How to House Train a Puppy
House training a puppy is a two-stage process. Start indoors by teaching him to pee and poop on training pads, then at 4 months transition the business outside.
Puppies' bladders and bowels are small and weak. They can't hold it in for more than a few hours, so designate a place indoors they can access anytime. The best time to transition to outdoor business is around 4 months old, when puppies have the physical and mental capacity to get where they need to go.
What You'll Need
During this particularly messy time in your dog's life, you will need three things:
1. Puppy Training Pads
Lay down some house training pads in a designated place to teach your puppy where to pee and poop. This also makes for much easier clean up. You can use newspapers at a pinch, but expect a lot more leakage. The advantage of training pads is that they're highly absorbent. You'll need them from day one, so stock up on Amazon Basics 5-Layer Training Pads before you bring your new puppy home.
2. Carpet Stain Remover
Oh yes, there will be mistakes. Lots of them. Get a carpet strain remover that dissolves both visible stains and odors, lest the smell of urine provide sensory cues for your Sheltie to toilet in the same place over and over. Rocco and Roxie Stain and Odor Eliminator is enzyme activated with bacteria that feed on the ammonia crystals in dog urine until they're completely eliminated.
3. Dog Treats
You want to reward your puppy when he gets it right. Verbally praise him at the very least, and offer lots of affection. Given the stakes, go the extra mile and offer liver treats like Stewart Freeze Dried Dog Treats. I cottoned on to liver treats when I saw Howard react to them like a maniac at the vet's office. Give your puppy a treat immediately after he eliminates on a training pad, whether he did it all on his own or you physically put him there to go.
Here's a more detailed explanation of how housebreaking looks when you're doing it right.
House Training Your Sheltie Puppy in Two Stages
1. Indoor House Training (8-16 Weeks)
So set up a training pad in your new indoor toilet area. This should be well away from where your Sheltie sleeps and eats, which she'll instinctively assign as clean zones. Put pads upstairs and downstairs if you live on multiple floors, because negotiating stairs with a full bladder just makes it harder.
After dinner time, keep a close eye on your Sheltie. Her full stomach will be pressing on her bowels, giving her the urge to poop. When you notice her sniffing the ground and moving in circles, she's looking to go. Pick her up and put her on a training pad while saying the toilet command.
When she strays off the pad, just calmly put her back. She hasn't figured it out yet. If she keeps wandering, she may have momentarily lost the urge, so let her roam until she starts circling again and then repeat the process. Stay on her. Wait for the joy of seeing her tiny package land on the pad. Praise, reward, sing, and do your celebratory Poop Dance. You'll all be so pleased.
Peeing is harder to catch. Males either cock a leg up against a vertical object, or simply squat their hind legs down like a female. When you see this cue, act fast. The stream will begin before you reach the pad. I'm so sorry. 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 that does land. Finally, don't throw out the pad. Leave it there for her to smell later. It's an excellent cue for teaching her that's where she's supposed to go next time.
Now for a few bonus tips. If and when your Sheltie pees on the carpet, do your best to remove the smell right away. If you have expensive carpets, contain your puppy to areas of the house where you can tolerate a bit of urine. You can put up baby gates, or just lay down temporary obstacles. Sheltie puppies are so small they can't even climb over a coffee table on its side. Nawww.
Expect to feel angry and frustrated when you see your puppy boldly peeing on the carpet right in front of your eyes. But don't take it out on her; she's not being belligerent, she just doesn't understand that it's wrong. You can give a firm “no” if you catch her in the act, but don't yell, and certainly don't rub her nose in it. This will only damage your relationship with her, while showing your sensitive Sheltie that you're a scary and irrational authority.
2. Outdoor Training (16+ Weeks)
Ideally, by the time your Sheltie is four months old, she'll be toileting on the training pads at least 8 out of 10 times. This is great progress. She sees almost the entire house as a clean zone now, and she's physically capable of holding it in for much longer. Long enough, in fact, to actually go outside.
But toilet outside presents two new obstacles:
- The yard is out of sight and out of mind. It's a major leap in cognition for her to consider going elsewhere to pee. So, just as you did with indoor training, you need to repeatedly suggest the new toilet area.
- She can't get outside on her own. Unless you have a dog door installed, or you leave your back door open all day and night, there's now a physical barrier between your Sheltie and her new toilet area. She needs to learn how to communicate when she needs to go out.
Let's start by conditioning a new association: the toilet is now outdoors. The moment you wake up in the morning, take your pup outside and wait for her to empty her overnight bladder there. You might try putting a puppy pad in the same area, and even better if it's soiled. Bring the liver treats with you and lavish her with praise immediately after she pees.
Continue to take her out like this at regular intervals throughout the day. Remember that she's more likely to go soon after she eats, and after playtimes when she's all excitable. The golden rule is consistency. Offer a frequent toileting routine and don't let her go much more than eight hours overnight without the chance to relieve herself.
The next thing that happens is just magic. Within one to two weeks, your Sheltie will internalize the lesson that she's supposed to toilet outdoors. She'll make that cognitive leap, overcoming the problem of the yard being out of sight. At some point she'll feel the urge to pee and take herself off without any input from you. Success! Your work here is done.
What if there's a door in her way? Remarkably, she'll actually figure this out on her own. She now understands the whole house is a clean zone and she must find a way outside. Her problem-solving skills will kick in and she'll find her own way to tell you she needs to go out.
I was blown away when Howard did this all on his own. He sat at the door one day and gave a soft but demanding yap. Your Sheltie may use a different approach, perhaps scratching the door, or coming up to you and whimpering. Once again, reward this excellent communication, and let her out promptly.
When you reach this point, give yourself a pat on the back. You have taught your dog to respect your whole house as a clean zone and communicate her needs to you when necessary . Congratulations—your puppy is housetrained!
Once your Sheltie is truly housebroken you can rely on him to always go outdoors. If not, you know something is wrong. He may be sick with diarrhea and can't hold it in, or you may have left him without outdoor access for too long. As your Sheltie ages, she may develop a weak bladder, so prevent her from picking up the habit of peeing indoors by giving her more frequent opportunities to go outside.