The Three Rules of Housebreaking Your Puppy

There are lots of things to look forward to when adopting a puppy: cuddling, playtime, kisses, and the pitter-patter those tiny little feet. One thing that dog owners do not look forward to, however, is housebreaking their new puppy. A notoriously challenging task that can try your patience and lead to some embarrassing moments, housebreaking is a necessary part of puppyhood.

Based on our experience with our own puppies, and what we’ve learned from dog trainers around the country, we present these three universal rules of housebreaking your puppy:

1) Be Consistent

Dogs thrive on routine, especially when they are young. Housebreaking is no exception. The “Dog Whisperer” himself, Cesar Millan, asserts that daily consistency is the key to successfully housebreaking your dog.

Even before you bring your puppy home for the first time, work with your family to a devise a daily dog schedule. Meals, walks, playtime, sleep, trips outside – try work in these activities at the same time every day. Your puppy will soon learn to associate these times with these activities. “7:00AM, I eat. 7:30AM, I go outside. 8:00AM, I play with toys…”

When creating this schedule, be sure to include plenty of “potty breaks,” and not just first thing in the morning and before bed. A good rule of thumb from the Humane Society of the United States: a puppy can typically control his bladder for one hour for every month of age. Because of this fact, they suggest scheduling “potty breaks” at various times throughout the day, including immediately following each meal, after waking up from a nap and after long play sessions.

Finally, be aware and vigilant about where your puppy spends his time in your home. Set clear rules about what rooms are off-limits to the puppy, and make sure everyone (even the kids and visitors), follows them. You can use baby gates to help enforce these rules, or you can talk to your DogWatch dealer about indoor hidden boundary solutions.  These safe, small systems will teach your dog to recognize “off-limits” areas, such as formal rooms, kitchen counters, couches and even the cat litter box. Your DogWatch dealer can help you design a system for your home, and work with you to determine the right age for your puppy to start training with an indoor boundary system.

We know it will be challenging to fit a rigid schedule into your fast-paced, crowded, multi-tasking life. Just remember: establishing a routine and sticking to it is the fastest way to rid your house of puppy “accidents.”

2) Stay Committed

Neglecting the routine, on the other hand, can quickly lead to housebreaking failures and months of frustration. This brings us to the second rule of housebreaking – be committed. Teaching your dog important lessons like housebreaking when they are young is a great way to set up your pet for a healthy, well-behaved future.

Of course, commitment means that even if you hate getting up at, say 7:00AM on Saturday morning, you’ll have to tough it out. If this strict schedule is a struggle for you, ask family or friends to help, reminding them that help now makes everyone’s life easier later. And don’t forget, when you’re walking on those dreary early Saturdays, you can always take a nap with your new cuddle buddy when you get home, once all the hard work is done!

Another aspect of this commitment is promptly cleaning up after your dog when he has an accident in the home. A dog can quickly associate an area of the house as fair game if he can still smell the scent of his waste there. Keep a supply of pet cleaner in the house at all times, and thoroughly clean messes as soon as you spot them. Your dog will appreciate it, and so will you, once that odor disappears.

Maintain this vigilance by keeping a close watch on your puppy at all times, encouraging and rewarding good behavior. When your dog does her “business” outside, reward her immediately. If you happen to catch her eliminating inside, interrupt her and firmly address her with “outside” or any other chosen word or phrase you associate with housebreaking.

If, however, you catch it after the fact, do not scold your puppy and definitely don’t rub her nose it in. Experts agree that this tactic will only serve to make your dog afraid to eliminate in front of you, and encourage her to eliminate in hidden places when you are not looking. In addition to the added cleaning time, this negative reinforcement actually prolongs the entire housebreaking process and can lead to more training problems down the road.

Finally, for those times when you are unable to watch over your puppy, keep her in a crate or another enclosed area. This will not only protect her from common household hazards (e.g. falling objects, poisonous plants or food, open windows, etc.), but also teach her how to be alone, thus preventing separation anxiety – another behavior challenge that leads to household messes.

3) Have Patience

This last rule of housebreaking is, surprisingly, the most difficult to follow. We all love our puppies, but even the most dedicated pet parent can reach the breaking point when they are forced to deal with yet another carpet stain or morning mess. How will you get through it?

First of all, acknowledge the fact that, just like humans, no dog is perfect. Sure, you may envy your neighbor’s well-training pooch and spot-free couch, but remember, they had to go through the same process as you are going through now with your puppy. Some dogs may be housebroken in a matter of weeks, while others might need a few months before they start to catch on. (Chihuahua owners especially know what it feels like to fall into the latter category!) If your dog is struggling, stay focused on the routine – you’ll get there eventually. Meanwhile, remind yourself about the other tasks that your dog is doing well – perhaps she gets along great with the house cat, or she doesn’t pull on the leash as much as she used to. Every dog is unique – that’s what makes them so special!

On a less philosophical note, we also wanted to introduce an additional helpful tool for housebreaking that many dog owners have found to be quite effective – the bell method. Hang a bell or a string of bells to the door you commonly use to take your dog outside. Ring the bell each time your leave, and say your chosen command (such as “outside”) at the same time. With enough repetition, your puppy will associate the bell with going outside to do his business, and will start to tug and pull on the bell when he feels the need. Watch as 10-week old Rocky, an Old English Sheepdog, expertly deploys this skill in the video below:

We hope you have found these tips helpful, and we encourage you to share your own stories with us via Facebook and Twitter. Good luck, and congrats on the new puppy!

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