The Housebreaking Challenge

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The dreaded task of housebreaking…no doubt it’s one of the first negative thoughts that comes to mind when you think about a new puppy in the house or when your child, who has been begging you for a puppy for 2 years, has finally gotten the answer they’ve been waiting for.  “I don’t mind having a dog in the house, it’s just the housebreaking that drives me crazy” you might say.  Well, believe me, you’re not alone.  Housebreaking a dog can push even the mildest personality to the brink of insanity if you aren’t mentally, physically and practically prepared for it.  Having housebroken several dogs myself, here’s a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years:

  1. Don’t expect too much too soon – Your new puppy, especially if less than 3-4 months old, is much like a newborn baby.  We don’t expect them to have a dry diaper for more than a few minutes at a time, much less be ready for potty training for the first several months of their life.  A young puppy is no different…they haven’t yet developed to the point of being able to ‘hold it’, nor are they old enough to understand that the hardwood floor or your new dining room rug is not an acceptable spot to relieve themselves.  It takes time and maturity so prepare yourself to be patient.
  2. Prep your house and reduce your stress – Block off the spaces you don’t want your puppy to have access to indefinitely.  Pet gates, lattice panels or whatever you can find will be worth your effort if it’s a space you can’t close off by just closing the door.  Don’t worry about how it looks or who is going to see it….choose sanity over your pride for a season.
  3. The smaller the space, the less likely the accident – Pet crates are the BEST for housebreaking and for giving you a break from you new fur baby.  Even young puppies prefer not to soil the space they sleep in so, before you even arrive home with your pup, consider purchasing a crate that’s just large enough for the pup to turn around and lie down comfortably.  Place a puppy pad in the crate and maybe a small toy or chew bone.  Immediately, begin to teach your pup that this is his safe place by tossing in a treat to coax him inside.  The puppy should be in his crate anytime you can’t keep your eyes on him for his sake and yours.
  4. Establish a consistent feeding schedule – A very young puppy will need to relieve itself frequently…every 2 hours is a good rule of thumb, depending on the size and activity of the dog.  I suggest offering small amounts of water several times a day, as opposed to free access to water.  I also suggest feeding 3 times per day up to about 3 months of age, then moving to 2 times per day with maybe a few treats in between meals.  This can go a long way in helping you establish a pee and poop schedule that you can anticipate, thus minimizing accidents in the crate and on your floor.
  5. Help the puppy learn your routine – Letting a whining puppy convince you to hold it all the time or keep you up all night is not acceptable and you will quickly burn out and take your frustrations out on the innocent puppy.  Your goal must be for the puppy to adapt to your routing, not the other way around.  While it may take a few days of ‘letting him whine’, if you know your puppy is not hungry and not needing to relieve himself, you may have to let him cry it out a few times (even if that means moving him out of ear shot) but, you’ll be glad you did once your puppy learns to self soothe when you’re busy or away from home and to sleep on your sleep schedule.  A radio or ticking clock near your puppy’s crate can help keep them from feeling so alone when you’re not around.
  6. Give your puppy lots of love and socialization – Regardless of breed or size, all puppies need to be thoroughly loved and thoroughly socialized.  Even a pup in training should be part of the family pack as often as possible and even have a few minutes to greet and adapt to visitors who will be frequenting your house, both young and old.  Encourage guests to hold, pet and/or play with the puppy, even if only for a few minutes at a time.  Take your puppy for rides starting as young as possible and as frequently as possible.  This helps them quickly get comfortable with riding so they aren’t anxious and helps them get past any motion sickness they might experience.  Equally important is socializing your pet with people outside your family.  Take them, on a leash of course, to any stores that allow pets and encourage anyone, people or other dogs, who shows interest, to pet and talk to your puppy.  You don’t want your puppy to grow up being anxious and intolerant of any ‘out of the ordinary’ situations, noises and, most importantly, people.  I’ve often heard people say they don’t want their dog to be friendly with strangers or else they won’t be protective when needed.  I disagree with that.  A dog has very keen senses and most will recognize and act protectively when needed…our job is to teach them to learn the difference by exposing them to a variety of people and situations as they grow up.
  7. Remember, this won’t last forever –  If you’re diligent for a few months, the effort will be worth the reward.  Consistency is the key to housebreaking for any puppy, regardless of breed.  While some can be more challenging than others, your puppy wants to please you and will learn to do whatever it takes to be loved by you.  Keep your eye on the goal and be consistent and patient.  While working through the housebreaking season, consider teaching a few basic obedience commands, as well.  This will help keep you and your puppy something to work on together and help him connect the dots on his housebreaking routine at the same time.

I hope you will find these tips helpful and I trust you will enjoy many happy years of love and companionship with your dog.