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Your Guide to House Training a Puppy

  By Becky Turner Visit The Sheltie Forums

House training a puppy means teaching her to pee and poop outdoors - and not inside the house on your lovely cream carpets. Puppies' bladders and bowels are small and weak. They can't hold it in for more than a few hours so you need to work out a frequent toilet break routine.

Housebreaking a puppy is one of the major challenges of dog ownership, particularly for first-time owners. But if you equip yourself with some rudimentary knowledge and a positive attitude, it needn't be as hard as you think.

House Training a Puppy
This furball can make A LOT of mess!

This article covers two house training techniques:

  • Crate Training - which involves consistently crating your puppy every time you can't watch her for the first few months of life.

  • Traditional Housebreaking - starting indoors with newspaper and then moving outdoors when she's old enough to "get it".

Bringing Home Your New Puppy

As soon as you bring your new puppy home, take her outside to begin house training. The excitement of the car journey along with the unfamiliar faces, sights and sounds will have her needing to go. If you can orchestrate her first dog toilet training session so that it occurs outside, then so much the better. (The more your puppy relieves herself inside the house, the more likely she is to do it again next time!)

The First Dog Toilet Training Session

Step 1 - Take your Sheltie puppy to the designated toilet area and put her down on the grass. Wait while she sniffs around. Don't start petting her or playing with her just yet, because you don't want her to associate this area with fun and games. She has to learn that this part of the yard is for going to the toilet.

Step 2 - When she begins to relieve herself, say the phrase you want her to associate with toilet breaks: "go pee", "busy busy", "potty time" or whatever works for you. (Pete ingrained the word "URIIIINE!" for Howard, much to my distaste!) Make the phrase short and easily recognizable and use the same voice inflection each time, so your Sheltie can easily memorize the meaning of the phrase.

Step 3 - When she's done peeing or pooping, make a big fuss over her. Shower her with praise and affection, and give her a little treat. It's a job well done for both of you!

Now the indoor house training begins. You should decide whether you're going to crate train or gradually housebreak with puppy pads from here on.

Crate training is generally accepted to be the most effective means of house training a puppy with minimum chance of mess on the carpets. However, personally I find it very restrictive on the puppy, limiting her opportunity to explore the house and increasing boredom for all those hours she's stuck in a crate.

We managed to housebreak Howard and Piper through traditional toilet training, encouraging them to go on newspaper indoors at first, then moving it outside. There were more accidents but it gave them much more freedom to explore the house and garden for those crucial early months of learning and development.


What is Crate Training?

Crate training is the use of a small indoor kennel (a crate) to confine your young puppy when you're not actively supervising her.

Crate Training
Crate training is a popular housebreaking technique

It's based on the principle that your Sheltie has an inherent dislike of soiling the area where she sleeps. So when you restricting your puppy's movement to her sleeping space, she'll instinctively hold it in until she's let out of the crate.

But DON'T leave her in there too long! The rule of thumb is your puppy's age in months, plus one. So a three-month old puppy should only be crated for a maximum of four hours.

However, this is a long time to crate a puppy and is no fun for her. I don't recommend crating a puppy for more than a couple of hours unless you absolutely can't help it. If she's sleeping, of course, just let her sleep until she wakes up naturally.

It's also important that the crate is sized properly: if it's too big, she'll be able to use one end as a bed and one end as a toilet. This defeats the whole purpose of house training a puppy through this confinement technique.

Crate Training a Puppy

Crate training works like this: your Sheltie puppy is in that crate at all times unless she's sleeping, eating, going to the toilet outside, or being actively supervised. You have to be consistent or it doesn't work. You can't let your puppy wander off through the house unless you're focusing your complete attention on her.

