Tried and True Tips to Housebreaking Your Puppy

Jody Rosengarten      By Jody Rosengarten

Let’s face it; there is nothing fun about housebreaking. Like toilet training, it’s all consuming when you’re in the thick of it. Once completed, one is hard pressed to remember what the big deal was. Here are some pull that band aid off fast housebreaking tips so you can move on to the more satisfying business of raising the puppy of your dreams.

The essence of housebreaking is supervision. Given the immediacy with which dogs learn what is and is not acceptable, you can only respond appropriately by observing what he is doing. Your pup will assume that everything’s copasetic unless told otherwise. So, to allow Pavlov to meander solo into the den and take a dump means—doggy de facto—it is okay. Why not? When supervision is not possible, confine him in a small, dog safe space or a training crate.

Our goal for your brand new, two to three month old puppy is to get him outside often enough to maximize opportunities to reinforce his relieving himself there while also minimizing accidents. This is your pre-training month. He has no real muscle control yet so you are simply hoping to get lucky a lot. Young puppies usually need to urinate when aroused by play, greetings, awakening, fear, and when they laugh. They should be expected to have multiple bowel movements a day.

All puppies demonstrate certain behaviors prior to relieving themselves: some circle, others sniff in a particular way, whine and many kink their tails. My dog Stinky had an “I need to poop” prance. Observe your puppy’s body language so, upon spotting it, you can respond with a quick trip outdoors.  Hang a bell on the inside handle of the exit door in hopes that he will come to associate its tinkling with his own and ultimately ring it to ask to go out. I’ve found that most puppies figure this out by four months. 

Outside, generalize his toileting terrain; the periphery, pachysandra, wood chips, etc. I don’t believe in being too specific lest you mean to teach the pup that this is the only place you ever want him to go. As the puppy squats say something like “Hurry up”, “Get busy”, “Go potty”, whatever. With enough repetition, hearing this password will cue what he’s out there to do. As many dogs relieve themselves many times per outing, especially first thing in the morning, give him ample opportunity to empty himself.

Strict surveillance has the dual benefit of enabling you to anticipate the puppy’s needs while also allowing for prompt intervention in the event of an accident.  Simply say “No,” mid-squat, and immediately rush the puppy and his poop (picked up with a paper towel) outdoors. Don’t forget to ring the bell en route. Show Pavlov where a good boy “Gets busy”. You must redirect all mistakes though it’s not necessary to sop up urine. It is easy to get lazy here. After all, he’s already gone, it’s raining and you’ve got cramps. But to correct without redirecting is only half a thought, a missed opportunity. 

And please don’t go over board with the correction. It’s urine not uranium, simply clean up with an odor neutralizer and move on. To come on too strongly runs the risk of teaching Pavlov to be sneaky. I learned this lesson twenty-nine years ago when my (then) husband screamed at our puppy, P.J. for pooping on the carpet. Without redirecting her outdoors, Plain Jane had no way of knowing that it was a problem of location. She thought she wasn’t supposed to go in front of Marc. So she didn’t. This made his walking her in New York City a challenge. More often than not, she’d hold on until she could get away from him inside and unload behind a potted plant. The priority, therefore, is to play up praise for right choices and down play corrections. 

Another don’t: Don’t rub your dog’s nose in his excrement. Yuck! Aside from being disgusting, the only aversive aspect is your wrath. Dogs adore the smell of pee and poop. Who makes this stuff up anyway?

Now that the concept of where to go is taught, from four to six months incrementally stretch the time between trips out. Your puppy needs to learn that there is a reliable rhythm to the day. WARNING: Puppies don’t know about weekends, forget about sleeping in for a while. As with all learning, there will be advances and regressions. Bad weather, illness and change in routine can cause him to slip up. Not to worry, this is totally natural. So long as your expectations are reasonable, by six months, your puppy should be 100% housebroken. Dare to dream. 

Good luck!

Jody Rosengarten

The Bark Stops Here

203) 372-BARK 

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