Raising the Perfect Puppy, Part 1: House Training
Raising a puppy is a lot of work! It takes time, effort, a little bit of skill, and an abundance of patience. If we can lay the foundation at an early age for good behavior to build on as our puppy matures, we will be infinitely more successful at having a wonderfully happy, well-rounded, balanced adult dog. This blog aims to give you a step-by-step guide to help you in your puppy-raising adventures with the hopes of helping you avoid some of the common mistakes and pitfalls dog owners usually end up paying for later on in their dog’s life.
Let’s talk about house training! House training is more than just teaching your dog the ever-important concept of where to go to the bathroom, but it also encompasses teaching your dog to respect your things and your house itself. Let’s break this oftentimes frustrating process down into smaller pieces.
Crates are such an important part of your housetraining and overall puppy training process. The crate is used as a place to put your puppy that is safe and calm. Dogs are naturally denning animals and as such are hardwired not to soil their den a.k.a. the place that they eat and sleep. So step 1 in housetraining is pretty much done for you if you are crate training your puppy! You now have a place to put your puppy that he/she will not pee or poop that doubles as a safe place your puppy cannot get into trouble, practice bad manners, eat dangerous things, or destroy your house. Additionally, puppies need a lot of rest. The figure the experts agree on is between 18 and 20 hours of rest a day; puppies are basically cats at this young age! They’re growing and learning at an amazing rate! However, puppies don’t always know what’s best for them and commonly we see over-tired puppies manifest into bad behaviors like getting extra nippy and play biting on human skin. As a wise puppy owner, you can notice this behavior and realize your puppy needs a nap and luckily we have this great safe place to put our puppies where they can rest peacefully without us having to keep watch.
Now, even though dogs are naturally denning animals and like to find cozy little spaces to call their den, it’s not uncommon for puppies to make a protest when first being introduced to a crate. Fear not, their distress is not over the crate itself but rather the fact that it forces them to be separated from their family. While a crying puppy can be quite upsetting, it is in their best interest that they learn to cope with separation. Dogs that don’t learn to cope with separation very commonly develop… you guessed it… separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is The. #1. Hardest. Issue. to deal with from a dog training standpoint even more so than aggression. So make the crate a fun place by giving your puppy a favorite toy or a yummy treat to chew on and let them learn to cope and by all means don’t open that crate door until they are quiet and calm.
Your crate should also be where you put your puppy anytime you can’t watch your puppy. And by watch I mean you literally have eyes on your puppy at all times. You aren’t watching tv, or cooking dinner, or answering emails. You are watching your puppy. For what, you say? So that you can learn to read his/her body language to know when they might be thinking about having an accident and also to be able to redirect them from chewing on your new strappy sandals or grandma’s antique china cabinet.
Puppies need supervision
If you aren’t able to supervise your puppy, and no one is blaming you if you can’t, you should be utilizing your crate. Finally, as a rule, puppies should sleep in their crate every night until they are at least 1 year old and they should be crated when being left home alone until they are at least 2 years old.
Get your puppy onto a consistent schedule for feeding and watering. Offer food and water for 10-15 minutes at a time at the same times every day. This is useful for several reasons. First being that it will help you learn what times your puppy needs to eliminate and thus becomes a helpful tool in housetraining your puppy. Knowing what times your puppy pees and poops mean you can either plan to bring him/her outside at that time and then have a “Potty Party” when they eliminate outside or you can be watching your puppy at those times to be ready for the first sign that they need to go out. So now step 2 in house training is done! You know your puppy will not soil their crate and you know what times they need to use the bathroom. You’re more than halfway there to teaching your dog to only eliminate outside.
Having a consistent schedule is also helpful for dissuading picky eaters. Letting your puppy have access to food and water all day and allowing them to graze on their meals will lead to a picky eater. I can almost guarantee it. Offer food for 10-15 minutes and if your puppy eats everything, great! If he/she eats a little, not a problem. If he/she eats nothing, don’t worry because a healthy dog will not starve itself. If your puppy skips a meal or two, eventually they will learn to eat when food is offered. The same goes for offering water. Your puppy does not need access to water 24/7. Offer water 3-4 times a day and for 10-15 minutes they can drink as much or as little as they want. Dogs need roughly 0.5 – 1.0 ounce of water per pound of body weight daily. So your 8-pound puppy needs about a cup or less of water daily. A lot of people think their puppies must be really thirsty because they are always drinking water in their bowls, from puddles, out of birdbaths, etc. But the truth is many young puppies think water is fun or interesting and will happily drink all that is available right up until they have an accident on your carpet.
Anytime your puppy is not crated, a responsible person (i.e. an adult, not a child) needs to be supervising and observing the puppy. Puppies are like human infants at this young age, where you can’t take your eyes off them for a second before they have something in their mouth, they’re trying to climb on things or they’ve disappeared to find some mischief. Supervision is so crucial to raising a good puppy. If you don’t see something happen, how can you address it? The answer is you can’t. Dogs, unlike people, do not have memories in the same sense as we do and they don’t think about the future; they are creatures that very firmly live in the moment. So if we want to have any impact on their behavior we have to be addressing it as it happens, or better yet stopping it before it starts.
The other reason watching your puppy is so important is because you will learn a lot just by observing their behavior and body language. Especially when housetraining a puppy, you should be watching for any sign that they may need to use the bathroom. Every dog gives some signal that they are about to go. Sometimes it’s really obvious like a puppy that goes and sits by the door and barks, but more often than not it’s a pretty subtle sign. Things like sniffing the ground, scratching at the ground, turning in circles, leaving the room or going behind furniture as if looking for privacy are all common signs of needing to go outside. The only way to know what your puppy’s signal might be is to be watching and observing. It may take an accident or two before you piece together the change in their behavior that preceded the accident but as long as you learn something from their accident, it’s a step in the right direction.
If your puppy has an accident your only job is to clean it up. Don’t yell at your puppy or rub their noses in it after the fact. Your puppy has no idea why you’re angry. If you didn’t see it happen, it’s your fault and you should refer to the above section about supervision. Wipe up the mess and then be sure to use an enzyme-based cleaner made for pets such as Nature’s Miracle. The important thing is that you use an enzymatic cleaner to destroy the odor molecules your puppy’s incredibly strong nose can smell in even the tiniest amounts. Using bleach, vinegar or other cleaning products may kill the germs and smell clean to our noses but to your puppy’s nose, there are still odor molecules making him/her want to pee in the same spot. Dogs naturally tend to go to the bathroom where they smelled they went before. You can use this fact to your advantage by taking your puppy to the same designated “potty area” outside every time. Make sure to do a thorough job cleaning up, including on any wall, rug or piece of furniture the accident might have splashed on. Your goal is to get 30 days in a row without any accidents in the house. 30 days is the length of time it takes to form or change a habit. After 30 days of your puppy only going outside, it has become a habit not to pee or poop in your home.