Persistence pays off with potty training

Posted: Sunday, March 28, 2004

House breaking a puppy can be a challenging process, but knowing what to expect and having a plan of action can make the process easier.

Before bringing a new puppy home, have everything necessary to make house breaking easy. A small crate or kennel with a latching door should be one of the first things on the list.

This crate will be used to confine the puppy, since a puppy in potty training should not be allowed loose in the house unless it is directly supervised. Any small, confined space will work, but kennels tend to provide a sense of privacy, comfort and security.

Puppies should be kept in the kennel through the night during training. However, if the pup has been asleep and wakes up and cries during the night, it will need to go outside. Then the animal can be returned to the crate for the remainder of the night.

This can be inconvenient, but not as inconvenient as having a dog that soils the house regularly because it was never properly trained. Also, puppies adapt quickly and usually will only cry for a week or so before they learn to hold it through the night. However, much depends on breed, age of the puppy and the individual animal's bladder.

Puppies should be kept in the crate for a maximum of four hours at a time during the day while being house broken. Also, confine the pup if you're talking on the phone, answering the door, or any other time you are unavailable to give the dog your full attention.

A puppy should be brought outside immediately after being removed from the crate. It's also a good idea to take the pup out first thing in the morning and last thing at night, and 10 to 20 minutes after eating or drinking. Puppies also may eliminate after resting, napping, exercise or play and when they smell a previously soiled area.

Once outside, wait for the puppy to either urinate or defecate. This may take some time, but be patient. This may be a good time to introduce verbal cues like "potty" or other words that will be used as the command for elimination. Definitely use the command if the pup starts to circle, sniff at the ground or appears restless in the manner that puppies often do before elimination.

Reward the puppy for eliminating in the proper location by praising it lavishly within seconds of the urination or defecation. Food treats also can be used as a reward at this time.

Back in the house, the puppy can be played with and given food and water. If the puppy will be out of the crate for extended periods of time, walk it every 15 to 20 minutes to prevent accidents in the house. Remain vigilant at keeping the pet in sight when not in the crate.

A few accidents may be inevitable, despite your best efforts. There are many schools of thought on if young pups should be punished for their accidents. Some argue that in punishing a puppy, all the pet learns is to fear going potty and this will make the animal want to go where it thinks no one will find it.

If the decision is made to punish the pup for house soiling, only do so if the animal is caught in the act, otherwise it's not effective. Take the dog by the scruff of the neck or the collar and say "No" or "Bad dog." Be consistent with whatever word you use.

It's important to remember that you're punishing the behavior, not the puppy. Refrain from rubbing the pup's nose in its mess, hitting the dog with a newspaper, or other forms of negative reinforcement. This form of punishment can seriously break down the bond between you and your puppy. Also, don't use confinement in the kennel as a punishment since this only will further confuse the animal.

If the puppy has an accident in the house, remember to remain calm. Take the pup outside and praise it for eliminating in the proper location.

Be sure to clean the area in the house thoroughly before bringing the animal back in. Puppies have a superb sense of smell and if they can still smell where the elimination occurred, the odor could stimulate them to go in the same spot again.

There are several good products on the market specifically designed to remove urine odor. Check with your veterinarian or local pet store to see what is available.

House breaking a new puppy can seem like a lot of work, but by establishing a routine early and staying consistent with that routine, the training phase often can take days instead of weeks or months.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He has worked with wildlife and domestic animals for more than 10 years as a veterinary technician, a zoo keeper, and most recently as a zoologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society. He welcomes any pet-related questions or story ideas, but please none of a veterinary nature. Ideas and questions can be sent to his attention by e-mail at

House breaking tips

Keep the puppy confined in a kennel or some other small, enclosed space when you are not able to directly supervise it. Do not leave the animal confined for more than four hours during the day, though.

Keep the puppy in a kennel or confined area at night during training. Take it outside right before bed, first thing in the morning and if it cries during the night.

Take the puppy outside 10 to 20 minutes after it eats or drinks and after playing or napping as needed.

Lavishly praise and reward the puppy for going outside.

Thoroughly clean any indoor area the puppy has soiled.

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