Housetraining a puppy or newly acquired dog

[singlepic id=29 w= h= float=right]Correct and positive house training methods are very important in a puppy critical developmental period (3-16 weeks of age) as many behaviour problems in adolescent and adult dogs can be traced back to improper housetraining techniques due to non-contingent punishment (punishment after the act) and inconsistency on the owner’s behalf.

House-soiling (due to incomplete and improper training) is the leading cause given by dog owners for relinquishing their dogs to the uncertain fate of a shelter (Salman et al., 2000)

Effective house-training depends on just a few things, namely

1) diligent supervision,
2) scheduled feeding (what goes in on time goes out on time),
3) constructive (positive conditioned) confinement and
4) adequate scheduled opportunities to eliminate outdoors (to create a reinforcement opportunity).

The two main goals of house training are to:

1) Prevent the occurrence of eliminating in the house and
2) To encourage and reinforce puppies for eliminating outdoors.

Prevention and training

Constructive confinement can include having the puppy in a doggy crate (to which the dog has been positively conditioned to), a puppy pen or making your own confinement are such as a kitchen where the entrance is closed with a board or baby gate. Confinement is a very useful in preventing house-soiling, but excessive confinement may inadvertently produce significant adverse side effects. It should only be used as a training tool and not as a punisher.

A confinement area consists of an area large enough for sleeping, eating and playing and must be close to the social happenings in the house. Over reliance on confinement may also interfere with effective house training by preventing a puppy from learning to generalize its training to the whole house. To increase generalization of proper housetraining the puppy should only have supervised access when exposed to other areas of the house to prevent accidents from happening. This can be done by walking the puppy around the house while on leash. Most accidents can be prevented if puppies are under careful supervision. Until the puppy is housetrained, do not let him wander around the house on his own.

When on lead or in the confinement area observe the puppy for telltale signs in body language that have occurred in the past just prior to elimination. Signs can include moving towards an area where they have eliminated in the past, sniffing, circling, lowering of the hind quarters or whining when in crate or on leash.

There are times when puppies are most likely to eliminate.

Use these opportunities to reward the behaviour in the correct location.

They include:

* Immediately after waking up in the mornings and after napping in the middle of the day
* Just after eating and drinking and again 20-30 minutes later
* After bouts of play with either the humans or canine companions or after playing with a toy by himself
* After any form of excitement i.e. visitors arriving or your homecoming
* After a significant period without eliminating (every 45-60 minutes, then gradually increase the duration between taking him out)
* Sniffing, circling behaviour
* At night, (at least twice) before bed time

When it is time to take the puppy outside:

* Take him to the correct spot
* with a treat hidden in your pocket.
* Wait for your puppy to urinate, when he is busy urinating say i.e. ‘do toilet’ or ‘wee-wee’ so that
* he starts to associates the behaviour with the word/cue. This is done so that one day the dog can be given a cue to eliminate when off property or when the weather is unpleasant you do not have to go outside with your dog, you merely stand at the door and say ‘do toilet’ and your dog will eliminate outside on his own.
* Immediately after the puppy has finished you give the treat and praise him.
* Stay outside with the puppy for a few minutes before going back inside, otherwise the puppy can start to associate eliminating with going back inside. For some puppies it is very reinforcing to be outside with their owners, so they postpone urinating to prevent going back inside so soon. This then leads to the puppy eliminating soon after going back inside, as the owner then thinks after a while of being outside that the puppy has no need to eliminate, but in actual fact the puppy did need to go.
* If you have taken the puppy outside on a schedule time and he does not eliminate after 5 minutes (no longer, as most puppies will want to eliminate immediately), take him back to his confinement area and try again 15-20 minutes later or supervise him, so that you can observe his behaviour to indicate if he needs to eliminate before that time.

Caught in the act

If you see your puppy is busy or preparing to eliminate in doors, interrupt the behaviour. For most puppies an abrupt vocal shout combined with a clap of hands or stomp on the floor is adequate to get the impression across. The intensity of the interrupter should depend on the puppy’s temperament. If you use to much the puppy could perceive it as a punishment, if you use to little it could have no effect. Whatever method is used, it is critical that the puppy be caught in the act and then immediately rushed outdoors to finish. When moving outdoors, your voice and manner should shift to a jolly and encouraging tone, thereby causing the puppy to relax and finish the behaviour outside. Remember to reward him when he is finished.

Using physical or verbal punishment can cause a puppy significant discomfort or fear of you, the owner and could cause it to overly generalize the negative event, thereby possibly reducing the puppy’s willingness to eliminate outdoors in the owners presence as the aversive event could be paired with the presence of the owner. This leads to the puppy learning not to do the behaviour in front of you, but just in another room when you are not present.

