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While new puppies are irresistibly adorable, they take a lot of work to properly train. It can almost feel like having a new human baby in the home when you have a puppy who is only a few months old join your family. There are so many things to teach a new puppy so that you have a long and happy relationship with your dog.
But what if your new furry friend keeps having accident after accident on the floor? It can quickly try your patience and cause property damage.
If you want to preserve your (or your landlord’s) floors and save yourself and your puppy unnecessary frustration, we’ve compiled a guide to help you train even the most seemingly stubborn puppy. It will certainly take time and patience, but in many cases, it’s simpler than you think.
Establish a Potty Training Routine
When training a dog to do anything, consistency is key. Dogs will learn patterns and routines and become comfortable following them, so find one that works for you and your dog and stick with it. Any deviations might confuse a young pup who is just getting the hang of things.
Each breed will have different needs when it comes to how often they need bathroom breaks, so some research is helpful. However, until your dog starts to communicate their needs to you, you should give them more opportunities to use the bathroom than they necessarily need.
Establish set times like first thing in the morning, 20 minutes after mealtimes, and right before bed, so your dog begins to understand when they can expect a break. Depending on the breed and age of your dog, more frequent breaks may be necessary for the early months of training.
Develop a specific word or phrase, like “let’s go outside!” that you can use with your dog so they know it’s time to go out. They will likely begin to come and meet you at the door when they hear this keyword because they will recognize the routine.
Once outside, make sure you say a specific potty cue that will help them know it’s time to get to business, like “go potty.” After they do their business, immediately reward them with a treat and plenty of praise. Over time, you’ll eventually be able to phase out the treat and praise, but always be able to use the cue.
What Causes Accidents
Did you know that a two-month-old puppy needs the opportunity to relieve themselves about five times a day? Just like human babies, they aren’t fully in control of their bladders yet, so they need constant bathroom breaks. Some trainers recommend giving your pup a bathroom break as often as every 20 minutes when you are initially housebreaking them to avoid accidents.
That may sound like a lot, and it can be, especially if you have a busy schedule. If you aren’t able to let them in and out all day long, you may consider crate training to help avoid accidents. Puppies and dogs are denning animals and will not soil where they sleep, so if you crate train during potty training, it can help your puppy avoid accidents.
However, puppies may only be left in their crate for certain durations; typically, the rule of thumb is one hour per month of age at a time up to 6 months. So a two-month-old puppy should only be left in a crate for up to two hours at a time, and puppies with poor bladder control may need a break in between.
Coping with Accidents
While in generations past, dog owners may have followed the “rub their nose in it” school of thought (taking a puppy to the site of their accident and rubbing their nose in their waste while scolding them), veterinarians and animal behavioralists agree that this is wholly unhelpful for training your dog.
In fact, this style of punishment-based training can be very harmful. It may make your dog fear you, and since they can’t fully understand why you’re angry, they may develop shame over needing to use the bathroom and continue to hide it from you and pottying inside the house in secret spots.
Instead, if you find a mess, clean it up as quickly as possible. Try to remove any trace of odor since dogs will use scent to find where they use the bathroom repeatedly.
If you catch your dog mid-accident, you can firmly tell them “no” or make a noise to startle them into stopping and quickly take them outside to finish there. This will help them understand what they are doing is wrong and show them the appropriate place to do it. Of course, dogs can’t understand you yelling at them for something they previously did, but they understand when it’s happening in the moment.
Just like with a child, you need to be able to control your emotions when training a dog. Screaming and punishing will only make them fear and mistrust you, resulting in behavioral problems down the line.
Signs Your Dog Needs a Potty Break
While it’s most important to establish a routine, your dog will likely clue you in if they need a potty break. There are some behaviors that signal that your dog is looking for a place to relieve themselves.
They may seem restless, sniffing, scratching, and even barking. If you have been consistently taking them outside, they may stand in front of the door when they need the bathroom. Dogs may also circle and scratch at a particular spot before relieving themselves there. If you see your dog exhibiting any of these behaviors, take them outside immediately.
