What’s the best method when it comes to the long - and sometimes stressful - process of housetraining?
First things first, your new puppy is probably going to arrive at his new home completely ignorant of the rules and proper protocol of your house. Your pup just doesn't know the lie of the land yet and is probably quite anxious. In fact, don’t be shocked if one of the first things he does when he arrives is a wee or a poo.
He needs plenty of guided opportunities for the behaviour you want to see - and you need to interrupt and redirect any unwanted behaviour.
Dogs develop routines just like people do, and they quickly learn to repeat behaviours that have rewarded them in the past. Give them rewards for going where you want them to go, but no rewards when doing it somewhere else, and they’ll start doing their toilet in the correct places when they know there’s a reward to be had.
Dogs instinctively avoid soiling what they regard as their den, so make your whole house is her den. Start by keeping her contained indoors - or in your direct line of sight – all the time. Limit her free movement around the house at first, but as she gets older you can gradually extend this until the whole house becomes her den. The more at home your pup feels in her space, the more reluctant she'll be to soil it.
You're really teaching your pup two things: where to do her business, and where not to. Depending on what’s available to you in your home set-up, it’s probably preferable to teach your pup to do her business outside. But if you need to teach her to use a wee mat, then always keep the mat in the same place and take her there for each toilet break.
If you're teaching her to go outside, take her to the same spot every time. She'll soon learn that this is her toilet spot, and therefore it's time to do her business whenever you lead her there.
A reward is always going to register with your pup!
So start your housetraining with praise and a treat every time he gets it right. As he gets older and more used to eliminating in the right place, you can start giving him treats less often.
But always remember to congratulate him every time!
Training is a process, certainly isn’t linear, and there’ll be speed bumps and wrong turnings along the way. There will be frustrations, but it’s all part of the learning experience, for both of you.
A cue word really works well. Keep it simple, and try to find a word or phrase he won’t hear in normal conversation. He’ll learn that the cue word means it's time to go; and, eventually, you'll be able to ask him to go on command.
Begin the process by saying the phrase just as he is starting to eliminate. (Also, say it gently, so that he doesn't get alarmed and stop!)
Reinforcement is key, so use the cue word / phrase every time he eliminates in the right spot. Use it whenever you see that he’s about to do his business. He’ll soon make the association between the cue and the action, to the point that you can train him to go even when he hasn’t thought of it himself.
Dogs quickly learn to repeat any behaviour that results in a reward. It really is that simple. And that’s why it’s important to make clear, simple, strict rules about where to do their toilet and where not to.
Consistency and timing are vital. Reward her when you see the desired behaviour, and do it right there, right then. Here, too, a cue word of praise is a really good idea.
For the first few weeks, expect to take your puppy to do his toilet upwards of 10 to 15 times a day.
Take him to do his business
- First thing in the morning
- Immediately after each meal
- Straight after a nap
- Regularly throughout the day and evening (every hour to every few hours)
- Right before bed
Begin by taking him to the same designated toilet area once every hour. Keep the location consistent to help condition him to going in a specific place.
There will be a lot of waiting around time for both you and your pup during the first few weeks of toilet training and you'll just have to be patient with her. There will be times when nothing happens - and you feel like giving up and going inside - and then when you come in she pees on the floor!
So patience is the key to success. Eventually, your puppy will learn that eliminating in the right place brings a quicker reward.
When she gets a little older, you will be able to lengthen the time between toilet breaks. (Rule of thumb: add an hour for every month, up to an 8 hour schedule. Smaller breeds are generally less able to hold it in as long as medium breeds and large dogs.)
Little pups simply can't go the whole night without having to do their toilet. Yes, it's not a lot of fun having to get up in the middle of the night, but - for the sake of your pup - you must. (And for the sake of your house, always respond promptly to her signals to go outside.)
They’ll happen. It’s not a reflection on your training skills, or on your dog’s ability to learn. Accidents are just that: accidents.
If you find he’s going in places he shouldn't, you need to interrupt him as quickly as you can. It’s not about punishing or frightening him; it’s simply to stop him from doing it there. You then need to take him to the spot you’ve chosen to finish, and give him praise and a treat, when the deed is done.
If you find evidence of an accident after the fact and don't catch your pup in the act, simply clean up the mess as soon as possible and move on.
Never punish him retroactively. Dogs only understand a correction if you catch them in the act of doing something wrong and you interrupt them.
Please don't yell at your puppy, try to make her feel "guilty," or bring her over to the accident area to "confront" the mess; these actions won't have any positive effect on her housetraining, and will only upset and confuse her.
How Long Is Too Long?
You and your hound are in it for the long haul, so accept that fact. It’s a process that can take more than a year, depending on your own domestic circumstances; though bigger dogs do tend to get the hang of it sooner than the little guys.
Regression is common, and a fact of life. It’s not a race; if anything, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Good luck!
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