House training a puppy - featured image with logo

House Training a Puppy – Practical Tips that will Prevent Mess

House training a puppy.

It’s a simple enough concept. And yet puppy pee and poo problems persist (how’s that for alliteration?!)

In fact, it causes so much stress that some owners give up on their puppies altogether! Many poor puppies, through no fault of their own, are returned to breeders or handed over to rescue shelters.

Don’t be one of those owners.

Let’s begin this guide on how to house train your puppy by establishing the terminology that we’ll be using.

What’s in a name? There are so many different terms for liquid and solid waste that I could probably fill a page if I listed them all out!

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to stick with pee for liquid waste and poo for solid waste. Hopefully, that strikes a happy balance between the formal/medical terminology and the sort of terminology that some may find offensive.

If you are reading this article in advance of collecting your puppy you might also be interested in the ‘Collecting a New Puppy‘ and ‘Puppy Socialisation Plan’ posts.

Alright, let’s move on with some tips for house training a puppy.

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1 Establishing the Battleground

Puppy containment - establish the battleground

Would you like to sleep in a bed that you had taken a pee or a poo on?

No? Well, neither do dogs.

And this shared like of not sleeping on soiled bedding provides us with a valuable tool in our puppy house training endeavours.

While you are training your puppy you should not allow him complete freedom of the house and garden. Rather, you want to restrict him to one room while he is awake and have him use a crate while he is sleeping.

This room should be the one where you spend most of your time. The reason being that you are going to need to pay attention to your puppy.

The crate should be big enough to be comfortable for your puppy to spend time in but not so big that he might think ‘Hey, I can pee or poo down that end and quite happily sleep at the other end well away from it.’.

Having a Goldilocks-size crate will discourage your puppy from using it as a toilet. He will see it as his sleeping area and will be reluctant to make a mess in it.

Our dog, Harvey, loves his crate. It’s from Ellie Bo and we’ve been very pleased with it.

Remember, dogs like to have a den area where they feel secure while sleeping or resting. They see a crate as being a den. Therefore they will avoid using it as a toilet if at all possible.

2 Have a Plan

House training a puppy - have a plan

Make no mistake, house training a puppy can be tough. It will be a test of your character as much as that of the puppy.

So, if, at the end of your puppy house training, you want to be able to have a ‘Hannibal’ moment (remember ‘The A-Team’?) and say ‘I love it when a plan comes together’ …

You need a plan!

Remember when I said that you need to pay attention to your puppy?

Well, I don’t mean the odd glance in his direction when you reach the ad break while watching your favourite TV programme! You need to watch the little guy like a hawk!

Not sure what you are looking for? These are common indicators:

  • Whining
  • Sniffing
  • Circling
  • Barking
  • Scratching
  • Sitting near the door used to go outside
The second that your puppy looks like he might be about to pee or poo you need to get out of your seat and pick him up faster than Usain Bolt rushing to the loo with a bad case of diarrhoea!!

Quickly take him outside, to a spot that you have chosen to be the pee and poo location, and gently place him in that spot.

Think carefully about the location of your spot because you’ll be visiting it a lot!

If it’s pitch black in the middle of the night, and the rain is so heavy that you are contemplating building an ark, you’ll be glad of a spot close to your house exit.

Keep him on his lead so that you can stop him from wandering off and getting distracted (which puppies are prone to do).

If he hasn’t been after 10 minutes or so then bring him back inside. You will, of course, have to remain vigilant as your puppy’s desire may soon return.

In addition to taking him out when you spot any signals you should also take your puppy out:

  • When he wakes up
  • Shortly after he has had a meal or a drink
  • After he has played for a while
  • After training sessions
  • On leaving his crate
  • Every 30 minutes or so throughout the day
  • Just before bed

It’s very important that you stick with this, admittedly fairly regimented, approach. We are trying to establish a pattern of behaviour.

As far as your puppy is concerned:
– Outside, in ‘the spot’, means its OK to pee and poo.
– Inside is for sleeping, playing, eating and anything but having a pee or a poo.