Smacking a dog with a newspaper whilst showing him the elimination, squirting him with water or rubbing his nose in it serves no purpose. Dogs do not feel the same as humans about elimination. All that this teaches them is that you are ‘unsafe’ and ‘unpredictable’ as the punishment is not associated with the unwanted act, but rather with ‘that the presence of elimination and owner equals a negative consequence’.

During the day multiple outing should be scheduled around feeding times. Between feeding times the puppy should be supervised thereby preventing the puppy from making accidents. The average maximum length of time a puppy should be expected to hold between daytime outings is calculated by dividing its age in weeks by 3. If the puppy is 12 weeks old, he could be expected to hold for a maximum of 4 hours. Even if some puppies can hold on for longer it may be stressful and unhealthy for them to do so.

Initially when acquiring the puppy he should be taken out every 45-60 minutes to establish the desired behaviour and then gradually lengthen the time between outings to approximate the average age-appropriate limit. This will gradually teach them to hold in the elimination in response to internal elimination signals.

If more than one person in the household is responsible for house training the puppy, a chart should be drawn up to provide a useful source of objective feedback concerning a puppy’s progress. If a puppy is having several accidents a day, it is probably not the puppy’s ability that needs to be improved, but the humans in the household’s supervisory efforts that needs to be increased.

At night

It is advisable that the puppy sleep with the owner in the bedroom, either in their crate, puppy pen, in a big cardboard box or in an en-suite bathroom that is closed of with a baby gate or board. Before the puppy is confined for the night, it should be taken out two to three times to give him sufficient opportunity to evacuate the bladder and bowels fully. If the puppy whines during the night it often signifies that the puppy is distressed by a need to eliminate. It is important that you respond to this and take him outside (with his treat).
The more opportunity you get to reinforce him for the behaviour in the correct location, the quicker he will learn to do it outside. If he soils inside, you have missed a training opportunity and it will add some duration in your house training.

In the mornings

Most young puppies require at least three or four closely spaced opportunities outdoors to evacuate the bowels and bladder fully. They include:

1) Immediately after waking up
2) Immediately after breakfast
3) 20-30 minutes after breakfast
4) And again in association with outdoor play.

Paper Training

Training a puppy to eliminate on paper should be restricted to times when the puppy is in a confinement area and you are not at home for long periods during the day. At times that you are at home the paper should be removed and the above mention training methods should be used. A common adult elimination problem stemming from continuous paper training is the tendency of some dogs thus trained to refuse to eliminate while on walks or when release outdoors, but instead waiting until they get back inside to eliminate, paper or no paper. These dogs are just performing in a manner consistent with the training that they received during their imprinting period.

Cleaning up

Cleaning a soiled area should be thorough to reduce unpleasant odors and potential damage to carpets. The first step is to extract as much urine as possible by using paper towels by gently soaking up as much as possible. The remaining urine in the carpet should be diluted with some water and then sponged up. Finally a solution of warm water and baking soda is poured onto the soiled area. The solution (one quarter teaspoon baking soda to one quater cup of warm water) is left to soak into the carpet for a minute or two and then thoroughly sponged out and allowed to dry overnight. The dry carpet can be brushed gently and vacuumed, leaving it clean and odor free. (Vinegar can be hazardous on fine rugs and cleaning agents that contain ammonia can attract a dog, especially and adult dog to go back to the same area to eliminate.) Once the area is cleaned the puppy can be fed treats, massaged or played with over the spot. The goal with such training is to establish a number of associations with the area that are incompatible with the urge to eliminate in that area.

Other Problems

The vast majority of puppies learn to eliminate outdoors on schedule with little difficulty, however the following could cause problems.

Fear – Nervous or scared of a new environment. Puppies should be provided with activities that promote feelings of comfort, security and relaxation when outdoors. ‘Scary’ things like shadows, leaves rustling or a big dog barking next door should be paired with fun and positive stuff i.e. treats, play or massage.

Distractions – Overly active and inquisitive puppies may be easily distracted by the novelty and excitement of being outdoors. Such puppies should be consistently taken to a familiar spot where he has already explored and habituated to and only allowed to explore after elimination. This can be achieved by taking the puppy outdoors on a leash.

Weather or surface aversion – Puppies should be provided with a surface area that is acceptable to them or taken to spots that are protected from the weather. Thereafter they should be gradually exposed to varying surfaces and weather changes to improve their willingness to eliminate. Puppies like these should be allowed to choose its spots, thereby facilitating more willingness to eliminate in a timely manner. Once a cue is added then the puppy can be taken to areas where you would like them to eliminate.

Change in environment – some dogs can have a relapse in housetraining after an extended period of kenneling, moving to a new house or adopting a shelter dog. Dogs do not automatically generalize training to another context/environment. If this happens, just follow the steps above as if the dog is a 8 week old puppy.

Medical causes – consult your veterinarian.

Copyright Claire Grobbelaar