You finally adopted a dog, and now you must potty train your little pooch. Housebreaking a puppy can be very frustrating and may seem hopeless when all your efforts seem to fail. If your dog just isn’t picking up the training or has developed some hard to fix bad habits, don’t give up just yet.
I've been training dogs for several years now, and one of the most common questions I get from my clients is how to housebreak a puppy because all owner's attempts have failed. There's plenty of advice out there on this subject, but there's a right way and the wrong way to do it.
It's possible that you may be housebreaking a puppy in a way that is actually hindering your puppy’s learning process. I've seen pet owners make several mistakes during this process while their intentions were good. In this article I'll share some possible reasons your puppy potty training hasn’t been successful and follow-up with tips and tricks to help you get back on track.
Just remember that like with any type of dog training methods, housebreaking a puppy will takes three main components: time, consistency and patience. Everything else stems from this practice. You can't expect your young pup to learn overnight. With consistency and composure, and a few ways to fix your puppy housebreaking mistakes, you'll have your young dog going outside in no time.
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7 Reasons You Fail At Housebreaking a Puppy (and how to fix them)
1 You (Unintentionally) Punish Your Puppy
Punishing a dog for making what you consider a mistake can be detrimental when housebreaking a puppy. When your pup gets in trouble for going potty in front of you and you express this to the dog, the Fido learns that it is bad to go in front of you.
The dog's instinct then will be to find other places (like under a table or bed) to go where you can’t see him going potty. The only thing more annoying than having your puppy defecate in the house is when he goes and you can’t find it.
Some owners punish or shout at the dog on purpose, while others may express their anger unintentionally. While it's certainly frustrating, maintaining your cool composure will actually bring you closer to successfully housebreaking a puppy.
How to fix it:
Instead of making a scene when you see your puppy going potty in the wrong place, do something to startle him without scaring the dog. This will make him stop going in the moment. For example, try clapping your hands.
When the dog stops, pick him up and carry him outside. When he regains his bearings, he will wander around and find a place to finish his business. Do this even if the dog has stopped going inside the house, as it will get your pooch used to the fact of going outside.
MORE HELP: How To Housetrain An Adult Dog [Video Guide]
2 You Leave Puppy Food Out All Day
Free feeding is a concept that has its place among pet owners, but it can also have a negative impact when housebreaking a puppy, because it doesn't keep him on a schedule. A schedule can make sure the dog learns certain potty times and when training a young dog, routine is one of the key aspects.
Always keep your puppy on schedule, whether it's for feeding, housebreaking a puppy or other training matters. This can help you to predict when he has to go out, among other things. Free feeding needs to be practiced only for specific reasons and with a good understanding of this concept, because it can lead to health problems, including obesity.
How to fix it:
Like it's been done before, simply feed your puppy twice a day – once in the morning and once at night. Typically, puppies need to go potty first thing in the morning, 30 minutes after they eat, after they nap and right before they are left alone for the night.
When they are young or you are just starting out with housebreaking a puppy, the young pup should be taken out every 30 to 60 minutes. As they get bigger and their bladders grow, you can gradually increase the time between bathroom breaks.
3 You're Using Ammonia-based Cleaner
Many pet owners don't know this, but ammonia is a bad choice for cleaning up pet urine stains for several reasons. First of all, it is made of the same things urine is made of, which means that when your pet smells it, he will be attracted back to that spot.
Dogs are creatures of habit, and this makes it more likely that he will go there again. It basically smells like old pee, which will draw your puppy in, and his natural instinct will be to mark over the old urine, again.
Second reason is that ammonia is high in alkaline, so it's not only bad for housebreaking a puppy but also bad for your carpets. The odor isn't good for you to breathe in either. Ammonia also leaves a residue, which can last for a very long time.
How to fix it:
Use an enzymatic cleaner to get rid of urine stain on carpets or your furniture. This will break down the proteins in the urine and take away the scent, so your puppy won’t be inclined to go there again.
There are a lot of great pet odor and stain eliminators out there, some of which we've previously reviewed in the linked article. All of these are safe for people and for your pets, and they won't encourage your dog to pee there again. In fact, they're specifically designed to get rid of stains, smell and discourage the dog from using that spot again.
Sometimes, you may have missed a spot where your puppy has previously urinated, which means it's likely for him to pee in there again. If you need help finding the spots where he's had accidents, you can use a cheap pet urine detector black-light like this one, or you can easily find one at almost any hardware store.
4 You're Not Patient Enough
While you won't need to be concerned with this for the rest of your dog's life, the beginning is certainly the hardest. As any dog owner will tell you, housebreaking a puppy is hard and needs a high level of dedication and patience to be successful.
Become content with the fact that it's not going to happen overnight. It takes a lot of time and energy as well as consistent effort, especially when your dog is having trouble picking up the training due to some of the other mistakes on this list that you may be making.
