Puppy housetraining troubleshooting tips

Housetraining a dog can be a very frustrating experience. Especially if you had a dog in the past that was unusually easy to housetrain, your current dog might seem "flawed" or you might be at your wits end. Here are some general tips to keep in mind and some ideas to try if you are frustrated with your puppy.

Physical Abilities

Puppies can hold their bladders approximately one hour per month of age. However, they can usually hold it much longer at night, so you need to pay attention to the time during the day to get an accurate reading.

Use the Correct Size Crate

Crates should be just big enough for your puppy to walk in, turn around, stretch and lie down. If there are accidents or destruction in the crate take EVERYTHING out. It is not cruel for your puppy to sleep on plastic for reasonable amounts of time. Dogs sleep on wood floors, and hard marble fireplaces all the time by choice. If the crate is too big, divide it with a divider and put something in the back of the crate to make it look smaller. It is important that your puppy doesn’t have enough space to potty in one corner and sleep in the other.

The crate is not a torture device. You are not going to use it for longer than your puppy can hold it. You will use a long-term confinement area, described below, if you’re going to be gone for extended periods of time. The reason the crate is small is to motivate your puppy to hold it. If you extend the time a bit longer each day, you will physically condition your puppy’s bladder to increase the amount of time between potty trips.

If There are Accidents

Do not rub her face in it, yell at her or anything else. Calmly clean up the mess and make sure you are charting all of the accidents in a daily chart. If you scare your puppy before she is comfortable going in front of you, you can actually scare her and she will avoid going potty in front of you. You need to build up a reward history for going in the correct spot. A success happens when you say, “Go potty” and your puppy goes potty in the right location. After 10 successful trials, if you catch her in the act of going inside, you will do what is called, “Interrupt and Redirect” by saying,  “Potty Outside!” and clap your hands once.

Hopefully she will stop mid-stream. You then pick her up or put her on leash and run her outside or inside to the puppy pad and start the process again. As with all management techniques, you need to limit the amount of mistakes in order to get a smooth training procedure up and running

It is very common for accidents to happen shortly after a puppy goes potty one time and the person thinks they are “finished”. As with all accidents, write it down on the chart, circle it to make sure it stands out and then the next day at this time allow your puppy a much shorter amount of freedom and then put her in the crate. Take her out again a short time later to finish her business. As you get more comfortable with the timing and her signals, the amount of accidents should diminish.

Setup A Long-Term Confinement Area

You should also designate a long-term confinement area for times when you are going to be away longer than your puppy can currently hold it. You should be able to go out for the evening and not worry about your puppy having an accident in the house or hurting herself. You should use the long-term confinement area sometimes when you are home to ensure that your puppy gets comfortable with it.

Some options include:

  • An exercise pen
A puppy-proofed bathroom or other room
  • Baby gates at either end of a hallway or in a kitchen
  • You can have a crate in the area, but the critical elements are some type of puppy pad or paper, and water if you are gone for a while. I do NOT count a puppy going potty off of the pad as an accident. The entire reason for setting up a long-term confinement area is because you are expecting your puppy to go potty during that time. If they go on the pad, great, if not it is better than in the crate or in another part of your house. It is purely a management strategy, not truly a housetraining strategy.

When is a Puppy Housetrained?

Puppies can be housetrained as early as 5-6 months, but more commonly puppies are accident-free between 7-9 months. With that said, you should see continous progress and less accidents each week. The less mistakes that you make the better. This means that you need to closely monitor your dog’s behavior and have her with you all the time or in the crate until she is potty trained. She is officially potty trained if she is accident-free for 30 consecutive days.

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