House Training a Dog is Difficult!
We can all agree that potty training is the worst! Just when you think your puppy is potty trained, he makes a mistake. Or maybe you are one of those puppy-owners who thinks your puppy is just un-potty-trainable. Smaller dogs are harder to potty train because their bladders are smaller and therefore they must go out more often and are less predictable. While there is some truth that training a smaller dog is going to be more work, it is not impossible.
The first thing you must remember when house training young dogs, is that their systems are not yet fully developed. This includes their brains, their immune systems, and pertinent to this discussion, their bowls. Because the puppy does not have fully developed bowls, they have less control over when they go. That means, while a puppy is still growing, it is highly likely that he needs to go outside immediately, if not within 10-15 minutes of eating or drinking. This isn’t because what he consumed goes right through, but rather, because their little bowls sense the new consumed items and they gear up. Because there is less room in there for the food or drink, whatever is in there has to come out, and it’s not the puppy’s fault that he cannot yet control that.
So, all of that said, one of the most important parts of potty training is marking good behaviors, i.e. when the dog goes potty outside. And what better way to set him up for success than to take him outside when you know a bowl movement is about to happen!
Another big mistakes owners make when trying to potty train a puppy is to not pay attention. A puppy must be sufficiently grown up before you can stop watching his every move. Bringing up a puppy is very hard work. Expect to watch your puppy’s every move. During potty training, if your dog is going out of your sight, or starts sniffing around, this a sign that an accident may be coming. It’s also an indication that your dog hasn’t yet learned how to tell you he needs to go out.
So, when your puppy is still learning, you must watch him like a hawk. And if you are unable to pay attention, the dog needs to be crated or leashed close to you. Dogs quickly learn that going inside is bad, and prior to it “clicking” that you’re trying to teach him to go outside, he will, naturally, learn to avoid your sight when he wants to go potty. It’s a natural reaction to avoid punishment. Puppies may not connect the dots in the way you would expect, but remember, dogs are highly influenced by how their behaviors are marked. Both positive and negative reinforcement will cause specific, and sometimes unpredictable reactions that can make puppy ownership very frustrating.
During potty training, crate training will be your best friend. There will be times in your puppy ownership career that you simply do not want to watch your dog’s every move. If you are feeling this way, the dog should be crated. If you do not crate the dog, and you also do not watch the dog, you will find yourself in a predicament and a never ending rotation of potty training failures. It’s extremely important that you prevent your dog from making mistakes. The fewer mistakes he makes, the less he will need to learn and unlearn.
Additionally, it’s important that the crate is properly sized. A crate that is too large will allow the dog to comfortably sleep on one side, and defecate on the other side. Dogs do not want to lie in their own feces or urine, so a properly sized crate is vital. Keeping a dog in a properly sized crate will assure that the dog starts to learn how to control his bowel movements. Of course this will be easier as he gets older, but time in a crate can also help the dog learn what holding it feels like, and that will make his ability to do so stronger and stronger.
Beware., That doesn’t mean you should leave your dog in a crate for hours upon hours. A growing puppy, for example, will need to go out every few hours, with the time increasing as he gets older. Expect to take a very young puppy outside 2-3 times per night and do not expect a dog to hold it though the night until he is 3-6 months old, depending on the size of the dog. If you force a dog to hold it too long, you may subject your dog to health problems. Use your judgement, and slowly increase the time your dog goes between outdoor breaks until the dog is old enough to control his systems on his own.
Timely Praise and Correction
Think about this: You aren’t paying attention to your dog and he has an accident. Then, he comes to you and you pet his head, unknowingly praising his mistake in the other room. Later, you walk in the other room and find the accident and scold the dog. Instantly, you are creating confusion for the dog. He has absolutely no idea what he’s supposed to do or why you are upset. Not your dogs fault!
Don’t bother correcting your dog if you find an accident after the fact. You must catch him in the action for the correction to be effective, take him outside and follow up with praise for doing the right thing outside. The dog needs to see the difference. And it takes several times for it to click. This is why you cannot give freedom to a puppy that has not earned it. Do not expect a puppy to be able to be free inside a home (with you there) until 5 or 6 months old. Do not expect a dog to be free inside a home (while you are not there) until 1.5-3 years old (depending on the size and personality of the dog). Like everything with house training, you will need to gradually introduce your dog to new expectations and challenges.
That pretty much covers potty training. The key is to take it slow, to be consistent, and to keep your eyes on the puppy! Good luck with potty training. Any questions, ask here.