The concept seems simple to us, right? Dogs do their business outside on the grass or wood chips - not inside on the antique carpet or kitchen throw rug. But, puppies aren’t born with these rules in their heads! It's up to us to teach them the Dos and Don'ts of doing their business. Many first-time puppy parents (or even experienced hands at dog parenthood) find it to be a tricky - and frustrating - process to teach the rules of house training.
The process of house training is a very individual one: what worked with your dog when they were a puppy a decade ago may not work with the new puppy you've brought home; and what worked for your neighbor's puppy last week may not work with your puppy! There are, however, some blanket, basic tips and guidelines that I usually recommend to my clients and that help simplify the process of house training.
Supervision is key; the more chances your puppy has to do their business inside, the more difficult it will be for them to learn that inside isn't where they should be doing it.
If you can’t keep hawk eyes on your puppy at all times, make it easier on yourself: attach them to your waist with their leash; utilize a kennel when you can’t be in the room or when you need to leave the house for short periods of time; use baby gates to block off specific rooms or spaces.
If there is an indoor accident (and there, inevitably, are accidents), use an odor-neutralizing spray or cleaner to clean up; this reduces the likelihood that your puppy will choose to do their business in the same spot next time.
Always try to take your puppy out after eating, after drinking, after playtime, and after sleeping (including nap time).
Choose a spot in your yard (a 5 ft X 5 ft patch of grass, for instance) and designate it as “the potty spot”; each time you go outside with your puppy, take them to this spot. (If you're living in an apartment, choose a section of grass off of the sidewalk in front of or behind your building.)
Never assume your puppy has gone potty; you must actually see them do it to know with certainty that they've actually gone.
Learn your puppy’s general potty schedule (keep track of it on paper or on your phone if that helps you).
Try to maintain a schedule by feeding your puppy at about the same time every day and giving them water the same time every day, etc. What goes in must come out, right? So, if it's going in at about the same time each day, the out portion will probably happen around a similar time each day, too!
But how do I actually teach my puppy to go potty outside?
Utilizing some (or all!) of the tips above will help you recognize when you need to take your puppy outside and where you should take them when you do. The tips may even have you taking your puppy out before they have the chance to "ask" to go out, which is great!
Once you're outside and at the potty spot, wait for your puppy to go. If it takes a few minutes, it takes a few minutes; puppies have short attention spans, but we're outside to do our business. When your puppy does finally go and is finished (don't interrupt of startle them mid-stream), throw a little puppy party! Give your puppy lots of praise and offer a few yummy treats; make it seem like going potty outside in that spot made them the best puppy in the whole wide world.
Note: It's important to throw that party outside, so that there's a direct connection in your puppy's brain between pottying outside and getting a party. If we wait to offer a treat until they come inside, they're more likely to attribute the treat to coming inside instead!
What do I do when my puppy has an accident inside?
The short answer? Clean up the accident; no one wants to step in a pee puddle with socks on. Wet socks are the worst.
The long answer? If you discover that your puppy had an accident in the house (after the fact), there’s not much else you can do besides clean it up. Punishment of any kind is unnecessary and futile and can even be detrimental to the house training work you've put in:
Your puppy won’t know why they’re being punished, since it's after the fact and too far removed from the actual accident.
Punishing them could encourage them to be afraid of doing their business in your presence (making it more difficult for you to reinforce doing their business in the correct place).
Punishment may encourage your puppy to choose to sneak off somewhere to do their business in secret (and probably not some place you want them to do it).
If you can catch your puppy in the act of doing their business indoors:
Make a quick noise to try to interrupt the act.
Scoop your puppy up and take them outside to their potty spot. (I had more than one turd bounce off my leg because I was so quick to scoop my puppy up and rush outside with her during our house training adventures.)
When your puppy finishes their business outside, throw that party!
House training can be super easy or super difficult (and anywhere in between there), but, like any training we do with our SideKicks, patience, persistence, and practice are needed to see success! Happy house training with your puppies, folks!