The secret to house-training is, alas, there is no secret. House-training requires time, patience and above all, consistency. There is no secret formula, no high-tech tool and no magic technique.
In a nutshell, house-training consists of the following steps:
1. Scheduling – establish a schedule for food and elimination.
2. Supervision – until the puppy or dog is reliable, regulate his/her freedom in the house.
3. Training – when the dog needs to go, take him/her to a regular spot and reward the dog for going there.
Before the dog comes home establish a place for the dog to stay when unsupervised. While implementing a house-training program, unsupervised refers to a dog that is not accompanied by a human that is carefully observing his or her behavior. Untrained dogs must be confined to a safe place where they will not eliminate. Dogs, including puppies, will not soil where they sleep – this is where crate-training and house-training overlap. If you cannot or will not use a crate, identify another spot, such as a small laundry area or bathroom. Use small gates or an exercise pen to cordon off a small area for the dog to sleep in. If the area is too
large, the dog may find a spot to soil. Their instinct is to not soil where they sleep: they don’t automatically know not to soil an arbitrarily enclosed area.
At the same time, establish a toilet area. It is important that you establish, from the very beginning, where it is acceptable for the dog to relieve him or herself. For very young puppies it may be a good idea to have a spot prepared outside near the door that resembles the sort of place you will want your dog to use as an adult, such as wood chips, leaves or sand. Dogs are quite literally creatures of habit and tend to favor certain places and surfaces, so if you train your puppy to go on the roses… .you may end up creating a lifetime habit.
On a related note, if your goal is have the dog consistently go outside, it’s best to skip paper or wee-wee pad training if at all possible, since you will eventually have change that habit too. Of course, it you have a very small puppy and are training during extreme weather, it may be unavoidable.
When you first get your puppy home, you should take a trip to the vet as soon as possible. Urinary tract infections and other medical conditions can make house training almost impossible.
Finally, establish the schedule. The schedule needs to be one that both you and the puppy or dog can stick to. Puppies can only hold
it for so long so more frequent potty breaks must be allowed. Meals should be scheduled regularly, not free fed throughout the day. However, never deprive a puppy of water for the sake of house-training!
At the same time, make sure the schedule is one that you can stick with. The dog cannot fit into a schedule if you cannot either.
Once a schedule and sleeping and potty locations have been established, training begins. Training is simply a matter of supervising the dog in the house, taking her outside at regular intervals, and placing her in her sleeping location when she cannot be supervised.
If you know where she is at all times and what he is doing, accidents don’t happen. If an accident does it is your fault: you either left her unsupervised or failed to read a signal. Never, ever, ever punish a dog for making a mess. At best, the dog has no idea why you are upset. At worst, the dog will be afraid of eliminating in your presence, which will make house-training almost impossible. Remember, other than not soiling his sleeping area, the dog has to be trained. He does not understand what the fuss is about.
When a puppy stops playing and starts sniffing and hunting around as if looking for something, that something is probably a good spot. Calmly and quickly take him outside to the designated spot. After a few times, you will learn the signals and probably start to anticipate when your dog needs to go.
Regardless of what you are doing, have the dog with you. Give the pup some of his toys to play with. If you are moving around a lot, keep him on leash. If you are seated at the sofa or computer, give him some toys. But keep watching! This is where consistency comes in. For the first few days, your dog will require constant and consistent supervision.
When it comes time to take the dog outside, whether as scheduled or because he seems to need to go, follow the same procedure:
Take your dog out on leash to the designated toilet area. Do not send him out. Go with him so you know what he actually did and so that it is clear why you are going out: going out to play and going out to make are two different activities, at least until the dog is trained. Stand quietly, and let him find the right spot. If after a few minutes or so (it will be different for each dog, some are real fussbudgets about that perfect spot) he hasn’t eliminated, go back inside. Again: it should be clear why you went to that spot. Try again in a 1/2 hour or so.
When he actually does go, praise him enthusiastically. Let him know that you are very proud of him, and reward with a game of tug, fetch or maybe a treat. This is your chance to create a positive association with going outside, at the spot, in front of you – and that is what you want!
Remember your dog’s routine. Most dogs will develop a pattern regarding time of day and what happens when. This pattern will obviously change as the dog matures. While you are learning your dog’s routine, take him out immediately after he wakes up, after he has eaten and after all play sessions.
Once a dog is house-trained, it is very rare that he loses it. If a previously trained dog starts to have accidents, your first step should always be a trip to the vet.
For a great e-book on house training check out Way To Go! How to Housetrain a Dog of Any Age
Visit my training tutorials page for more training information and videos.