Protocol for Basic Manners Training and Housebreaking for New Dogs and Puppies
The steps below are designed to help you begin to train and housebreak any dog. They are divided into two sections: Puppies and Older dogs.
Puppies: Puppies become socialized to other dogs between the ages 4-8+ weeks and to people between the ages of 5-10 weeks. They learn to explore new surroundings between 5-16 weeks, and if they are not exposed to these by about 10 weeks of age they become neophobic (fearful of the unfamiliar). Dogs that miss these socializations or interaction periods do not necessarily develop problems associated with that lack of experience, but may be more at risk for developing such problems. What we are trying to do is minimize risk. Accordingly, in the first two months that you have the puppy you should make sure that the pup interacts with other dogs and people of all ages/sexes, experiences cars and traffic, meets other animals that it lives with such as farm animals, and gets accustomed to environments in which the adult dog is expected, by you, to function. If you intend to show the dog, take the pup to shows early, even before it is old enough to be entered.
The best time to start training a dog to eliminate in a desired location is when the puppy is between 7.5 and 8.5 weeks of age. This is the time when the puppy is best able to start to choose a preferred substrate and to act upon that choice. This does not mean that the puppy will not have accidents after that time: they will, but the foundations for easier housebreaking is best laid at that age.
Some puppies are not as developmentally advanced as others at the same age and may do well forming a preference for an area for urination and defecation, but may not have the physical muscle and nervous control necessary for extended periods without accidents. There is a lot of variation in the rates in which puppies develop, just as is the case for human children. This control will come with age if the puppy is appropriately reinforced and if there is no physical problem.
If you have truly done everything right and the 6-9 month old puppy is still not completely housebroken, it is important to look for an underlying medical problem, like an infection, that may contributing to or causing the problem. Sometimes, a slight amount of dribbling, particularly if the dog is excited, can be normal. For example, while not true for every dog, it is not uncommon for female puppies to dribble urine because of some hormonal and anatomical differences that distinguish them from male dogs. This usually improves with age, but in some cases when it doesn't the puppy may respond to the hormones that become abundant during an estrous or heat cycle. This usually starts at about 9 months of age and will continue about every 6 months if the puppy is not spayed/neutered.
A word on spaying and castration is in order. Spayed pets are healthier pets. They are less likely to roam, are not at risk of dying of uterine infections or unintended pregnancies, and have a greatly decreased risk of mammary cancer if spayed no later than 1.5 years of age. If the decision is made to allow the puppy to have a heat cycle, the owner is absolutely responsible for always keeping the puppy on a leash, in sight and away from male dogs for the extended period of time before, during, and after the actual discharge phase of the cycle. Otherwise, the puppy will become pregnant. 15-20 million unwanted pets are killed annually in humane shelters in the United Stated: no one needs any unwanted and unplanned puppies, and it is an unkindness to allow a puppy to bear puppies. Even if the dog were a superior quality breeding dog, no responsible breeder would encourage or allow a puppy to be bred and have babies.
Castration is also an excellent idea for male puppies that are not to be bred. They fight less with other dogs, the urine mark less frequently, they roam less, and they are healthier. If yours in not an absolutely top quality breeding animal (i.e. all parents and grandparents are flawless, and its pedigree is liberally sprinkled with champions) do not breed the animal: neuter it. This is a kindness: most of the dogs turned into humane shelters are purebred dogs, and 60% of all breeding result in the death of either the mother or one or more of the puppies.
That said, barring any physical problems, housebreaking a puppy is time consuming, because it requires attention to the puppy's signals and consistent action, but it is a lot easier than trying to correct inappropriate elimination behaviors that could have been avoided by the right approach at the start.
CRATES: Decide whether you are going to crate-train the puppy. This is generally an excellent idea for most puppies and can be an essential step in the house training process. Small, enclosed areas encourage the pup to develop conscious muscle control to inhibit elimination at inconvenient times.
Crates are available from pet stores, mail-order houses, and some kennel clubs that may rent them. If you are planning to travel with the pet- buy a crate. Airlines require it and you can even check into the finest hotels if you are willing to crate the dog.
Some pups immediately feel more secure when left alone in a crate with blankets, toys, food, water, and, if large enough, an area for paper for urination and defecation. Get a bigger crate if the pup is to spend all day in it. Young (8week old) puppies need to eliminate every hour (more if eating, playing, or just awakening) and will need an area they can start to use for this. If the crate is small an older puppy will be unlikely to soil it; however, no puppy can be expected to last 8-10 hours without urinating and defecating.