House training a puppy - no mess in the house

Another part of the plan is to have regular feeding times (and not leave uneaten food in the bowl for puppy snacks later – pick it up). If the input is always at the same time then you should begin to notice a pattern in the output!

So, too, is the night-time routine.

Some puppies will happily sleep straight through on their first night home (as did our Labrador, Harvey).

Others will need one or two pee trips during the night. When you take your puppy out to pee at night it should be a ‘business only’ encounter. No playing, no eating, no drinking – just pee and then back to bed.

As you and your puppy start to make progress (and you will) you can start to consider gradually extending the time between trips outside. If there is an accident then reduce the time back down and try again at a later point.

Once you feel that sufficient progress has been made you can also begin to look at extending the battleground to include other rooms in the house – but remain vigilant.

3 Positive Reinforcement

House training a puppy - positive image

What is it?

I tend to explain it like this:

Say that I wanted you to pick up a tennis ball off the ground and hand it to me. How would I go about doing this?

I could offer you a valuable reward, like a £10 note

Or I could threaten to beat you, or actually beat you, until you did it.

For many years ‘traditional’ dog trainers have used the latter approach. Unfortunately, many still do.

However, many trainers are now using the former approach. I’ve greatly over-simplified it but this is the essence of Positive Reinforcement Training (PRT).

And if you are solely interested in which method is most effective for getting results then that is the PRT approach.

Want proof?

You need only look at organisations that make great use of dogs and train them to the highest standards. Organisations like the police, the military, and guide dogs for the blind.

If you’d like to read more about the increased effectiveness of PRT for these organisations have a look at this article on guide dogs and this one on police dogs.

The guide dogs organisation made the change for the well being of the dogs and hoped that the training results would be as good as the previous methods.

What they found was that their success rate rocketed from 45-50% to 60-85%. They also found that the dogs were more enthusiastic and better at problem-solving.

So, how do we use PRT to help us with house training a puppy?

We need to convince our puppy that having a pee or a poo outside in the chosen spot is the highlight of his day. How do we do this?

We need to reward him. And not in a miserly “Happy Christmas, here have a piece of coal” way! It needs to be something that your puppy will really, really appreciate. Something that will make him want to work to get it again and again.

At the moment you know that you need to pay him but you don’t know what currency he wants to be paid in.

As your dog gets older and you get to know him better you will discover what really motivates him – what his currency is. For now, you’ll need to pay him with what typically works for most dogs and see which he appears to like most.

You basically have three types of currency:

  • Food
  • Toy
  • Praise

Now, remember the objective here. We want our puppy to find the reward so appealing that he will resist having a pee or poo indoors and will do his best to do it outside.

So, if you use food don’t use some plain vanilla kibble. Use some warm chicken pieces (I realise it isn’t going to stay warm for long but at least start off with warm chicken!). Or whatever else your dog really, really values as a treat.

The same goes for a toy. You use his favourite toy. For many dogs, this is likely to be a tennis ball but experiment and find what works for your dog.

Dogs love to play and organisations like the police have had great success using play sessions with a tennis ball as the reward in their PRT.

Likewise with the praise. You aren’t easily embarrassed, are you? Good! Because you need to be completely over-the-top with your enthusiasm. Be happy and excited – pretend your puppy has just presented you with the winning lottery ticket.

Do not jump the gun. Hide that treat or toy, and hold in that celebration, until after your puppy has performed. No pee or poo = no reward.

Be consistent!

Each and every time that your puppy pees or poos outside you throw a party for him.

You’ll also want to pick and use, a cue word or phrase. Use this while your puppy is doing a pee or poo and it will become part of the association process.

Eventually, you will be able to simply use the cue and send your dog outside to perform without your attendance being necessary. Hooray!!

The cue word or phrase itself can be whatever you want it to be – ‘do your business’, ‘go potty’, ’Rosebud’, whatever works for you.

