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With a little patience and preparation you can teach your new dog appropriate potty habits.
If you're bringing a new dog into your home, there's one task you may have to tackle before all others: housetraining. Teaching your dog proper household
potty manners is an important part of turning your dog into a great companion.
No matter what the age of your dog, the basic principles are the same. Here's a primer on how to housetrain your pooch with a minimum of muss and fuss.
Create Opportunities for Success
It's important to limit the possibility of household accidents by taking an active preemptive approach to potty breaks. "The first step is to make sure
the dog never has an opportunity to make a mistake," says Katherine Houpt, VMD. PhD, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at the Cornell Hospital
for Animals. That means giving the dog plenty of opportunities to eliminate in a designated area, not confining the dog for extended periods of time
without access to a bathroom area, and observing - and quickly acting upon - any posturing that suggests elimination is imminent.
"Be aware that young animals will have to eliminate pretty frequently," says Dr. Houpt. The usual rule of thumb is that a puppy can "hold it" for its age in months, plus two. In other words, a two month-old pup can last no more than about four hours without eliminating. The upper end of that range is about eight hours, with 10 hours being an outside limit for adult dogs.
Of course, accidents can and probably will happen. But, warns Melissa Alexander, author of CIick for Joy and a dog trainer, the more frequent
the mistakes, the harder it will be to train the dog to eliminate in an appropriate area.
"You not only have to build a reinforcement history of the dog going in the place you want him to go, but you have to make sure he's not building a competing history of' where you don't want him to go," she says, "If he has histories of going both indoors and outdoors, he'll go either place. If you want him to go only outside, he needs to be successful only outside."
If you're trying to housetrain a puppy, age is an important factor. Until a puppy is about nine to 12 weeks old, he cannot control the muscles that allow him to "hold it," so you must be extremely vigilant about spotting the signs of an imminent accident and rushing him outside. "It's all on you at that point," says Alexander. "People adopt young pups and get frustrated because they're peeing every 15 minutes. I've had people claim they're "protest peeing." That's not true; it's just biology."
When a pup gets a little bit older, you can begin using some confinement measures to help teach him to hold it. You can begin using these immediately with an adult dog that needs housetraining.
The Benefits of Crate Training
Crates are a popular tool for housetraining. The idea is that a dog will tend not to soil where he sleeps, so if you give him a snug den in the form of
a crate, you'll teach him elimination control. Of course, biology can still win out over instinct; if our puppy's bladder is bursting, he'll go anywhere
he can. Crates may be useful, but they won't automatically housetrain your dog; it's still up to you to provide your dog with opportunities to eliminate
in the right place.
If you use a crate, provide your pup with a blanket, something to chew (Kongs® are great) and a toy. A crate should only be used for short-term confinement. According to Dr. Houpt, your dog should not stay in a crate for more than four hours at a time. If you can't be home to let your dog out, you should find a pet sitter, neighbor or friend to help.
Your dog should not be confined to a crate for more than four hours at a time. Enlist the help of a
pet sitter, friend or trusted neighbor if you're unable to be home.
Dr. Houpt doesn't recommend using a crate for adult dogs with housetraining issues. "In the first place, the dog doesn't have to to out SO frequently." she says. "Also, it may have been crated and learned to be a dirty dog (i.e., soil his crate), so you don't want to force that issue. Often, an adopted adult dog may have separation anxiety and not like crates."
For these dogs, or if you can't let your puppy out of his crate frequently enough, create a long-term confinement zone in a kitchen, utility room or exercise pen. It should include a comfortable bed, a bowl of water, chew toys and a toilet area spread with newspapers or a pee pad. The toilet area should be as far from the dog's bed as possible.
This arrangement allows the dog to eliminate in a designated area if nature calls and trains him to use newspaper or pee pad. This can work well for small breeds or apartment-bound dogs it don't have ready access to a backyard. The hitch? It can be more difficult , says Dr. Houpt, to then teach a paper-trained dog to eliminate outdoors. If you run into this problem, she suggests bringing some papers outside with you on potty runs to signal the that it's an appropriate elimination opportunity
Ready, Set, Go!
The key to housebreaking our dog is to give him consistent, frequent opportunities to eliminate and reward him for doing so in an appropriate manner. When you're home with him, take him outside every hour to a designated spot, and allow him some time to sniff and explore. If he eliminates, immediately, praise him lavishly and reward him, either with a treat or with some play time. If he doesn't eliminate in a few minutes, bring him back inside and try, again in another hour. Puppies will eliminate more frequently than older dogs, but it's important to give both ample opportunity to answer nature's call.
Don't hustle him right back inside after he finishes. If you teach him that his outdoor time ends when he eliminates, he may learn to avoid or postpone emptying his bladder and bowels - and may do it indoors instead. Rather, give him a few more moments to sniff, play and enjoy the backyard.
When you're indoors, keep an eagle eve on your dog. You may want to consider using the "umbilical cord" method, by which you tether the dog to your belt with a leash or a cord; this guarantees the dog is always in your sight. If you spot any sniffing, circling, squatting or other precursors to elimination, immediately scoop him up, rush him outside to his spot, and praise him if he eliminates. If he has already begun eliminating indoors, try to interrupt him with a distracting noise and rush him outside to finish. This can be easier said than done, says Alexander.
"Personally. I've never had success with interrupting and getting a dog to finish outside, so usually I just let them finish and just say, 'I screwed up,' and leave the poor dog alone." she laughs.
You should also let the puppy out before and after play, before and after placing him in his crate, and 15 to 20 minutes after eating, says Dr. Houpt. And when you do let him out, "don't just open the door and thrust the dog outside," she says; go with him.
As your puppy gets older and gains better muscle control - or your, adult dog learns the routine - you can allow more time between potty visits. Eventually, letting him out three times a day or so, or when he signals a need, will be sufficient.
Train the Behavior
Some people find it helpful to pair a command with elimination, such as "empty" or "go pee." To create the association, say your word or phrase each time the dog begins the action. Over time, your dog will learn to eliminate on cue. A word to the wise, says Dr. Houpt: avoid phrases such as "hurry up" or "let's go" which can be used in casual conversation - and produce unexpected results.
You can also teach your dog to ask to go outside by ringing a bell or a chime. Hang a bell on the door, and then contrive it so the dog's nose hits the bell when you open the door to go outside with him, says Dr. Houpt. "You're operantly conditioning the dog to hear the bell and associate it with going outside, she explains "Eventually, he'll learn to go over and ring it on his own."
Let Bygones Be Bygones
It your dog has an accident, punishment is not the answer. says Terry Curtis, DVN, a veterinary behaviorist at the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine. "Punishment only works if three conditions are met", she explains. "First, it needs to happen within about a second of the behavior. It also needs to happen every time. Finally, it has to be of appropriate intensity such that its enough to interrupt the behavior, but not enough to make the animal afraid of the owner."
Meeting any of these conditions can be difficult, if not impossible" says Dr. Curtis, who is board-certified by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. "You can't bring them to it after the fact and yell at them. They have no clue what they've done."
Instead, bring the dog out of the room and mop up the mess using cleaner designed to eliminate the odor and stain, because a dog will often revisit a soiled spot. And simply vow to be more vigilant next time.