Crates should always be placed in family areas, not in the damp basement or the garage. You want the puppy to learn to love going into the crate. Feed the puppy in the crate with the door open: ask the puppy to sit and wait (see PROTOCOL FOR TEACHING TO SIT, STAY AND DOWN), put the food inside, and release the puppy. Teach the puppy to wait to go in using biscuits. Correctly reward with treats or toys: do not bribe. Remember, a bribe is an action taken to lure the animal away from an undesirable behavior that rewards the animal a priori; a reward is an action taken a posteriori when the animal has willingly complied with a request. A reward is a salary; a bribe is blackmail.
Each day give the puppy a toy, a blanket, and something to chew (a biscuit, a big sterilized bone that has been stuffed with peanut butter, a nylabone) and put the puppy into the crate for some quiet time. This is quite time for all of you and will provide you will the ability to give the dog a safe place to relax and calm down (time out) any time the puppy is driving you nuts and you don't have the patience to work with the pup.
Puppies are babies and need their own quiet time, too. During these short (5-10 minutes to start) sessions stay quietly in the room with the pup, but don?t respond to attempts to get your attention. The puppy is capable of amusing itself. As the pup becomes more accustomed to the crate, extend the period of time that they are in it and go to other areas of the house. Before you release the pup from the crate, ask it to sit and praise it. When the puppy is let out of the crate, don't fuss over it for a few minutes or it could learn to associate release from the crate with lots of attention. Do this a little later after the pup has performed a few sits and downs for you.
The crate should be kept clean. If soiled, use hot water and non-irritating soap or baking soda and vinegar and rinse well and dry. Use an odor neutralizer (Elimin-odor, PON, FON, or The Equalizer). Crates should be placed in well-lit areas, but not those that will get the heat of the afternoon sun- the puppy could easily overheat and die. Timers can be place on lights to that the pup isn?t left alone in the dark. Radios and TV's can be left on for auditory company and to mask scary street sounds.
Never leave anything around the pups' neck, like loose or choker collar, that can tangle and hang on any part of the cage or anything in it. The puppy could strangle and die a painful death.
The crate has 3 main purposes:
to encourage the dog to start inhibiting the urge to eliminate;
to keep the puppy safe from all the disasters from electric cords to toxic substances that lurk in the average home;
to keep you sane when puppy is too rambunctious
Puppies are rambunctious. They need an aerobic outlet for all that energy. The crate is not meant to keep them incarcerated or to substitute for that need for aerobic exercise. Don't think that you can keep the puppy in the crate 8-10 hours a day and then not have to play energetic games at night. If you need an animal you can keep caged for most of its young life, consider a gerbil.
ALTERNATIVES TO CRATES: If you are not going to crate your puppy, confine it to one area (kitchen, den, or sun-porch) at first. This gives the dog a greater sense of security when you're not home, and minimizes damage. Leave a radio and light on for the pup. Expand the areas to which the pup has access gradually, only when the puppy has not eliminated or destroyed anything in the area to which it was previously confined. Baby gates can help with this.
If you are going to be gone more than 2-3 hours the puppy will have to urinate or defecate so you'll have to provide the pup with an area to do this (litter box or newspaper- see below). Make sure that the room is puppy-proof: no cupboards with chemicals or toxic substance into which the dog can get; no strings, ropes, slippers, magazines, or mail the dog could shred and, or ingest, possibly causing and intestinal obstruction. Just as for a crate, the dog should have a blanket, water, toys, and a biscuit or two. Caution is urged in confining puppies to bathrooms, where they have been known to drown in toilets, or in kitchens, if they can reach or turn on the stove accidentally.
THE ELIMINATION PARADIGM: Puppies develop substrate preferences for urination and defecation. This means that if you teach a dog to urinate on newspaper the pup will learn to seek out that substrate. This can be a problem if you haven?t yet finished the Times and place the unread section on the floor. Although it is tougher to teach a puppy to go outside to urinate and defecate after it had learned to use the newspaper, it is not impossible. It is preferable to teach the dog to go outside at the outset, but this may not fit into your schedule. So, the following are your options:
Every one to two hours take the puppy outside. Puppies have high metabolisms and small bladders. Let the puppy sniff a bit, don't just pull it to keep walking. Sniffing is an important part of the elimination sequence in dogs. If the dog is just rampantly plowing ahead sniffing, instead, stop and walk quickly back and forth with it. Use a short, rather than extendible, lead so they you can quickly correct the dog and respond to his or her cues. This movement stimulates normal dog elimination precursor behavior. The pup will eventually squat- pay attention and praise it. When the dog is finished, tell it that it?s brilliant. You can give it a little piece of biscuit as it squats on a desired substrate (grass); this may help encourage it to associate squatting on that substrate with good things.
