Congratulations on your new journey as a "dog parent!" Along the way you will face many challenges. One of the most common hurdles to surpass is bathroom training.
In most cases, potty training can be very straight forward. You will need a few tools and techniques to be successful:
1. A crate
Crates are not prisons for puppies. They are sanctuaries. You should not feel guilty for using them. Crates simulate the natural environment for dogs which is a burrow. Crates also allow puppies to feel secure, relaxed, and able to sleep. Kennels can further be used to destimulate overly-active puppies. Young dogs, just like young children, will have temper tantrums when not given proper rest. You should go out of your way to acclimate your puppy to copious amounts of rest time.
Tip 1: Try to achieve a minimum of 14 hours per day of crate time; sometimes when home, sometimes when gone.
Tip 2: Give food and water in the crate. Shut the door and go make yourself breakfast. This helps make the crate a positive and desirable place. It also gives you a break from supervision!
2. Feeding Schedule
Young dogs should be put on a feeding and water schedule. This includes giving food and water only at certain times of the day. Take both away after around 10 minutes. Dogs are not genetically designed to have access to unlimited resources at such a young age. They are hardwired to want more than they need. Even puppies that seem to fanatically crave water should be regulated.
Tip 1: Take your puppy outside for bathroom immediately when they wake up. Take them out a second time if necessary after they've eaten.
Tip 2: Don't over water or over feed. If your puppy is peeing every 10 minutes, they are receiving too much water. Find a balance.
This is the one that most dog parents overlook. During your dog's early months and years, they should be closely supervised. This means they should not be allowed to freely roam the house -- at least until they reach the age of reason. In other words, not until they are able to make great decisions on their own. Most bathroom "accidents" are not accidents at all. They are intentional choices the puppy makes to potty in unwanted places. Why do they do it? For many reasons: convenience, insecurities, and habit.
Tip 1: Use a leash inside your home. Use it to set fairly wide boundaries for your pup. Give them the ability to wander around only inside the circumference of that leash (6ft). Do not allow them the ability to walk freely in the house. They are likely too young to drag the leash around. That comes later. Instead, take the time to hold the leash and set boundaries.
Tip 2: When unable to directly supervise, fall back on the kennel as a sanctuary.
Tip 3: Don't try to be a hero parent. Too many people try to do it all -- manage the children, a dog, making dinner, all at once. It's too much. Why are you torturing yourself? And what is your big hurry?
It will not likely help to punish a puppy after they've gone potty in your house. Doing so rarely solves the problem. They'll only get better at hiding it.
Puppies don't want to be simply told what they did wrong, they want to know what to do right. Plus, punishment after the fact rarely works, not because dogs are stupid and don't understand why they are being disciplined. But because they don't care! Their mission was a success and the behavior has been reinforced. Disciplining them after the fact will not take the points off their scoreboard.
Tip 1: Note the time of bathroom mistakes. Target these times with bathroom trips. Keep a written log if necessary. Also watch for peculiar body language that says they are about to go. Scoop them up and rush them out!
Tip 2: Reduce the puppy's options. Puppies that are free to walk around the house have too many options at too young of an age. Help them find the right choice by narrowing their options. Keeping them on-leash or in the crate at home will do that.
One last tip to prepare you for the future: Your puppy will soon age into adolescence. This will likely happen sometime in the spring. This means that around the age of 4-6 months your puppy will become defiant, willful, driven towards novelty, and physically powerful. They experience many of the same developmental brain changes as human teenagers. This process called differentiation occurs in all social mammals on the planet Earth.
Prepare yourself for what is to come. And don't be surprised when your young, well-behaved puppy becomes a temporary nightmare. Many rescues are inundated with adolescent dogs in the spring due to Christmas puppy failures. Don't let your relationship fall apart before you take action! Behavior problems can be addressed. And this stage will pass!
While the bathroom training list is not comprehensive, it does cover the most common problems and solutions for the largest segment of puppies. If you continue to have any problems at all, please feel free to call 205-978-8799 and we will be happy to help!
Aaron McDonald is a canine cognitive behaviorist, theorist, and author. He can be reached at www.ThreeDimensionalDog.com.
If you are interested in learning about your dog's mind, grab a copy of Three Dimensional Dog, A Unified Theory of Canine Behavior.