Sensitive Period for Socialization
If you have a baby puppy, remember that the most important developmental window in your dog’s life, The Sensitive Period for Socialization, is over by 16 weeks.
By then your dog will have done much of the work of setting up her lifetime ‘database’ of what’s ‘normal’. If she has not met and had happy experiences with a variety of people by then, she is at risk of being fearful as an adult. So, ensure that your puppy meets men and women and toddlers and teenagers; people of all different kinds of appearances, including different ethnicities, and people who use assistance equipment like canes or walkers. Bring treats, and watch your puppy’s body language to makes sure she’s not overwhelmed.
Your puppy will not yet have finished her vaccines, so you will need to choose carefully where you take her to socialize. Some ideas: have a Puppy Party (or more than one) at your house; Bring your puppy to friends’ or relatives’ houses (so long as their set up and their pets are a safe choice); Take your puppy to a dog-friendly store, like Home Depot, put a towel down in the shopping cart and let her ride around, off the floor, but meeting new people.
Puppies are not automatically pre-set on friendly! They tend to fear the new, and, if they are isolated as puppies they may be fear-aggressive as teenagers and adults. So, make a plan and then get out there and socialize!
When we housetrain dogs, rather than teaching them a new skill, we are really taking advantage of their natural, pre-existing patterns of elimination. Because of this, the first step to gentle, effective Housetraining is to examine:
- A) The dogs’ own “Rules of Housetraining”.
1) Your puppy will attempt to avoid soiling her eating or sleeping areas, and this behavior will eventually generalize to the more heavily trafficked areas of your house. For example, it is common for puppies to move out of the kitchen/family room area to eliminate in the formal dining room that must seem like the “wilderness” to the puppy.
2) The puppy will tend to soil in big, open, and relatively unused areas. The smaller the area, the more inhibited the puppy will be from soiling. (Dogs prefer not to soil a small “den-like” area.)
3) The more active the puppy is being, the more it will need to eliminate, conversely, an inactive puppy will be able to go for longer stretches without eliminating.
A walk will often encourage a dog to defecate, though he may not defecate while he is on leash. He may wait until he is at home, off leash, and in a familiar area. So, be cautious – when your puppy hasn’t pottied during a walk, when you return home, don’t just release him in the house. Instead, walk him directly to the fenced yard, take the leash off, and wait for him to potty.
A puppy that is crated is inactive, and that is additional reason that he is less likely to urinate or defecate.
4) Some puppies will need to defecate immediately after eating. (Others may not defecate for hours.)
5) Puppies quickly develop a surface preference and will attempt to eliminate on their chosen surface when possible. Most dogs innately prefer to eliminate on absorptive surfaces like grass, dirt, gravel or carpeting, rather than concrete, tile, etc. This innate surface preference can be overcome to a large degree. (Note that surface preference is more important to puppies than odor in choosing a place to eliminate. The reverse seems to be true in sexually mature dogs, especially males, so housetraining recommendations for adult male dogs differ slightly from those in this advice.)
B) The People Rules of Housetraining
1) Monitor food and water consumption.
- Feed separate meals; don’t free-feed.
- If your dog ingests randomly, and exercises randomly he will also eliminate randomly, and that will make housetraining much harder for you and the puppy.
- You can either leave water down and observe the puppy, or if this is not possible, keep the water up and offer it to the puppy every hour or two. The goal here is, of course, not to make the puppy uncomfortable, but to give you the information and control you need. (Note – in some cases your veterinarian may wish you to have a specific feeding or watering routine to manage a medical condition. Of course you will follow his advice!)
- You need to be able to know at all times whether the puppy is “full or empty”, so you know where he is allowed to be and how much supervision he needs.
- You will be feeding your puppy 2, 3 or 4 times a day, depending on his age and breed. Ask your veterinarian for advice if you are unsure of what schedule to follow.
- Leave food down for 15 minutes, maximum, then pick it up. If your puppy didn’t eat well, he will be eager to eat at the next meal. (If inappetance persists, call your veterinarian.)
(Do make sure that you have your veterinarian’s advice on a good quality diet and appropriate worming or stool checks for the puppy.)
