How to house train a dog
As a long time dog lover and owner, I have house trained many dogs, either starting as puppies or older dogs that I adopted. Some were a bigger challenge than I expected and then there were those dogs that seemingly trained themselves! As I am closer to the age of sixty these days than to the age of twenty, my years of trial and error can be counted as wisdom now. Learning how to house train a dog is a combination of knowledge, patience and time.
Knowledge is why you are here, patience is what you will need to stay on course and time is equally important. Time, lots of time if you have a slow developing puppy or very obstinate dog. Don’t expect to house train a dog if you can’t be home 24/7 for the first few months. Plan to buy or adopt an un trained dog when you have the summer off if you are going to be the primary caregiver/trainer of that dog. Here are some common sense instructions to get you started.
The great outdoors as the bathroom
If you live in a more hostile climate with brutally cold winters or winters with lots of bad weather, aim to house train a dog during the more temperate seasons, like spring, summer and fall (depending on where you live of course). Why you ask? To truly house train a dog, you will be teaching your dog to use the great outdoors as his or her bathroom facilities. It’s pretty hard to convince a new puppy or dog to defecate outside when it’s freaking cold or you are in yet another tropical storm, right?
Whatever your puppy gets used to when learning to house train, will determine his or her lifetime habits. For instance, if you always take your puppy outside to pee or poop on grass, he or she may not want to use gravel and the other way around. Sometimes if a puppy is taught to use grass as his or her pooping area, and along comes winter with cold cold ice and snow… suddenly your young pup does not know what to do!
To start off, take your puppy outside, on all kinds of surfaces, and use a command like ‘go pee or go poop’ or ‘hurry up’ and other words you may choose. It’s up to you, choose a word or phrase and stick with it. Be patient, and quiet, allowing your pup or older dog to walk around in order to relax. You know how you feel when someone is rushing you through your time on the toilet, right? As soon as your pup or dog has peed or pooped or both, quietly praise your furry friend with a soft touch and praise word like ‘good dog’ or whatever praise words you choose.
Some folks like to give a treat but if you have a dog that just lives for your touch, like mine do, a treat is not necessary for this training. At some point you will have to phase out giving treats for bathroom duties anyway. You don’t want your dog doing his bathroom duties only for treats.
Using a word or phrase as the starting point
teaches your pup or dog that you are asking or giving permission to relax the bladder and bowels on whatever surface you have taken him or her to. If you teach your dog that only one kind of surface is acceptable, for example a patch of gravel, then your pup will be very confused when confronted with a snow packed surface or a grassy boulevard later on!
If your plan or intent is to train your puppy to use the outdoors as his or her bathroom, then do not start with newspaper or pee pads! When you put a pee pad or newspaper down in your home, you are teaching your dog that it is okay to make a mess inside your home. If your pup gets used to the pee pad, later on you are going to have to convince your pup to leave the pee pad and use the grass, gravel or snow. You are adding an extra step to your house training, and who needs that extra work? I bet you don’t 🙂
In the meantime, while your pup or dog is IN your home, how are you planning on avoiding many puddles and piles of poop on your rugs and floors? I have some step by step advice on crate training for puppies and older dogs. You can read that after you have finished with my common sense approach here, okay?
While IN your home, you will have to control your dog’s activity
to avoid uncontrolled peeing or pooping on your floors. I love to use dog crates or a more flexible dog exercise/show pen. The dog crates can be simple plastic or wire crates or they can be more elaborate wooden pieces of furniture, looking like end tables. My recommendation for a more destructive pup or dog, find the heaviest wire crate that you can use for the more difficult chewing stage of your pup’s growth.
Most pups will avoid peeing or pooping in their crate, which is why training with crates works well. However, if the crate is too large, the pup may be okay with having a ‘bedroom’ corner and a ‘bathroom’ section in the same crate. Not good! Some wire crates have a divider that you can use while the pup is small, and can be taken out as the pup reaches a larger size. You can also go with the cheaper plastic crates, starting with a smaller size and buying a larger one later. It’s up to you.
In addition to a pen or crate, you should be controlling the food and water intake. The worst idea is to allow a pup to eat free choice, out of a bowl that you keep full. Think about it this way, your pup has not learned to control his or her urine or poo outtake yet, so when he or she gets the urge….. on the floor it goes. Basically, if your dog can eat and drink whenever he wants to, he is going to pee and poo whenever he wants to.Makes sense, yes?
Give your pup 2 or 3 meals per day, at scheduled times, just enough that your pup or dog eats the meals within a few minutes. Check out the pages on feeding a Healthy Dog, to get a feel for what to feed and how much. Water should be free choice during the day, but you might want to take away the water dish after supper for dogs that want to pee too much at night.
Do you have a dog that pees in his crate (and on the floors) no matter what you do?
Most dogs have an instinct to keep their beds, crates and doghouses clean, but if you have a puppy or dog that is missing that instinct… what do you do? What causes this behaviour? Puppies or dogs that have been raised in small cages or kennels, learn to pee and poo in their small spaces. After all, what choice do they have? You’ve heard of puppy mills right? Puppies and dogs are raised in un naturally and un happy environments, given little to no exercise at all. They spend their entire lives in cages and small kennels. It changes their natural inclination to keep their sleeping area clean.
Getting a puppy from this kind of set up, will make it more challenging for you when house training, that is for sure. You will have to change the method of training to another. Since using a crate, will result in a mess with many of these pups or dogs, you can opt for another method below.
