The key to effective house-training is reward for success rather than punishment for failure, and that success is achieved through observation, timing and consistency.  Your puppy will tell you when he needs to go out, if you read his body language well enough.  There are several times he’s pretty much guaranteed to relieve himself almost as soon as you take him outside: a few minutes to half an hour after he’s eaten, after he has been playing and after he is wakened from a sleep.  Remember, though, that before he’s 12 weeks old he’s physically incapable of ‘holding it’ for more than a couple of hours (longer when he’s sleeping) so however much he wants to cooperate, he may be several months old before he gains completed muscle control.  Still, by using some common sense and a bit of preparation, house-training may be survived with relatively little trauma for everyone concerned.  Here are some hints:


Be Prepared.

Buy a crate, preferable one that fits your puppy now, not one he’ll eventually grow into (an eight week-old Portuguese Water Dog in an adult sized crate can mess in one end and sleep in another, and feel as if he’s soiling his bed), unless you’re able and willing to be home with your puppy all day, every day, until he’s old enough to be continent for several hours. You’ll need a safe and secure room with an easily cleaned floor where he can be confined, and some newspapers (or a roll of newsprint paper, if you’re concerned about ink stains on the vinyl).  Despite your best efforts, there will be accidents, so have some carpet deodorizer (available at the pet store) on hand — a mixture of one part white vinegar to four parts water also works.  Urine or feces odor triggers an eliminative reflex in the puppy, so it’s important to remove all traces of it.

Be In Control. 

Feed your puppy meals, not free choice, and work out a schedule for him that fits into your own.

Observe or Confine.

“Observe” means just that – keep an eye on him.  There is no point turning the puppy loose in the room and going about your business because you’ll miss the signs that tell you he needs to go out.  He may sniff, or circle, or head off determinedly in one direction.  If you’re lucky, he may whine. You’ll soon catch on to his signals if you’re paying attention.

One way to stay aware of him and still get some work done is to put a six-foot leash on him and tie him to a belt around your waist.  Your hands will be free and you will always know what he’s up to.  If you can’t watch him, confine him to his crate for short periods (or at night), or in a room with both his bed and papers on the floor if you have to leave him for several hours.

Take him outside; don’t just shove him out the door.  Better yet, take him to a specific place in the yard (this time you want the smells to trigger that eliminative reflex), and reward him when he responds.  He may not go right away, so be patient.  As he eliminates, give him a verbal cue, and very soon you’ll have a dog that will go on command, which can come in handy.

Put his crate in your bedroom at night, or if he doesn’t sleep in a crate, tie him to your bed, so you’ll hear him if he gets up.  A seven or eight week old puppy probably won’t be able to make it all the way through the night at first.  As soon as he wakes up, he needs to go, but that’s really an advantage because it will give you an opportunity to praise him for doing the right thing in the right place, without your having to stand around shivering in the cold for several minutes first.  Young puppies should be carried outside if your bedroom is any distance from the door, or you may find yourself cleaning up a trail of puppy urine down the back stairs.

A reprimand is fine if you catch him in the act, but punishment after the fact is not useful.  More important, make it easy for him to get things right consistently and good results will soon follow.


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