How to fix it:
It can take anywhere from 4 to 6 months, and even up to a year to housebreak your puppy. It's best that you're aware of this before adopting a young dog. Make sure you're okay with this.
Many impatient pet owners have already proven that cutting corners can lead to the process of housebreaking a puppy taking twice as long, and even causing the dog develop poor behavioral habits. Relax and take it slow.
5 You Miss the Potty Tell-Tale Signs
If you are new to owning a dog, you may not know when your pup needs to go out and miss the warning signs. Understanding your puppy's body language is one of the key first time dog owner tips you'll get from others, because obviously if the dog can’t hold it anymore, he will have an accident. Some common warning signs your puppy has to go potty include:
- Waiting by the door
- Constant pacing
- Excessive barking
- Circling about
- Trying to hide
- Sniffing around (for a good place to go)
How to fix it:
Spend time observing your dog and understanding your pet's body language. All dogs are different but they do share many similar signs. Figure out which behaviors are a sign that he needs to use the bathroom. When housebreaking a puppy, noticing these signs can be the key to preventing accidents and taking action before the imminent threat.
How often your dog has to go can depend on his size. Smaller dogs have smaller bladders and higher metabolisms, so they have to go more frequently than large breed dogs. It can also depend on the dog's age. Younger dogs and elderly dogs go more often than adult dogs in the middle of their lifespan.
6 You Leave It Up to Dog's Instincts
Is there any chance that you leave your puppy to learn the process of housebreaking by himself, either due to patience or time constraint issues? Do you just open the door and let your dog go potty all by himself? This may be one of the problems he's not learning well.
Our logic here may be that these are dogs, and they should know how to do their business outside, right? You'd think they don’t need supervision and their instincts will guide them. Unfortunately, that's wrong. This may work for dogs in the nature where details wouldn't matter, but when housebreaking a puppy, you have to be in control.
How to fix it:
Puppies need supervision. A big part of making housebreaking a puppy work is constant positive reinforcement. In dog training and based on the concept of operant conditioning, for positive reinforcement to work it has to be given immediately after the deed has been done. This was proven again and again by dog trainers and studies.
Always show your dog when he's done good. Make sure you are being overly enthusiastic with your praise. Maybe occasionally even throw in some treats to drive the message home. Also, when you see your dog go, you are positive that he has gone potty. Then you can let your pet explore the house without worrying about him having an accident.
Another trick is to always keep your dog close to you when potty training, even in the house. When he is confined to a room with you, it is easier for you to spot the signs that he has to go potty. It will make him less likely to pee in a place he is not supposed to.
7 You're Not Using a Dog Crate
Some pet owners have a wrong idea about crating a dog, and assume that it's closer to a punishment. This is completely not true. Most dog trainers and canine experts agree that dogs love crates, and crate training a dog is an effective tool for housebreaking a puppy, especially if you do have to leave your dog alone for a period of time.
Get a proper puppy crate and use it correctly. This doggy home and safe haven for the pup is also a great place to keep your dog overnight so that he can develop a “den instinct.” A dog won’t want to potty where it sleeps or in its “den”, especially if you teach your pooch how not to poop in a crate.
How to fix it:
Use a good dog crate to confine your dog to a space where he is not going to eliminate. This will make it so he is not going potty all over your house while you are gone. Picking the right crate is an important part, and there are plenty of great soft dog crates that we've previously reviewed which most puppies and owners love.
Make sure that the crate is big enough for you dog, but at the same time not too large so that your pup will poop in one part and sleep in the other part of the crate. Measuring your dog and choosing the right size dog crate is crucial. I recommend you watch our editor Samantha's short video on how to pick the right crate.
If you are leaving your dog for two or more hours, you'll need to ensure he has fresh water. You can also throw in toys in there to keep your puppy occupied and entertained. Do not use the dog crate when your dog is going potty in it. If your pup is constantly relieving himself in the crate, there may be other reasons for that such as he's not getting out of it enough, he is too young to hold it, or he has bad habits from his past homes.
Either way, crate training a puppy will help with housebreaking a puppy. Read this:
- The Guide to Crate Training a Puppy: 20 Easy Crate Training Tricks
- 16 Tips for Crate Training a Dog: Effective Step-by-Step Strategy
- 5 Common Problems with Crate Training Dogs & How to Fix Them
- 10 Lessons on Effectively Crate Training Adult Dog
- 7 Tips for Crate Training Your Dog
Finally, remember to get the correct type of crate for your dog. If, for example, your dog is an excessive chewer, then soft sided dog crates may not be the best option and a metal dog crate would be better for housebreaking a puppy. Alternatively, you can start training your dog how to stop chewing things first. Need help with that? Watch this video guide.
As you can see, many aspects of dog training come together in order to successfully housebreak a puppy. If you spend a little time reading about the mistakes pet owners make and then try to avoid them, all of your attempts to train a puppy – whether it's crate training, command training or potty training – will start progressing much quicker.
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