2) When the puppy is in the house with you – which should be most of the time- she has only two options: she must be either be closely watched or confined. This rule, which sounds simple, is probably the most important part of housebreaking.
- If you are fairly sure that the puppy does not need to eliminate shortly, you can allow her to play in the house, but she must be supervised.
- I suggest that you shut the puppy in the room with you, using baby gates etc. as necessary, so that you can see her with a single glance of the eye.
- If the puppy seems restless, cries, circles, trots over to an empty corner, or pauses, however briefly, by the exit door, take her to her toilet area immediately.
- At high risk times, or when you cannot supervise the puppy she should be confined.
- Examples of high risk times are: i) immediately after eating, if the puppy has declined to eliminate in her toilet area ii) after the puppy has shown signs of needing to go (wandering, whining etc, as above) but has declined to go in the toilet area iii) when it has been a long time since the puppy pottied.
- In this case confinement refers to restricting the puppy to an area not much bigger than body size. The puppy should be able to stand up, turn around and lie down, but it should not be able to eliminate in one corner of its space, and move over to sleep in the other corner. (See Dog Rules of Housebreaking- 1), 2), & 3))
- Examples of this kind of confinement are: crating, leashing, or using an exercise pen.
- Most puppies tolerate and even enjoy the security of their crate if they are introduced to it early. Adult dogs can also usually be taught to crate if they are introduced to crating properly.
- You can also use an exercise pen to confine the dog.
- An exercise pen is like a folding playpen for dogs. It is made of panels of heavy gauge wire. Exercise pens can be purchased at pet stores, dog shows, etc.
- Fold the pen so that its size is appropriate for the size and self-control of your dog. As the dog matures behaviorally and physically, he will have better control, and you can allow him to have more space.
- Do be sure that puppy can be safely confined in an exercise pen: Some puppies will try to climb out (tops are available – secure the top properly!); Some puppies knock the ex-pen over, or get their nose under the edge and escape; Some puppies will “walk” the exercise pen across the room!
- In addition to putting a top on the pen, you may need to attach the pen to a wall or the cupboards, so that it can’t be moved or squeezed under. You may need to remove the puppy’s collar when he is in an ex-pen or crate, so it does not catch on anything.
- Leashing the dog is a useful way to confine the dog when you are home and don’t want to isolate him. You can attach the leash to your belt and have the dog follow you around or you can attach the leash to the leg of your chair and give the dog some toys to keep him occupied.
In all of the above examples, if the dog is restless or crying while in confinement, he probably has to eliminate, so escort him to his toilet area.
3) Take the dog to his toilet area.
- Note that it is important to escort the dog to his toilet area. Especially in the first stages of housetraining you need to know whether or not your puppy has eliminated or not. If you put him outside and shut the door, when you let the puppy back in, you no longer know if he is “full or empty”, so you do not know how much supervision he needs. Additionally, if you escort your puppy, you can choose an appropriate toilet area and you can teach him a “Go Potty” command.
- Choose a toilet area that will make sense to a dog. ( See Dog Rules #2 & #5) The area should ideally be relatively open and unused, and should have an absorptive surface- like grass. It is also helpful if you can choose an area that you can get to promptly, one that is close to a door that exits from the area in which the puppy will spend the majority of his time.
- When you take the puppy outside, try to make it as much the same each time as possible. Go out through the same door to the same place. While the puppy is searching for a spot to “go”, act quiet and boring. Especially if you have a distractible puppy, chattering and encouraging will only cause the puppy to focus on you. He may then not eliminate until he is back inside and he can concentrate on his interior sensations.
- As the puppy urinate or defecates say “Go Potty” then praise lavishly. Food reward if you wish. Once you have said “Go Potty”, as the puppy eliminates, for several days in a row, giving the puppy a chance to learn the command, then you can say the command when you reach the toilet area to encourage the puppy to go.
- If the puppy does not go, bring her back inside, but do not let her run free. Instead use one of the kinds of confinement that we discussed above. You can crate, leash or ex-pen the puppy and take her out again in a few minutes. After the puppy has eliminated outside, then you can allow her some limited freedom inside.
