by Deborah Jones, Ph.D.

Many people ask me for tips on housetraining toy breeds. Having owned toy breeds as well as much larger dogs, I've found that the only difference is that small dogs need to go potty much more frequently due to their smaller bladder size. Other than that, I housetrain all dogs in the same way. Some tips follow.

When a puppy has to go, he's gotta go NOW! Puppies have little to no control over their bladder and bowels. This ability comes with age and physical development. Understanding where it is appropriate to go is another matter. For the puppy, anywhere is fine. Most tend to avoid going in the places where they eat and sleep, but anywhere else is fair game.

For most of us with new puppies, housetraining is our first training challenge. We know where we want our puppies to go potty, the challenge is in helping the puppy to understand what we want. Luckily, dogs are creatures of habit. Once they have gone in the same place a few times, they tend to return there. Puppies can learn the appropriate 'potty place' through consistent repetition.

By following a few key ideas, you can accomplish housetraining with a minumum number of accidents.

First, keep your puppy under your direct supervision at all times. This is vital to avoiding accidents. If your puppy wanders out of your sight, it is very likely that he will find a quiet spot to do his business. Don't let this happen or he will get in the habit of finding unoccupied corners of the house to use. Instead, always keep the puppy close to you. He should be in the same room you are at all times. Use baby gates to close off doorways. If necessary, use an umbilical cord (a leash or length of rope that you loop around your waist and attach to your dog's collar) to keep him close by. When you cannot supervise your puppy put him in a safe confined area such as his crate or an exercise pen. Don't expect your roommate, children or significant other to supervise your puppy. Other people tend to 'forget' this responsibility.

Second, choose a potty place. You need to decide where you want your puppy to go and take him to that place whenever you think he needs to go potty. If your puppy will be using a fenced back yard it is important that you take him to his potty area on his leash for the first few weeks. Allow him to sniff around a limited area, but don't let him get too distracted. By having him on a leash you are keeping him from running around and playing when he should be concentrating on potty business. You MUST go out with your puppy in order to be sure that he has actually gone -- yes, even in the rain or snow. Many puppies get distracted outside, come back inside, and then remember what they need to do.

If you will be walking your dog on leash while he does his business you should make 'pit stops' at the same locations on each outing and give him the opportunity to go there.

If you are eventually going to have your puppy go potty outside, then paper training is an unnecessary extra step and could be very confusing for your dog. However, if you have dog who will be using papers indoors (usually a small dog who lives in an apartment) then you can start with papers. There is even a new 'dog litter' product on the market that is used just like cat litter. You can follow exactly the same methods for paper training or litter training as for training a dog to go outside.

Third, stick to a very strict schedule during your puppy's early weeks in your home. Eating, sleeping, exercising, play and potty times should all be constant and predictable for the young puppy. As I stated earlier, dogs are creatures of habit. Building good habits in the beginning will pay off later. For a young puppy set up a schedule that includes 3-4 meals, play sessions, training sessions, naps and frequent potty times. Most puppies learn to adjust to their schedules very quickly.

An example of a typical schedule for a 10-week old puppy might be as follows:

7:00 a.m. Potty time
7:15 a.m. Breakfast
7:30 a.m. Walk/potty time
7:45 a.m. Training
8:00 a.m. Play time
8:30 a.m. Morning nap
9:30 a.m. Potty time
9:45 a.m. Walk
10:15 a.m. Play time
11:15 a.m. Potty time
11:30 a.m. Lunch
11:45 a.m. Potty time
12:00 p.m. Afternoon nap #1
2:00 p.m. Potty time
2:15 p.m. Training
2:30 p.m. Play time
3:30 p.m. Walk/Potty time
4:00 p.m. Afternoon nap #2
5:30 p.m. Potty time
5:45 p.m. Dinner
6:00 p.m. Potty time
6:15 p.m. Play time
7:00 p.m. Walk/Potty time
7:30 p.m. Evening nap
8:00 p.m. Potty time
8:15 p.m. Training
8:30 p.m. Play time
9:00 p.m. Potty time
9:15 p.m. Bedtime
11:00 p.m. Potty time
3:00 a.m. Potty time
*Other overnight potty outings may be necessary!

Makes you tired just thinking about it, doesn't it?! But puppies do require this much time and attention. It's important to be aware of the enormous time and energy commitment a young puppy needs.

The above schedule includes 3 meals, 4 naps, 3 training sessions, 4 walks, 5 play sessions, and 14 opportunities for the puppy to go potty in an appropriate place. Some puppies may need more frequent potty breaks, more naps, more exercise, etc. You can adjust as necessary to suit the individual. As the puppy matures you can change the schedule as needed.

Fourth, choose and use a 'potty' word or phrase. Keep in mind that this is something you will have to say in public, so choose carefully. It's also important that everyone in the household use the same word or phrase. Some commonly used words and phrases are "go potty", "hurry up", "do your business", and "let's go". At first, you will use your word or phrase as your puppy is actually going. Say it very quietly, but in an encouraging voice. As soon as your pup finishes, use a verbal marker such as "Yes!" or "Great!" and give him a treat and some praise. It's important that you have small, soft treats ready in your pocket and to give one right after he has finished going. You want your puppy to make the connection between his action and the reinforcement. If you wait until you go back inside to give the treat it will be too late. At that point your puppy is being reinforced for going back into the house, not for going potty in the appropriate place.

Continue using your chosen potty word or phrase whenever your puppy is actually going potty. This connects the verbal cue to the behavior. At times in which you know your puppy is about to go potty, such as first thing in the morning, use your potty cue as your puppy is sniffing around. Remember to use a verbal marker and a treat to reinforce.

Fifth, do NOT scold or punish your puppy for having an accident. Any type of punishment will be counterproductive to your housetraining. Imagine the following scenario: You are sitting in your living room watching TV while your puppy is happily playing with his toys. You notice that he walks over to the corner, squats, and begins to urinate. You jump up yelling "No! Bad dog! Bad, bad dog!", scoop him up and rush him outside.

From your perspective you just punished your dog for going potty in the house. However, think about it from your puppy's perspective. Just as he's relieving himself you swoop down on him, scaring him to death. Instead of making the connection between the scolding and going in the house, he may make a connection between your presence and going potty. He may think that going potty in your presence was the mistake. Now, when you take him to the appropriate potty place he may not go for fear of getting in trouble again. This means he'll hold it until he gets back in the house and can sneak out of your sight for a second. You've created a major problem where only a small one existed before.

So what should you do instead? Certainly, if you actually catch your dog in the act of urinating in an inappropriate place you should interrupt the behavior ("oh no! not here") and take him to the appropriate place immediately. However, you don't want to be too frightening. After all, your puppy is only doing what comes naturally. In addition, you should consider any accidents your fault for not keeping a closer eye on your puppy. And it's not fair to punish your puppy for your mistakes.

If you approach housetraining in a calm and consistent manner, you will see positive results very quickly. A few weeks or months of vigilance in the beginning will yield long lasting results. Once trained, most dogs have few to no accidents throughout their lives. In an already trained adult dog one of the first signs of a possible health problem is having housetraining accidents. If this occurs, visit your veterinarian for a check-up. If you have followed all of the above suggestions and your puppy is still having accidents, or if your puppy is having accidents in his crate/bed, have your veterinarian check for a possible bladder infection. Most bladder infections are relatively mild and easily treated.

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