This is the alternative method
You will be leashing your pup or dog to your waist. Yup, you heard me. The leash will become an umbilical cord of sorts, between you and your house training puppy or adult dog. Attach a sturdy leather belt around your waist and attach the leash to that. For more comfort, you can buy a Joring harness for yourself that you can use for additional training or dog sports later. For puppies and smaller dogs, I strongly suggest that you use a well fitting walking harness, like the Olizee front range harness or the Ruffwear front range harness instead of a collar. Their necks are delicate, many people do not realize this. You can easily pull the vertebrae out of alignment in puppies and smaller dogs that don’t have a lot of muscle around the bones of the neck.
You will obviously have to set aside a lot of time for a week or more. Yes, some dogs get the idea in as little as a week, some will take longer. Everywhere you go in the house, your dog will go. Keep the leash short enough that you are not tripping all over your dog. It’s a great opportunity to leash train your pup or dog during this time too.
You will be keeping a very sharp eye on your new buddy, watching for signs that your pup is getting ready to pee or poop. In the beginning, your pup does not know what is expected, so he or she may just suddenly squat and pee. When this happens, immediately correct your pup with a sharp word (like Hey! or No! or Ah Ah!) and take him outside, using a word that you have chosen to encourage bathroom duties (like Good puppy, or good dog or ?). Being right there to correct your dog, will speed up the house training.
House training takes a lot longer when the correction is done after the dog has already forgotten what he did! You must correct within 2 seconds, for the dog to put two and two together for the right answer. If your dog has made a mess before you could stop him, take him or her to the time out spot, see below, and now go thoroughly clean up the mess. The mess should be cleaned up so well, that no scent remains for your dog’s nose to smell. I highly recommend the cleaning products that have enzymes. They work marvelous!
You will need a time out spot with a tether.
In an area where you might have wanted to put your dog’s crate anyway, attach a sturdy non chewable tether to a wall stud. A light chain with swivel snaps work well. Put down a comfy but washable mat or rug for your pup to lie on, the tether to the wall should be relatively short, aprox. 3 feet. as mentioned above, make sure you use a well fitting harness instead of a collar for puppies and small dogs. Your dog will protest being confined, you can be sure of that!
You will be tethering your puppy or dog to this spot during the day only when you can’t watch him closely for awhile. Like you might do if you were crate training. You will also need a tether in a more night time area for sleeping. I recommend the bedroom of the person doing the training, so that person will know when it’s time to take the pup or dog outside, if needed, during the night.
Now I know you are thinking that this method will really cramp your style to get things done during the day, but it’s only temporary. Most dogs will learn house training very quickly with this method if you are consistent! Once your dog gets the idea that you are pleased when he or she pees outside, and not happy when he does it inside, the rest gets easier.
Your puppy or dog will still need to build up some control regarding peeing, so don’t expect 100% results when you have a very young puppy.
A toy or chew is a valuable tool
Keep your young puppy or dog busy with some chews or toys, whether you have to use the tether or crate method. Boredom will cause many bad behaviours, as will lack of exercise. Tire your pup or dog out, with one or two longer walks every day, or regular DAILY play sessions with other active dogs. A dog that has too much energy built up or is very bored, is going to stop paying attention during training.
The easiest stress free house training method begins Outside
This is quite simply a matter of having your dog live outside for the first 6 months to a year, in a fenced yard with a snug doghouse for shelter if you live in a city. This would depend on climate of course. However, even a city dog, during the milder seasons, could be started outside. If you live on a rural property or farm, your dog would possibly have shelter in a barn or dog house. Rural dogs still need a fence if you have closer neighbours or live close to a roadway.
Allowing a puppy to grow up in an outside setting like this, sets a pattern of relieving themselves outside, on grass, gravel, dirt and snow. When the puppy is a little older, you can bring him or her inside your home for short periods every day. Not so long that your pup will feel the need to relieve himself on your floors though. With time, you can leave your pup in your home for longer periods, with no chance of any ‘accidents’ on your floors.
Welcoming your growing dog into your home in stages like this, is a privilege and your dog knows it. I find that dogs that begin their training like this, are better behaved house dogs and seldom, or never, have accidents on my floors.
On a personal note….
Many years ago we purchased a purebred registered Golden Retriever at about the age of 10 months. She had been raised outdoors and our intention was to have her living on our farm, sheltering in the barn with the goats we had then.
When she was about 2 years old, we had her bred to a Champion registered Golden Retriever from the city. The owner of the male was a professional trainer and owned a few dogs that did well in the Shows. Our Golden also had impressive bloodlines, so it was a great match, though we had no intentions of showing. She gave birth in an empty stall in the goat barn and everyone seemed to be doing well. However, when the pups were 3 weeks old, they developed what appeared to be ‘colds’ and one pup died. It was determined that our Golden, being a new mom, was not spending enough time with her pups and they had become chilled.
We immediately moved our Golden mama and her remaining pups into a spare room we had in our home.Everyone did very well after that and our Golden Retriever female, Chelsea, became a house dog. In all the years we enjoyed her as our house dog, Chelsea only messed the floors up once, and that was because she was sick. My point here is, outdoor dogs are the easiest to train as house dogs.
We have had other outdoor dogs,
that were moved inside as permanent house dogs when they became too old or ill, to live outdoors. They lived out the remainder of their time, in the lap of luxury. I presently allow my only two dogs, who have been raised outside, more and more time indoors. They have never had an accident on my floors and try very hard to be good house citizens!
For those of you readers that don’t know much about me and my dogs, when I refer to my outdoor dogs living outdoors, they always have a snug shelter, heated water bowl, and mostly have the freedom of our 4 acres. We never have outdoor dogs that cannot tolerate the cold in winter, all of the dogs that we designated as outdoor dogs, have had heavy fur. No short coated dog or very small breed of dog, should be subjected to outdoor living. They were not bred for weather extremes!
My post has given you some common sense ideas regarding how to house train a dog, with various methods. I am sure there are other methods that work for many dogs. Feel free to comment on how you house trained your dog below.
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