4) What to do with the puppy while you are away:
Set the puppy up to succeed.
Methods of continuing your housetraining routine on workdays include:
o Leave the puppy inside, either crated or ex-penned- depending on how much restriction your puppy requires at this time- and either return in the middle of the day to allow the puppy to eliminate, or temporarily hire a pet sitter to do this for you.
o Create a set-up that allows the puppy to have inside/outside access. (Ensure that the outside area is safe for your puppy.)
o For example, you can set the puppy’s bedding, water and toys up inside an exercise pen, folded to the appropriate size and secured as necessary, with the exercise pen opening on to a dog door to the outside toilet area.
o If the inside space is small and heavily used, the outside space is properly chosen, and the puppy can use the dog door, not only will the puppy not soil the house, even better, she will be learning how to handle the situation by herself when she is inside with a full bladder.
o Leave the puppy in the outside area that you have selected as the toilet area (of course the area will have to be made safe for the puppy)
o If you cannot adopt any of the above recommendations, you may need to confine the pup to a properly secured inside area, and allow her to eliminate there.
o If possible, do choose the same substrate for inside that you will want the puppy using outside…. (Fake grass inside and outside, a litter box with gravel, matching the outside gravel, etc.)
o Test your setup before you leave the puppy for a long absence. If your puppy eats the litter material, or strews it everywhere, you may need to alter your setup!
o Because this kind of setup may encourages the puppy to develop the wrong “location preference”, even though we are keeping the right “surface preference”, housetraining may take a bit longer than if you can implement one of the other methods.
5) What to do with the puppy at night.
- Ideally, the puppy should sleep in a bedroom with his humans. It is unnatural and stressful for the puppy to be isolated at night. Particularly if your puppy is alone all day because you are at work, sleeping in the bedroom is the simplest way to compensate for this separation. This routine tends to increase bonding and decrease behavior problems.
- Remember to pick up your puppy’s food and water fairly early in the evening. If possible, feed dinner by about 6 PM. Pick up water no later than 8 PM. (These general rules will, of course, be altered somewhat by what your bedtime is.)
- If your puppy seems especially thirsty, offer him an ice cube to chew on. Our goal is not to make the puppy uncomfortable, but it is important that the puppy not go to bed with a full bladder and bowels.
- Make sure that your puppy has had last “yard trip” right before bed. The puppy should sleep confined, for example crated. Not only is this good for housebreaking, but the puppy tends to sleep longer and more soundly. First thing in the morning the puppy needs to go to the toilet area. Most puppies wake at first light, and need to eliminate immediately.
Up to this point we have discussed how to set your puppy up to be right. If you follow this routine you should have little need to punish your dog, and indeed, punishment should play little or no part in housetraining.
However, there are a few things that you need to know about punishment.
- First and most important, punishment can create nasty side effects, such as fear or avoidance. If you think you need to punish, dig in and see if maybe you can step up your game, being more observant, offering a different substrate for elimination, etc.
- Seek the help of a good trainer. Look for a CPDT-KA (Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed) or a CPDT-KSA (Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledeg and Skills Assessed.)
- Never, ever punish a dog after a behavior. If you punish a dog while you are forcing it to look at its urine, you are punishing the dog for looking at urine. The dog will soon appear fearful when you and urine are around, but he will not be any closer to being housebroken.
1) Monitor food and water intake. (Know whether your puppy is “full” or “empty”.)
2) Either watch or confine (depending on imminent risk of “pottying”) the puppy when she is inside. No exceptions.
3) Every time you take the puppy out, use the same route, to the same spot in the yard. Use the cue word you have taught, (i.e. “Go Potty”.)
4) Make an appropriate arrangement for your absences so that the puppy is safe, and is not “forced” into making mistakes (safe, dog-proofed outside access, if possible, litter box inside, dog walker…).
5) At night, your puppy, who has had her food and water dishes picked up earlier, and who has been “emptied out” by a last “potty trip”, sleeps crated (or otherwise confined) in a bedroom.
6) Punishment has nasty side effects — Don’t do it!