not learn the sit command from that kind of training, and he will not learn anything constructive from being brought to the site of an accident that happened minutes or even hours ago.

  • Don’t expect a young puppy to be able to hold it for unreasonable lengths of time.  A 7 week old puppy can be expected to hold it for a maximum of 1 ½ -2 hours when confined during the day, and 4-5 hours at a stretch at night.  After 9 weeks or so, the time can be gradually increased to up to about 4 hours in a crate during daytime hours, and all night (8-10 hours).  If you do not allow opportunities for the dog to relieve itself, the dog will eventually have an accident in the crate, which can cause a disregard for cleanliness.  No dog should be expected to stay in a crate for the length of a normal working day, even as an adult.  Please contact a trainer to get solutions for dogs that need to be alone for long periods of time.

"Older Dog” Housetraining

The key to making a great start with a new adult dog is that you have a plan of action prior to bringing the dog home. 

With most dogs, the process takes only a day or two.  If the dog is previously totally un-trained you will need to follow most of the instructions for puppies, but the process will proceed far more quickly and bladder control development is not as necessary.

The very first rule of successful older dog housetraining:

DO NOT TURN THE DOG LOOSE INTO HIS NEW HOME THE FIRST TIME HE WALKS IN THE DOOR! 

When people get an older dog, one of the first things they do when they get home, out of a sense of kindness I suppose, is take the leash off and say, "check out your new house, buddy!"  The dog then does exactly that, and in the process pees somewhere.  This is exactly what you DO NOT WANT.  This problem is far more serious with an adult male who marks territory.  Watch closely that he does not proceed to mark in your house, keep him on leash, and use your correction voice when you see him even THINKING about it!

As happy as you may be to show him his new residence, restrain yourself and keep him on the leash! 

  • When you first bring him home, keep him on leash with you in the house until he has relieved outdoors.  Stay outside with him and praise lavishly, give a treat as he’s going. 

  • Immediately after he has relieved himself outdoors, bring him in, still on the leash, and show him around the whole house.  Don’t let him roam too far from you.  If it’s a male dog, WATCH OUT!  If you see him sniffing the sides of a sofa or the corner of a wall or doorjamb, interrupt this with a sharp AHH AHH or a couple of hand claps, and get him outdoors.  If your dog is male and attempts to hike his leg to mark, you must keep a VERY sharp eye on him for the first few days or he will do it on every vertical surface.  What’s great is that if you prevent these instances from occurring right from the start, they usually “get it” right away and don’t attempt it anymore.  A couple of satisfying markings in the house, though, will keep him doing it for ages.  Be attentive!

  • For the first few days, don’t allow him free access to the whole house.  Keep him where you can see him, get him outdoors often and praise for doing it out there.

  • If you catch him in the act of having an accident, a sharp AHH AHH and immediately taking him outdoors to finish, followed by praise for doing so, should help him understand.   Remember, if you didn’t see it happening, forget about it.  No good punishing after the fact.  Watch him more closely.

  • Keep him confined when you can’t watch him until your “gut instinct” tells you it’s absolutely safe to let him have more freedom.  Give him this freedom gradually and watch carefully to make sure he’s not going to a back bedroom to do his thing.

IMPORTANT NOTES ON HEALTH

If you are not getting anywhere with housetraining, your dog or puppy seems to be urinating or defecating to an unusual degree, or your previously reliably trained dog is having unexplainable accidents, please consult your veterinarian.  Dogs and puppies can suffer from various common illnesses that affect their ability to control urination and defecation.

DOGS THAT "SNEAK AWAY" OR TOILET ON FURNITURE

Dogs have an instinct not to pee where they live.  When we housetrain a dog, we basically are teaching him that our whole house is "where he lives," and not just the 6-foot diameter of a den.  When dogs get an urgent need to go, they try very hard to find the place that is furthest away from where they live.  Usually this means they go to the room of the house in which they spend very little time, such as a back bedroom, the basement, etc.  They aren't trying to "hide" the evidence...they don't have the mental capacity to understand that concept.  To fix this, spend time with your dog in that room, and do not allow him unsupervised access until after you've spent lots of time.  Simply reading a book for 10 minutes with the dog at your side a few times should do the trick.

When dogs toilet on furniture, folks get pretty upset and often think it's a statement.  Maybe the dog didn't appreciate being left home alone and this is how he tells us!  Not so. 

Young puppies often pee on beds.  My unproven theory is that it is such a smelly and odorous place (to a dog, of course) that it prompts them to pee.  Don't let your baby puppy roam around on your bed unless you want to do big loads of laundry!  For some reason little bitty puppies are stimulated to pee when you put them there.  I speak from vast personal experience!

Older dogs pee on beds and furniture occasionally, and it's usually because they have a more-urgent-than-usual need to go, try to find a place in the house where it's appropriate, can't find one, and pick a spot where nobody has ever told them *not* to go...surfaces that are off the floor.  It could be that your dog has learned he's not to pee or poo on FLOORS and that all other surfaces are optional.  Keep your dog away from these places when he's alone and supervise him more closely for a while.  This problem usually goes away without difficulty as long as he's not permitted to do it over and over again.

  
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