How to House Train a Puppy
Here are the basics of house training a puppy through crate training or traditional housebreaking with puppy training pads.
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 or they'll just go anytime, anywhere.
Housebreaking a puppy is one of the major challenges of dog ownership, particularly for first-time owners. This article covers two house training techniques:
- Traditional housebreaking starts by training her to pee and poo indoors on puppy training pads. In time, you can move the training pads outside. There is certainly more risk of having accidents this way, but it does enable your dog to build confidence exploring the house during her crucial early months of development.
- Crate training involves restricting your puppy to a crate when you're not actively watching her to prevent her from peeing inside the house altogether. It is generally accepted to be the most effective means of house training a puppy with minimum chance of mess. However, personally I find it restrictive on the puppy, limiting her opportunities to explore.
When You Bring 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 plan her first toilet training session to occurs outside, then so much the better. (The more your puppy relieves herself outside, the more likely she is to do it again next time.)
The First 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 pet her or play 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. Make the phrase short and easily recognizable and use the same voice inflection each time, so your Sheltie can easily remember 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.
Next, follow your chosen strategy for housetraining:
Howard was my first puppy and I had no idea about house training. So I found out the hard way! It involved cleaning up a lot of stains while being watched by big innocent puppy eyes.
In the end, we went with traditional housebreaking. When we really got down to it, the process of teaching him to do his business outdoors took about two weeks.
Step 1: Indoor Housebreaking
At first, we house trained Howard to do his business on a pile of newspapers laid out on the kitchen floor. (That was before I knew that more absorbent puppy training pads existed.)
The toilet area was far enough from his bed and eating area so he wouldn't get confused. As long as we left a little of his urine scent behind on a piece of newspaper before throwing the rest away, he kept returning to it.
Sometimes, though, he'd make a mistake and start peeing on the living room carpet right in front of us. He was just an innocent little pup.
Some dog owners react to this by shouting and even rubbing their dog's nose in it. But 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 indoors, firmly say "No!" then lift her up and take her over to the designated area to finish. 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. When she does this on the carpet, 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. If she walks away, put her straight back on the training pads. Then praise her when she gets it right.
Step 2: Outdoor Housebreaking
Every morning, around 6am, Howard would wake us up with little scratching noises and yelps. So we'd take 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. And back to bed.
This became the rule - every time Howard finished a meal (a full stomach puts pressure on a puppy's bladder), woke up from a sleep, or had a big playtime (excitement can cause a puppy to pee), we'd take him outside and wait for the magic signal.
Imagine how happy we were when, after two weeks of this routine, Howard sat by the door, barked politely to go out, and then took himself down to the garden to do his business. We were literally dancing at the sight of this tiny puppy doing a poo.
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 housebroken you can rely on her to always go outdoors. (If not, you know something is wrong.)
Crate training is an alternative, stricter approach to toilet training. It's the use of a small indoor kennel (a crate) to confine your young puppy when you're not actively supervising her.
It's based on the principle that your Sheltie has an inherent dislike of soiling the area where she sleeps. So when you restrict 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, I still feel this is a long time to crate a puppy and is absolutely no fun for her. I don't recommend crating a puppy for more than a couple of hours. 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.
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.
Looking for an Easy House Training Guide?
For more detailed advice on housetraining a puppy or adult dog, and on troubleshooting common problems, check out The Ultimate House Training Guide.
This is the definitive resource for new dog owners to ensure your house training experience is positive and problem-free from day one. It's fully illustrated with simple, professional advice.
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