Sample Crate Training Schedule (AM)

7.00: Wake up and take puppy outside for a toilet break.
7.25: Give her a little breakfast.
7.45: Outside for a toilet break.
7.50 - 8.45: Play time. Allow your puppy out of the crate and actively play with her to stimulate her mentally.
8.45: Outside for a toilet break.
8.50 - 11.00: Back in the crate.
11.00: Outside for a toilet break.
11.05 - 12.30: Play time. Allow your puppy out of the crate and actively play with her and give her lots of cuddles and affection.
12:30: Lunch time.
12.45: Outside for a toilet break.
1.00 - 3.30: Back in the crate.

...and so on throughout the day.

Crate training generally takes two months, and as your puppy gets older you can begin to reduce the amount of time spent in the crate (but not too soon!)

Clearly, crate training takes real perseverance and your puppy will have to start life with more confinement, but it is a proven method that enables very few accidents.

Traditional Housebreaking

Howard was my first puppy ever and I had no idea about house training. Naturally, I found out the hard way! I spent a long time cleaning up stains and puddles of pee, while Howard looked on at me curiously.

In the end, the technique I found worked best was a two-stage approach; first peeing indoors in a designated area on newspapers, then moving it outside. The transition to outdoor peeing took two weeks flat before he started to do it all by himself (that was a big day for him... and us!)

Dog Toilet Training: Indoor Housebreaking

At first, we house trained Howard to do his business on a pile of newspaper laid out on the kitchen floor. It was far enough from his bed and eating area to be considered an ideal pooping area - and as long as we left a little of his urine scent behind before throwing the rest in the trash, he kept returning to it next time.

Sometimes, though, he'd make a mistake and start peeing on the living room carpet right in front of us. Most people react to this by shouting and even rubbing their dog's nose in it. This doesn't help at all. In fact, all it does is show your dog that you're an erratic and illogical pack leader. They really don't know what you mean or what they've done wrong!

When you catch your Sheltie in the act of peeing on the carpet, firmly say "No!" then lift her up and take her over to the designated area to finish off. Don't get angry at her; she's still learning!

When it comes to pooping, you'll notice your Sheltie start sniffing around and walking in circles. You can catch her in time before she even commits the act. Once again, calmly but firmly say "No!" and carry her to the appropriate spot. Watch over her until she does her business, encouraging her back to the newspaper area. Praise her when she gets it right!

Dog Toilet Training: Outdoor Housebreaking

Housebreaking a Puppy
Jock shows Howard how it's done

Every morning, as soon as we woke up (usually to Howard's noises and scuffling about the bedroom), one of us took him down to the garden for a pee. It would mean standing outside in the cold while we were still half asleep but Howard didn't mind! Eventually he'd do his business, get lots of praise and attention, then we'd go back inside.

This became the rule - every time Howard finished a meal (a full stomach puts pressure on a little puppy's bladder), woke up from a sleep, or had a big playtime (excitement can cause a puppy to pee), we'd stand outside for a few minutes to give him the chance to go.

Imagine how happy we were when, after two weeks of this routine, Howard sat by the door, barked politely to go out and took himself down to the garden to do his business. We were literally dancing at the sight of this tiny puppy doing a poo, but with very good reason!

After that he only made a few more mistakes, particularly when we took him to other peoples' houses, but it wasn't long before he learned to go outdoors at all times. Once your Sheltie is truly housebroken you can rely on her to always do her business outdoors.

Looking for an Easy House Training Guide?

The Ultimate House Training GuideWhen toilet training Piper, we learned some good advice from The Ultimate House Training Guide.

This is the definitive resource for new puppy owners to ensure your house training experience is positive and problem-free from day one. It's fully illustrated and easy to follow, containing advice from professionals.

Check out The Ultimate House Training Guide


Becky TurnerAbout The Author

Becky Turner is the creator of Sheltie Planet. She lives in New Zealand with her partner, Peter, and their son, Fox. Becky is 100% owned by Howard and Piper Woofington Moon, the Shelties who inspired this site. Visit them on Facebook or The Sheltie Planet Forums.


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