The absolute first thing your puppy must learn is housebreaking - that is, he must learn where and when he may do his business. Besides being substantially advantageous to the hygiene of your household, dogs benefit from having rules and a routine - as pack animals, they look for duties issued by the pack leader and naturally enjoy keeping schedules. Here are the steps to housebreaking your dog:
- The best age to begin housebreaking your puppy is between 8 and 12 weeks old.
- Experts suggest incorporating a crate in a young dog's training process. (To housebreak an older dog, skip this section.) A crate usually resembles a cage, with a locking door and see-through bars, and should be big enough for the dog to move around in. While it sounds like a miniature jail cell, crates should not be used to punish your puppy. The idea is to make the crate into a doggy bedroom - someplace where your puppy can play and sleep. He should never be confined in his crate for more than two hours at a time.
- Because dogs, thank goodness, don't believe in eliminating by their sleeping areas, your puppy will not relieve himself in the crate unless you've cruelly locked him in there for longer than he was able to hold it in. Three-month old puppies generally need to eliminate every three hours, so lead your puppy to a designated outdoor bathroom spot often.
- Try to always leave the house through the same door - the door you'd like your dog to scratch at to signal his need to go out in the future.
- Try to take your dog out at around the same times each day. A routine will eventually be established, and your dog will soon know to hold it in until you take him out.
- If your not-yet-housebroken dog is used to roaming freely around the house, look for clues that tell you he needs to go. Your dog may suddenly put his nose down and sniff the ground intently. He may begin to circle an area. Or, he may stare at the door with an intense look on his face. Signs like these tell you to drop what you're doing and get that dog out of the house. If you catch your dog doing his business inside (and only if you catch him - not after you discover he's already committed the crime), rush over and stop him by grasping his collar, pulling up on it, and saying, "NO" in a deep, stern voice. Then take him outside to let him finish up and praise him with pats on the head or a pleasantly chirped, "Good Fido!" when he does. (Note: Don't say "Fido" if your dog's name is "Rex.")
- Whenever your dog relieves himself outdoors, say "hurry up" and then praise him. "Hurry up" serves as the trigger words that will eventually make your dog go on command. That's right, if you consistently say "hurry up" as your dog is doing his business, those words will stick in his mind as an indication to let it all loose, and soon he'll be doing just that whenever he hears the command. Those magical words will make a frigid winter walk much shorter for the future.
- When issuing commands, use a deep, gruff voice. Even though most of your speech is just garbled psychobabble to your dog, he will notice tone and pitch differences in your voice. So if you normally sound like Jewel and you suddenly switch to a Sean Connery intonation to deliver a command, he'll pay specific attention to what you're saying in the authoritative Connery voice. Conversely, when you're praising your dog, use a high-pitched, happy voice and incorporate his name a lot. Throw in some excited squealing to really get the point across. You may think you sound ridiculous (and you probably do to other humans), but your dog will eat it up. Encouragement is really important, so ALWAYS praise your dog when he does you proud.
- One final thing on housebreaking your dog - maintain your patience. We know that when the stakes are as high as cleaning dog waste off carpets on an hourly basis and having your entire house smell like a public bathroom, you want him to be housebroken as soon as possible, if not sooner. But losing your temper or giving up on your dog will only set back the rewarding moment when things suddenly click in his head: "I'm being housebroken! Well, why didn't you just say so?"
- Your dog WILL have accidents at first, so don't complain about mopping up dog pee. To stop persistent accidents, just use common sense. If your dog tends to pee during the night, don't give him water before bedtime. If he tends to poop a lot during the night, take him out one last time right before bed, and wake up early to take him again. First cater to his schedule, and then slowly change it to yours.