How do I house train my new puppy?

This is a question that Geraldton pet owners often ask Sanford Veterinary Clinic and as a proud owner of a new puppy, it’s a subject I am currently getting plenty of practical experience in.

House training or toilet training a puppy or a dog takes time, vigilance and patience and, just as with children, every puppy or dog is different and will learn at its own pace.

Oops!To make the process of toilet training successful and as efficient as possible, you need to use positive reinforcement training.  The first step is to give your puppy plenty of opportunities to go outside. The second is to reward the puppy every time (or as often as possible) it eliminates in the place where you want the puppy to go.  This may involve carrying the puppy to the place you want him or her to eliminate.

The reward must occur immediately after the event (within a few seconds), not when the puppy comes back inside, as the dog will not make an association between the elimination and the reward unless it is given straight afterwards. The reward can be in the form of praise (a pat on the head or saying 'good' dog in a pleasant tone of voice), offering a food treat or giving the puppy their favourite chew toy.

This system relies on you supervising the puppy as much as possible while at home so as not to miss the opportunity to reward the puppy for the good behaviour.  The more often you can do this, the faster the puppy will learn.  You should also look out for signs showing the puppy is about to go to the toilet so you can take them outside and are ready to praise them as soon as they have finished. When dogs are about to go to the toilet they tend to sniff the area, circle and then pause in the spot (though individuals may vary so owners may watch their dog to get an idea of what they do).

Remember to take your puppy or dog to the toilet area first thing in the morning,  after meals and when waking up after a nap, as dogs will often need to go to the toilet at this time.

Be aware that warm, dry puppy toes and cold wet grass can lead to learning difficulties so extra encouragement in the morning may be advisable if an area of the lawn is the intended target!

Positive reinforcement also involves ignoring 'unwanted' elimination – i.e. if the puppy goes in the wrong place it is best to display no reaction. You should clean the area thoroughly with a non-ammonia based cleaning product (these can be found at your local veterinary clinic) to take away the scent and reduce the likelihood of the puppy using the same place again next time.

Old-fashioned responses such as 'rubbing the dog’s nose in it' or administering any form of punishment will not teach the puppy anything, in fact it may actually delay the learning process. The puppy may instead learn that eliminating in front of the owner is inappropriate and this then makes rewarding elimination (when they do go in the right spot) difficult.

It is very important to note that young puppies often do not have full control over their urination until they are a bit older. That is, urination is a developmental process, so very young puppies can make a mistake without being able to prevent or control it.


Dr Alison Banfield, Sanford Veterinary Clinic Geraldton.



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