When you first get your puppy, one of the most pressing things all owners want the puppy to learn is not to toilet in the house. We need to remember that puppies have no concept of inside and outside, and will toilet on a surface that feels the most familiar under their feet. So if you have a small breed puppy, like a Yorkie or a Pomeranian, remember that a lot of these pups are brought up in the room of a house, so they learn to toilet on the carpet, wooden floor or tiles. The same goes for puppies from breeders who have been brought up in a kennel – they are familiar with concrete or paving, and when you bring them home, they look for the same feeling under their feet!
A full-time job
To start off with, it’s a good idea to restrict your puppy to a smaller area of the house if you are not there to supervise. Puppies learn from their mothers not to toilet in their den area, so if you restrict the puppy to a small area with his food, water, bed and toys, then the chances of his toileting there too are quite small. Provided of course you don’t leave him in there for hours – that would not be fair!
If you are looking at crate-training a puppy, you need to be sure that you follow the correct steps, because the crate must be his safe place, his den, and not a place of punishment. If you are not sure how to crate-train a puppy, please ask a reputable trainer or behaviourist for help. A puppy or dog should not be left in a crate for any longer than two hours.
Puppies need to be taken outside to toilet as soon as they wake up, when they have eaten and after they have been playing – so it’s pretty much a full-time job. Your puppy will learn so much quicker too if you set your alarm clock for every four hours or so during the night, so you wake up to take him out to toilet.
Be patient with puppy
Choose the area you would prefer him to toilet, and then always take him back to the same place, because the scent will remain in the ground and will remind him of what he is there for. If he does even just two drops, you need to praise him and give him a little food treat to reinforce that he is going in the right place. If you want your puppy to toilet on grass, be sure, especially if he is a small breed, that the grass isn’t too long. Remember, in your pup’s mind, dry grass and wet grass are two very different things. So once he has gotten used to dry grass, then start all over again with wet grass – putting a sprinkler on the lawn before he goes out will do the trick.
If you do find that he has made a mistake, please don’t get angry with him – until he is about six months old, he does not have enough of the hormone vasopressin in his system. This hormone is what gives him the ability to ‘hold it’, so when he is a 12-week-old puppy, he really does need to go right now! If you catch him weeing in the wrong place, you can very gently clap your hands to distract him, take him outside and then give him lots of praise for carrying on in the right place. If he has started to poop, then just wait till he is finished and clean up. Puppies are not able to stop halfway through a poop, so if you pick him up in the middle, you just have a whole lot more cleaning up to do!
Consistency is key
On the subject of cleaning up, there are two things to remember: don’t clean up in front of your puppy, because you with a yellow cloth being moved around on the floor is an invitation for a game, which can actually reinforce him toileting indoors as a way of getting you to play with him! So wait until puppy is nowhere about, then clean up.
Don’t use any cleaner that has an ammonia base, so nothing like bleach or Handy Andy. Ammonia is a component of urine, and the smell will linger even in the tile grouting and attract him back to the same spot. Rather use a bio-enzyme washing powder if he has toileted on a carpet (please test a small area first to make sure the carpet is colour-fast), or else washing-up liquid or Kleen Green and hot water for tiles, paving and concrete.
The real key to housetraining your puppy is being patient and consistent, and not punishing him for accidents. If you punish a puppy for toileting in the house, all he learns is that people become scary when he needs to wee or poop, so he will do it where you can’t see, so you don’t get angry. That is when you find wee and poop behind your chairs, in the second bedroom that no one uses and other quiet places.
When an adult dog forgets his housetraining
If you have an adult do who has been housetrained for years and suddenly starts to toilet in the house again, the first thing you need to do is take him to the vet to make sure there is no underlying medical problem like a bladder infection. Consider if you have changed his food recently and if that coincided with the change in toilet habits – maybe the new food is not so easily digestible? If he is an old dog, make sure that he can get outside easily. When joints get stiff it is a lot more difficult to move quickly if you have to go. If there is no medical problem, then you need to contact a qualified COAPE behaviourist to help you find out what the underlying problem is.