Regardless of the frequency of your other walks, take the pup out 15-45 minutes after each time it eats. These are the range of times that it takes after food is eaten for the intestines to be stimulated. ?Food? includes biscuits and rawhides, both of which will stimulate elimination. Watch for behaviors that tell you the dog may be ready (pacing, whining, circling, a sudden stopping of another behavior) and intercept them. If you pick the pup up and it starts to leak, or the act of picking up the pup starts the leak, wet a cloth and clamp it to the pups? genitals. This will stimulate it to associate inhibition of elimination with those muscle groups. It also keeps the floor cleaner. Again, praise the dog as it is squatting and immediately after it has finished.
Take the puppy out immediately after any play and naps or after it has awakened at night. If this is the first walk of the day, put your clothes on and have your cloth ready before you even approach the crate.
If you must train the pup to paper or a litter box, put the box or paper in one place, preferably close to the door. Take the pup to the paper frequently and praise it if it squats. You may want to put heavy gauge plastic under the newspaper to protect the underlying substrate in case the pup misses or the urine soaks through the paper. Getting the puppy outdoors still requires you to be home for a little while.
While the dog is being trained to paper you still have to take it out at least 3-4 times a day (after meals, awakening, play). Praise it immediately during and after the squat. To wean the puppy from the paper, gradually start to move the paper 1-2 inches per day closer to the door. Spy on puppy during weekends and as it begins to squat on the paper, rush it outside and wait for it to urinate or defecate. This also helps to stop the dog from being fearful outside. Praise the pup in excess. Paper training may slow the process of getting the puppy to develop an outdoor substrate preference, but may be your only option. Some people with small dogs elect to have the dog permanently trained to paper or a litter box. That is easier to handle for small dogs and fine if it works for you, but it you do not want the dog to rely on these devices, you must go through the amount of work described here.
If you have an older dog that is house broken, take them with you when you take the pup out. Dogs learn extremely well by observing and this may speed up the process.
Dogs are generally faster to housebreak for defecation than urination. This may be, in part, due to the fact that puppies urinate more frequently than they defecate. For some very clueless dogs it can help to either take a urine soaked sponge or a piece of feces to the area you would prefer the pup use. This may help them to learn to associate their scent pattern with the area, but cannot be used in the absence of the other steps above.
For puppies that are older (7-9 months) and still seem to have no awareness of appropriate elimination behavior, diapers can help. This is not a substitute for the steps above, but an addition to them. Dog diapers or britches are available at pet care outlets. The uncomfortable sensation can help to teach some of these dogs to inhibit themselves. You will have to be willing to bathe and powder any dogs that might soil themselves to prevent urine burns or fecal contamination. A thin layer of Vaseline can help to provide a protective coating.
In addition to all the steps above it is important to note that even if you have 120 acres and the dog will have free range, you need to be standing there, next to the dog, rewarding it for eliminating on an appropriate substrate or the association will not be made. It is not acceptable to do this through the window or when they come back in. Free-range dogs learn to eliminate just anywhere. This is not what you want.
Reward the puppy with a longer walk and play outside after it eliminates. Do not play with the puppy or allow it to play with other dogs before it eliminates. If the only time that the pup has to watch the air, chase leaves, and hear birds is when it is out to eliminate, you may be making your housebreaking problems worse. If the pup is yanked back in right after eliminating it can learn both to avoid or postpone elimination outside and to save its walks for exploration. After all, it can always eliminate indoors.
Finally, if you want your dog to start to learn to eliminate on command, give them the command, and no other interaction, until they do it. Say "empty" or "go pee" and make sure that your last command coincides with a squatting event. Then tell them they are brilliant. Use this with play after elimination and your pup will be more then willing to do your bidding.
PUNISHMENT You will notice that no mention of punishment for housebreaking has been made. That is because it has virtually no role in housebreaking a dog. Animals and people make associations between acts and consequences; this is how we learn. Coming down to find a puddle of urine in the rug and the dog cringing does not mean that the dog knows it erred. What if probably means is that this has happened before: you have come home, grabbed the dog, dragged it to the urine, and whacked it. The dog has made the association: you come and it gets whacked, but it's the wrong association (or at least one you did not intend for the dog to learn). In fact, if you have punished the pup, the pup probably cringes when you come home even if it hasn?t urinated on the rug, but you don't notice.
