Housetraining a puppy
A lot of us are starting out the new year with new puppies, and along with enjoying all the cuteness and playfulness comes the very important responsibility to housetrain the dog.
The first thing to understand is that your dog doesn’t care whether he goes to the bathroom inside the house or outside the house. Going outside is strictly your priority, but your dog wants to make you happy, so he will follow your rules even when they don’t have any meaning to him. He just has to figure out what the rules are. The best way to accomplish that is to eliminate his chance to do it wrong and to reward him for doing it right.
I find that crate training tends to accomplish this the most quickly and clearly. When nobody is watching the dog, while sleeping at night for instance, the dog should be kept in a crate that is large enough for him to stand up, turn around, and lie down comfortably, but not much larger than that. When his space is limited he will naturally not want to urinate or defecate in that area and will hold it instead. This also keeps the dog from roaming around the house at night ingesting non-food items, like chunks of your couch, which will need to be surgically removed form his small intestines later.
In the morning the first thing that should happen is that the dog is let out of the crate and taken directly outside, where he will probably need to go to the bathroom because he has been holding it all night. The key to success here involves the owner going outside with the dog too, in the 20 below zero weather and the gale force winds, and standing right next to the dog in order to administer a special treat the instant the dog is finished in order to reward him for going to the bathroom outside. If the owner cheats and stands in the nice warm house and offers the dog the treat as he is coming back inside she is rewarding the dog for coming in the door, not for going to the bathroom outside.
No dog should be kept in a crate for 20 hours a day, so make sure that he is out and exercising and interacting with the family as much as possible. While the dog is out and about somebody must commit to having an eyeball on the dog at all times. It doesn’t take long before you learn to read the “I think I will find a place to relieve myself” behavior as the thought is forming in your dog’s head. If you wait until the dog is giving signals that they need to go to the bathroom rather than just taking him out randomly every 20 minutes you increase your chance of rewarding him for doing it right instead of playing the going-outside-for-no-particular-reason-game all day. Lots of dogs will go outside, sniff around a little, come back inside, and relieve themselves as soon as they come back in. Be prepared and pay attention so you are ready to get the dog back outside before he can do it wrong and so you can reward him for doing it right.
If your dog does have an accident in the house, and he will, you need to understand that hitting him, rubbing his nose in it, or otherwise berating him is probably not sending the message you think it is. Your problem is that the poop is inside the house instead of outside, but a dog brain only has enough cognitive ability to understand “When I go to the bathroom I get in trouble, and now I have to go, but I’ll get in trouble again, so I guess I’ll just have to hide behind the couch when I go.” If your dog starts hiding in order to relieve himself you will have a much more difficult time teaching him the difference between inside and outside. I have heard the suggestion that when the dog has an accident in the house the owner should roll a newspaper very tightly and briskly whap herself on the forehead three times, repeating the words “I will watch my dog more carefully next time”.
Clarity and consistency are important in order to facilitate quick learning. For that reason I am not a big fan of puppy pads. Puppy pads tell your dog that it is indeed OK to go to the bathroom in the house, but some day you are going to have to say “Today the rules have changed and inside the house is no longer OK”. Now you are starting again from zero after having arbitrarily changed the rules. Little guys can go outside just fine when it is cold, so teach them one set of rules from the start.
Puppies require real time and commitment in order to help them learn to be good citizens. Yeah, standing outside in freezing cold weather watching your dog go to the bathroom is a pain, but keep in mind that it is definitely less of a pain than cleaning dog waste out of your carpets for 12 years.