4 Cleaning Up

Puppy house training tips - cleaning up

When you are house training a puppy it is inevitable that there will be indoor accidents. So, how should you deal with these?

If your puppy should have an accident indoors it is absolutely essential that you clean it up thoroughly.

Of course, you’ll want to be rid of the mess for your own reasons but it is vital in terms of your house training regime too.

The reason is that dogs have an incredible sense of smell. It may look and smell to you as if you have removed all trace of the offending present from your puppy but that may not be the case for him.

And because dogs like to use the same spot to relieve themselves (which is why we have chosen a spot outside for this purpose) if they can still smell it they may choose to use that same spot again the next time they need to go.

So, what should you do to clean up your puppy’s mess?

Poo is fairly easy to clear away but pee takes a bit more work in a carpeted area. First of all, clear away as much of the mess as you can using paper towels to blot up the pee. Put some bodyweight behind your efforts to get the deeply soaked pee.

Then apply a cleaning solution. This is the part that eliminates the odour and reduces the likelihood of a repeat offence in the same spot.

We used Simple Solution from Amazon. You will find plenty of highly-rated options available. Just ensure that you get one specifically designed for pet mess.

If you prefer home-made methods, some people swear by one of the following:

  • Lightly sprinkle baking soda on the damp area. Let it do its thing overnight and then vacuum it up in the morning.
  • Create your own solution for use in a spray bottle. Use one cup of distilled white vinegar, one cup of water, and two teaspoons of baking soda. Give it a shake to mix the ingredients then spray on the offending area. Leave it for a few minutes and then blot it up as you did for the pee.

5 When Things Go Wrong

House training a puppy - wrong way sign

As Elvis Costello told us in one of his songs ” Accidents will happen”

House training a puppy is, to use a popular metaphor, a marathon rather than a sprint.

So, the first thing you need to do is to have appropriate expectations.

Your puppy will not magically have been fully house trained for you when you collect him!

So, just accept that your puppy is not house trained when you first get him. It is your job to teach him.

If your puppy has an accident indoors you MUST NOT shout at him, kick him, hit him with a rolled-up newspaper, rub his nose in the mess or punish him in any way whatsoever.

Why?

1. Would you do any of those things to a baby for peeing in it’s nappy rather than using a toilet?

2. You’ll scare your puppy, lose whatever trust he has in you, and make it more likely, not less, that he will repeat the undesirable behaviour. And a scared puppy will hide next time he pees or poos – which makes it tougher for you to watch him and tougher to make progress with your house training.

3. Frankly, it makes you a dick!

If you want to play the blame game then look closer to home – you are the one tasked with watching him like a hawk. Remember?! So, it’s your failing, not your puppy’s.

If you see your puppy a fraction too late – that is, he is already in the act of peeing or pooing – quickly get his attention, for example by clapping your hands, and pick him up and take him outside to the spot.

Contrary to what you might think, when he has finished off his business outside you should reward him. The reward is linked to what he was doing immediately before he got it – which was peeing in the chosen spot.

6 Frequently Asked Questions

How long will it take to house train a puppy?

This varies greatly between individual dogs, even those from the same litter. It generally takes until they are between 4 and 6 months old (but some can take until they are a year old).

What is the best method for puppy house training?

Positive Reinforcement Training has been proven to be considerably more effective than ‘traditional’, punishment-based training. Watch your puppy for signs that it needs to go, quickly take it outside, heavily reward it once the task is complete. This forms a positive association in the puppy’s mind and makes it want to do its business outside again.

What are the signs that a puppy needs to pee or poo?

You need to watch your puppy like a hawk in the early stages of house training. Signs to look out for include:
– Whining
– Sniffing
– Circling
– Barking
– Scratching
– Sitting near the door used to go outside

7 Acknowledgements

Image acknowledgements:

Featured image provided courtesy of Ulrike Leone

And

Content images provided courtesy of 41330WokandapixOpenClipart-VectorsGerd AltmannJulio Cesar VelasquezGabe Raggio

8 The End

Richie's Room - Harv leaving
Time to go!

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