How to House Train a Puppy
Here are the basics of house training a puppy (teaching him to pee and poop outdoors). We apply traditional housebreaking rules, using puppy training pads and lots of praise.
Puppies' bladders and bowels are small and weak. They can't hold it in for more than a few hours so you need to work out a frequent toilet break routine or they'll just go anytime, anywhere.
Housebreaking a puppy is one of the major challenges of dog ownership, particularly for first-time owners. Traditional housebreaking starts by training your puppy to pee and poop indoors on puppy training pads. In time (usually within a couple of weeks) you can move the training pads outside as a signal, before removing them altogether. There is certainly a risk of having messy accidents this way, but it does enable your dog to build confidence exploring the house during her crucial early months of development.
When You Bring Home Your New Puppy
As soon as you bring your new puppy home, take her outside to begin house training. The excitement of the car journey along with the unfamiliar faces, sights and sounds will probably have her needing to go.
- Take your Sheltie puppy to the designated toilet area and put her down on the grass. Wait while she sniffs around. Don't pet her or play with her just yet, because you don't want her to associate this area with fun and games. She has to learn that this part of the yard is for going to the toilet.
- When she begins to relieve herself, say the phrase you want her to associate with toilet breaks: "go pee", "busy busy", "potty time" or whatever works for you. Make the phrase short and easily recognizable and use the same voice inflection each time, so she can remember the phrase.
- When she's done peeing or pooping, make a big fuss over her. Shower her with praise and affection and give her a treat.
If you can plan her first toilet training session to occurs outside, then so much the better. The more your puppy relieves herself outdoors, the more likely she is to do it again next time.
How to House Train Your Puppy
Howard was my first puppy and I had no idea about house training. So I found out the hard way. Naturally, this involved cleaning up a lot of urine and poop stains out of the carpet while being watched by big innocent puppy eyes. It was pretty bad.
Eventually, some dog lover friends taught me about housebreaking. The fact was I had been putting off toilet training but in reality, I was simply prolonging my agony and dealing with a lot more mess in the meantime. When we got down to it, teaching Howard to do his business outdoors took about two weeks. If only I had started earlier!
Step 1: Indoor Housebreaking
The first goal is to teach your Sheltie puppy to pee and poop on the training pads indoors. This temporary toilet area should be far enough from his bed and eating area to match his instinct to poop away from his "clean zones".
When you notice your puppy sniffing the ground and moving around slowly in circles, he's looking to poop. Swiftly lift him up and put him on a training pad. Peeing is harder to catch. Males will either cock a leg up against a couch or table leg, or simply squat his hind legs down like a female. When you see this cue, act fast.
Naturally, this is going to leave a stream of urine leading to the pee zone. But try not to worry about that right now. Getting just a drop of urine on the pad is the immediate goal, while praising your puppy for any urine that does land in the right spot. Leave it there for them to smell later, so he can learn that he's supposed to toilet there.
Now, rinse and repeat. This will happen a lot in the first few days, so brace yourself for some mess. Contain your puppy to areas of the house with washable floors if you prefer, by laying down obstacles (a table on its side is a fine temporary measure) or using baby gates.
It's normal to feel frustrated when you see your puppy boldly peeing on the carpet right in front of your eyes. This is not belligerence - he just doesn't know the rules yet. Don't express your anger at him and especially don't rub his nose in it. All this does is show your dog that you're an erratic pack leader. He really doesn't know what you mean or what he's done wrong.
Instead, when you catch your Sheltie puppy peeing or pooping in the wrong place, firmly say "No!" then silently lift her up and take her over to the designated area to finish. Watch over her and make sure she doesn't stray until she does her business. If she does meander away, put her straight back on the training pads. Then praise her when she's done.
Step 2: Outdoor Housebreaking
Once your puppy knows to go on the training pads around 8 out of 10 times, he's grasped the idea of peeing and pooping in a designated place. He sees the entire house as a "clean zone" now, with the exception of this one area. Success!
Of course, you don't want to spend the next 12 years of your life subjected to your dog's defecations on the utility room floor. Now you need to teach him to go outside. But this is tricky for a couple of reasons.
First, the yard is a lot further away from where your puppy is playing in the living room. It's out of sight and out of mind. So it's a leap in cognition to consider going outside the house to pee. Second, unless you have a dog door installed, or your doors are open all year-round, there's now a new barrier. Your puppy needs to communicate that he needs you to open the door.
So the next stage teaches your pup to overcome these obstacles. Start by conditioning him to associate peeing and pooping with the yard. At regular intervals throughout the day, take your puppy outside and wait with him to do his thing. Do it as soon as you wake up, after he eats (his full stomach presses on his bladder) and after playtimes.
Again, you have to be consistent and take control of his learning. Don't skip toilet times and don't allow him to go more than 8 hours overnight without a chance to pee outdoors. When, eventually, he successfully does his business on the grass - and he will - give lots of enthusiastic praise and a treat or two.
Here's Howard as puppy, learning to pee outside with his friend Jock the Jack Russell. Males like to mark their territory so peeing outside tends to come first. Pooping took a little longer.
After two weeks of our outdoor routine, Howard surprised us all. Something had clearly clicked, because one morning he sat by the back door, barked once politely to go outside and then took himself down to the garden to do his business. We literally danced and sang at the sight of our little puppy pooping.
To this day, Howard sits politely by the door when he wants to go outside. Piper then follows him out if he needs to go too. If we don't respond, the yapping increases in frequency every 15 seconds until we comply!
After that breakthrough day, there were a couple of mistakes. Things tended to go awry when we took Howard to other people's houses, which was totally mortifying when he started peeing on their coffee table. But it wasn't long before he learned to generalize this new behavior.
Once your Sheltie is truly housebroken you can rely on him to always go outdoors. If not, you know something is wrong - for example sickness, or a weak bladder associated with ageing, in which case he needs more frequent opportunities to pee outside.