When Puppies Go Outside But Still Have Accidents Inside
Many owners install a dog door that allows their pet to access the outside whenever they need to (make sure it’s a safe, fenced-in area, of course), but they find that their dog is still having accidents inside the house. There may be several reasons for this.
First, your puppy may not be used to thinking of the outside as their toilet. Breeders often set up pee pads or even a litter box for their puppies to use since they are mainly being kept in indoor spaces, and it can be hard to give so many dogs adequate outdoor bathroom breaks during the day. So they need to learn to recognize the yard as their bathroom
Second, it is easy for your puppy to get distracted. Every plant, every buzzing bee or fluttering butterfly, and every noise they hear is new and exciting. Puppies are still learning about the world around them and want to investigate all the new things. It’s easy for them to forget why they went outside. When you bring them back in, they may suddenly remember that they need to use the bathroom, and then, there go your carpets.
Finally, if you are sending your dog out on their own, they may feel a little anxious and eager to get back inside to see you as soon as possible. Dogs can feel anxiety in unfamiliar spaces and they can also quickly grow attached to their caregiver. They may rush back inside without relieving themselves, or without doing so fully so they can feel safe by your side again.
Tips For Helping Them Use the Bathroom Outside
If possible, you should always go outside with your dog while you’re housebreaking them. While they may have free run of the yard for play, put them on a leash initially to keep your dog from getting distracted. Keep them close to you, and don’t let them off-leash until they have done their business.
Dogs can be picky about where they use the bathroom, so it’s important to pick a quiet spot where they can feel safe and comfortable. This will become their potty spot, and as part of your routine, you can bring them to it during each break period. They shouldn’t be close to other animals at this time if possible. Initially, they still might be distracted, but don’t conclude that they don’t have to go. Instead, wait and use a potty cue like “go potty.”
Once your dog uses the bathroom, be sure to praise them and give them a treat. They will learn that this is what they are expected to do when you take them to this spot, and their outdoor bathroom routine will begin to be established.
Should I Use Pee Pads With My Dog?
Pee pads can be a necessary evil if you’re out of the house for most of the day. However, we don’t recommend them for dogs still being housebroken because they can ultimately slow down the process as they allow dogs to continue to “go” in the house.
Also, it can be difficult to train your dog to only go on the pee pads rather than on any surface in the house. Besides that, they are fun to chew and shred to pieces, which can result in another indoor mess or intestinal distress. If you want your dog to develop a good habit of going outside, pee pads can be counterintuitive, but many owners find them handy to use at least once in a while.
If you work long hours and plan on depending on pee pads for the rest of the dog’s life, you may want to consider getting a professional dog walker or pet sitter to stop by to let them out. However, depending on your dog’s age, breed, and health, they may still need the pads as a backup.
It’s also important to remember that your dog must be trained to use the pee pad. Dogs naturally avoid using the bathroom close to their nest or den, so make sure you don’t place it near where they sleep. This means you won’t want to put it in your dog’s crate if you are crate training. If you can put the pee pad out on a covered porch or on a sheltered terrace that your dog can safely reach via a doggy door, all the better to help separate their bathroom area and still give them the sense of going outside.
Some pee pads will be laced with chemical attractants to draw your dog to them, but they also sell attractant sprays if you want to use this to encourage them to use the pad.
Help Your Dog Develop Good Habits
Training a young puppy can be a real challenge because you need to be in tune with their needs rather than following whatever schedule is most convenient for you. While a dog can seem stubborn, animals rely on instincts and emotions. They aren’t trying to upset you; they just haven’t gotten all the pieces put into place. In very young dogs, they simply may not have developed bladder control yet.
A puppy is a big commitment, but many people feel it’s worth it to raise an adorable new family member. With time, plenty of patience, and lots of praise, your new puppy should be accident-free soon.