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“If the dog makes a mess in the house, slap yourself,” says Mary Healy. “You didn’t do your job, and that’s in no way the dog’s fault. You let him down. If you can’t keep supervise him without help, tether him to you. That way he can’t ‘wander off.'”
The idea is to take advantage of a rule of dog behavior: Dogs will not generally eliminate where they sleep.
- Dogs who are in crates that are too large (so the dog can eliminate at one end and sleep at the other end)
- Dogs who have lived in small cages in pet stores during critical phases of development and have had to learn to eliminate in the cage
- Dogs who have blankets or other soft, absorbent items in the crate with them
- Dogs who are left for too long in the crate and cannot hold it any longer
If the crate is too big (because you got an adult-size one), you can partition the crate off with pegboard wired to the sides to make the crate the correct size, and move it back as your puppy grows. Crate dividers are available for this purpose.
How to House-Train Your Puppy
To house-train a dog using a crate, establish a schedule where the dog is either outside or in its crate when it feels the need to eliminate.
Using a mild correction (saying “No” in a firm, even tone) when the dog eliminates inside and exuberant, wild praise when the dog eliminates outside will eventually teach the dog that it is better to go outside than in.
Some people correct more severely inside, but this is extremely detrimental to the character of puppies. To make the dog notice the difference between eliminating inside and outside, praise more outside rather than correcting more inside.
The crate is crucial because the dog will “hold it” while in the crate, so they are likely to have to eliminate when they are taken out. Because you know when your dog has to eliminate, you take them out and they eliminate immediately, and are praised immediately.
Doing this consistently is ideal reinforcement for the behavior of going out to eliminate. In addition, the dog is always supervised in the house, so they are always corrected for eliminating indoors. This strengthens the inhibition against eliminating inside.
Consistency and Patience Are Key
In general, consistency is much more important than severe corrections when training a dog.
Before a dog understands what you want, severe corrections are not useful and can be quite detrimental. Crating allows you to have total control over the dog to achieve consistency. Hopefully, this will prevent the need (and the desire) to use more severe corrections.
House-training is relatively simple with puppies. The most important thing to understand is that it takes time. Young puppies cannot wait to go to the bathroom. When they have to go, they have to go NOW. Therefore, until they are about 4-5 months old, you can only encourage good behavior and try to prevent bad behavior.
This is accomplished by the following regime:
- First rule of house-training: Puppies have to go to the bathroom immediately upon waking up.
- Second rule of house-training: Puppies have to go to the bathroom immediately after eating.
With these two rules goes the indisputable fact that until a puppy is house-trained, you must confine them or watch them to prevent accidents.
This means that the puppy should have a place to sleep where they cannot get out. Understand that a puppy cannot go all night without eliminating, so when they cry in the night, you must get up and take them out and wait until they go.
Then enthusiastically praise your puppy and put them back to bed. In the morning, take them out again and let them do their stuff and offer praise. After meals and after your puppy wakes up at any point, take them out to eliminate.
This Is Not Play Time
Make your puppy aware that this is not play time — but understand that puppies get pretty excited about things like grass and snails and leaves and forget what they came outside to do!
Use the same spot each time if you can; the smell will help the puppy remember what they are to do, especially after 12 weeks of age.
To make life easier for you later, use a key phrase just when the puppy starts to eliminate. Try “Hurry up,” “Do it,” or some similar phrase (pick one and use it). The puppy will begin to eliminate on command, and this can be especially useful later, such as making sure the dog eliminates before a car ride or a walk in the park.
Don’t let your puppy loose in the house unless they have just gone outside, and/or you are watching them extremely closely for signs that they have to go.
The key to house-training is preventing accidents. If no accidents occur (ha!), then the dog never learns they have an option other than going outside.
When you are at home, rather than leave the pup in the crate, you can “tether” the puppy to you — use a 6-foot-long leash and tie it to your belt. That way, they can’t get out of your sight in the house and go in the wrong place.
Sample Dog House-Training Schedule
For an idea of what this can involve, here is a hypothetical situation, assuming that you work and it takes you about half an hour to get home from work:
- 3 a.m.: Let dog out, go to bathroom, return to crate
- 7 a.m.: Let dog out, go to bathroom
- 7:15 a.m.: Feed dog in crate, leave dog in crate
- 8 a.m.: Let dog out, go to bathroom, return to crate
- 8:15 a.m.: You go to work
- 11:30 a.m.: Return, let dog out
- 11:45 a.m.: Return dog to crate, you go back to work
- 5 p.m.: Return home from work, let dog out to go to bathroom and play (use tether if necessary)
- 7 p.m.: Feed dog in crate, leave in crate
- 7:45 p.m.:Let dog out, go to bathroom, play
- 11 p.m.: Let dog out, put dog in crate, go to bed.