You must couple the correction exactly with the action that needs correcting. If you see the puppy start to squat (preferably) or in the act of urinating or defecating on the rug etc., SCARE IT: a sharp "NO", coupled with a loud noise (clapping of hands, banging of a pot, blasting a foghorn) will startle the pup. Use the lowest level of stimulus necessary to achieve the startle. For some meek pups this might just be saying "Shame..." All the startle does is interrupt the behavior and give you a chance to reinforce a better behavior. After it is startled, grab the pup and take it outside, praising it when it urinates or defecates on an appropriate substrate. Psychologists have shown that we learn best and most quickly when surprised, so startling the dog with an unpleasant stimulus when it is in the act is the best way to teach it to associate unpleasant actions with eliminating in the wrong place.
EARLY TRAINING: No puppy is too young to learn what it wants by sitting and staying. All pups should be taught to sit and stay for walks, food dishes, water, play attention- anything. The fastest way to teach this is with food treats- tiny pieces of biscuit treats, jerky, or even cheese. This technique allows you to only use voice commands so that your moving hands do not distract the pup. Later you can use hand signals and other cues. The puppy will accidentally sit the first time: hold the treat in one hand in front of the dogs nose; gradually move it close to the ground and repeat "sit" its bottom butts the ground. Instantly open your hand for the treat and say "good pup". As the puppy matures you can begin to expect it to distinguish between "sit" and "down" by using those words to only mean what they say; at first, the pup only has to get its bottom on the ground, however it's done (see PROTOCOL FOR TEACHING SIT, STAY, AND DOWN). At first use the words "sit" and "down" to mean exactly that, but reward the pup if he or she does either; reinforce them to distinguish between the commands by being particularly enthusiastic if they do. You will gradually shape their behavior. Later, as the pup is more mature you only reward them for "down" when they lie down and "sit" when they sit instead of lying down. The earlier you start to teach a dog to look to you for cues and to defer to you for anything it desires, the better off you'll be. All dogs should be taught discipline, manners, and to respond to their owners requests. This is particularly true for large breed dogs that can be unpleasant, at best, and dangerous, at worst, when out of control. No dog needs to be hit to do this.
Older Dogs: The same basic training and housebreaking rules apply for older dogs that apply for puppies, but older dogs can be more difficult to housebreak since they may have to unlearn some less favorable behaviors. Older puppies or dogs that have been kenneled for extensive periods may have developed a preference for the substrate on which they were kept. While doing all of the above, you will have to be very vigilant any time that the dog is around those substrates. Expect to have to do a lot of monitoring and correcting. Spying on the dog can be made easier by putting a bell on the dogs' collar. Incarcerate the dog any time you cannot monitor it. BE PATIENT. If you have ever tried to loose 5 pounds you know how hard it is to break the habit.
Put a cowbell, sleigh bells, or jingle bells on a string by the door and teach the dog that when it taps the bell, you open the door and let it out. Demonstrate this the first few times by taking the dog?s paw and saying ?knock?, and whacking the bells. Then tell the dog "good dog" and let him or her out. This process will give you an auditory cue for when the dog has to go out, so you can further reinforce it. You do have to be willing to take the dog out every time that the bell rings and you are home. Dogs can learn not to ring when you're not there. This is a useful technique for older puppies, too.
On the positive side, these dogs are usually so grateful that they were rescued and can now be loved; they will work wonderfully for praise and interaction. Use this.
Copyright, Dr. Karen L. Overall, 1994 Checklist for housebreaking a puppy:
Bell the puppy so you know where it is at all times; this way you can interrupt and correct it.
When to take your puppy outside?
Take outside immediately upon awakening
Take outside immediately after playing (especially if the puppy voluntarily slows play)
Take outside 15-30 minutes after any food
Take outside a minimum of 6-8 times per day
Take your puppy outside every 1-2 hours optimally
Regular feeding times, no free access, take up food after 20 minutes.
No play until eliminated
Take on 15-20 minute walks
Concentrate in one area- small steps
Allow play/ socialization after eliminating
Appropriate corrections- Startle
Reinforce scent (older dog, feces in correct area)
Variety of substrates (for show or traveling dogs)
Vocal command (empty, go potty, go pee)
Patience (LOTS OF THIS)
Odor eliminators and appropriate cleaning
Non-elimination associated aerobic play
Older Dogs: See puppy check list
Identify preferred substrate
Gradually switch preferred substrate
Concentrate on rewarding appropriate behavior
Crate- use natural inhibition
Short lead for leash corrections
Walk and reinforce frequently; teach "knock"
Karen L. Overall, MA, VMD, (Ph.D.) Behavioral Medicine University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine
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