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This is the 3rd installment in the 13-part series, ‘House Training – The Ultimate Guide.’
In this article I go into detail about the role you play in the house training process.
I describe the attitude, approach and mindset you need to adopt to find the greatest and speediest success.
I then discuss how you should work with your puppy’s natural instincts and the way they learn, as well as how they view the process and the skills and attitude they bring with them.
I also cover how you should deal with the inevitable ‘accidents’ along the way and finish by mentioning how the approach you take to house training shapes the entire future relationship you will have with your dog.
How It Used To Be Done And Why It’s Wrong
Sometimes people fail at house training and sadly many of these poor dogs end up abandoned in shelters when the owner cannot tolerate a dog that toilets in their home.
But house training really isn’t hard and almost all failures are down to owners not knowing how to go about the process properly. Or worse, they follow very old and outdated techniques they saw older generations perform.
Shouting And Rubbing Their Noses In It Is Just Plain Wrong
Years ago when people found a puddle of pee or some poo in their home, it was common practice to drag the puppy over to the mess, shout at them, swat their nose and maybe even rub their nose in it.
People thought that punishing a dog like this would show them the error of their ways.
Sometimes the poor little puppy would catch on to the message but this very rarely worked and here’s why.
They Don’t Understand Punishment
The puppy has done what comes naturally…they relieved themselves when they had to.
Then later an angry, shouting human comes over, drags them to the mess and hits them or rubs their noses in it.
They’ve already long forgotten the act of relieving themselves. They will not connect this punishment to the forgotten act of toileting in the home. Dogs don’t understand punishment. Your poor puppy will just be confused!
Many puppies only learn from this that humans are unpredictable, unreasonable and erratic in their behavior. And if this cycle of events happens when their humans come home from work, they learn they’d better run and hide as they always get punished. But they don’t know why.
Maybe they learn that punishment comes when there’s a mess on the floor, but they won’t connect this to the act of them making it. This is not how their minds work.
So this treatment only has the potential to create a fearful dog and to undermine the relationship you are trying to build with them.
No house training lessons are learnt from this treatment and if there is it’s despite the punishment and not because of it.
Now There Is A Better Way
These old and unfair techniques were due to owners not knowing much about how dogs learn and how best to work with them.
They just knew they didn’t want urine and feces on their floors, they were angry and they thought that punishment worked.
But those days are in the past.
Information on how dogs learn and how best to get the house training message across is now readily available and easily accessed. (Like in this guide for instance ;-) )
You just need the knowledge of the role you have to play and how to work with your puppy’s natural instincts and way of learning. So let’s talk about that now.
The Role You Have To Play As The Trainer For Your Puppy
Before your puppy can learn the bathroom habits you’ve chosen for them, you need to teach them in ways they can understand.
This means teaching to their strengths and the way that they learn, not trying to force things upon them and hoping for the best.
And you must also be mindful of what your puppy needs from you.
You Must Assume The Role Of Guide And Teacher
The first thing you should understand is that house training isn’t a natural thing for your puppy.
Out in the wild they toilet where they please without any rules. But in your home they have to adjust to whatever toilet habits you decide for them.
As a species, dogs do not pick a specific bathroom spot. It is a totally alien idea to them. Their instincts are to go when they feel the urge, wherever they currently are.
So in the quest for house training they only have you as a guide and teacher to show them what they must do.
You Need To Show Dedication And Patience
You have to be dedicated to the process and willing to concentrate on and supervise your puppy at all times, especially in the first couple of weeks.
You have to be watching and ready to take them to their bathroom spot at any time they need to go and on a very regular schedule. It takes effort and you must be dedicated to it.
You also need to show patience and understand that any accidents aren’t your puppy’s fault. It’s you that must watch out for and prevent any accidents.
You also need patience to allow your puppy the time they need to grow their bodies until they’re physically capable of controlling their urges and time to mentally learn what you want them to do.
You Need To Be Observant
You need to be highly observant to study, learn and then look out for the little signals your puppy gives off before they’re about to relieve themselves.
Some puppies sniff the floor, others will turn a few circles, some will make a sudden bolt for a hidden corner or away from a fuss in the room.
Whatever their signals are, you need to learn them and then constantly be on the lookout so you’re ready to snap them up and take them to their bathroom spot to avoid any accidents.
Be Loving And Understanding, Firm But Not Harshly Dominant
For all of life and your relationship together, but especially for house training, you need to strike a balance between being their loving best friend, but also their calm but firm leader.
You mustn’t be too soft and a pushover as your dog is looking for leadership. Without it they will not listen to you so readily, they won’t feel as if they have to.
But you mustn’t be too hard either and should certainly never shout at or punish them or they’ll feel resentment and be fearful of you. And Labrador’s especially are so pleased to work with their masters that there really isn’t any need!
It’s long been proven that dominance through fear is ineffective and unnecessary. A fearful dog can be defensive and disobedient and modern positive reward based training is far more effective and humane.
So you need to find the right balance, be loving to your puppy but also let them know who’s boss.
You Need To Be Strict With Yourself In Sticking To A Routine
Dogs need reliable and predictable patterns to thrive and this means feeding, training, exercise and taking them to toilet at the same times every day so they can pick up on and start to learn a living schedule.
If you fail to set a schedule then there’s no way your puppy can follow one. And if you fail to stick to it, how can your puppy possibly stick to one either?
Schedules become habit and habits become a way of life. Dogs are very good at relaxing until their scheduled appointed time. So you need to be dedicated and consistently stick to routines to find the greatest house training success.
Working With Your Puppy’s Natural Instincts And Behaviors
All animals are born with instincts and behaviors that guide them through life and dogs are no different.
Luckily for us there are 3 instincts and behaviors in particular we can take advantage of to speed up our house training efforts.
These instincts and behaviors are completely natural, you do not need to teach these, you just harness and direct them to work with your puppy to get the quickest results. So what are these 3 behaviors?
All puppies have a strong instinct to seek out a den and keep that den clean, a strong urge to earn themselves praise and reward, and an ability to learn through repetition.
Instinct To Seek Out A Den And Keep That Den Clean
To give birth and raise their young, or to seek refuge for a safe and secure feeling, all wild canines seek out and make use of a small enclosed place we call a den.
And all dogs are born with the instinct to keep their den as clean as possible. This includes keeping it free of urine and feces.
In the first few weeks of life, mother will keep the den clean by initially eating all her puppies waste.
This continues until the puppies are weaned and move on to solid foods. At this point they start to imitate mother and leave the den a short distance to toilet outside.
So by the time they get to you at 8 weeks old, they are hard-wired not to toilet in their dens and have received training from their mothers to keep the den clean. All dogs have this instinct.
So how does this help you?
By using a crate that’s only just big enough for puppy to comfortably sleep in, the crate becomes their den and they have a strong instinct not to relieve themselves in it.
So with careful use of a crate when you’re unable to watch your puppy, you can avoid many ‘mistakes’ that would otherwise happen if they were free roaming your home. (Read more on this in: How To Use A Crate To House Train A Puppy.)
But what if you don’t want to use a crate?
You can still take advantage of this natural instinct by confining your puppy to a small play pen which becomes his den. You then gradually increase the size of their living space as they mature and become more controlled and trusted.
The Urge To earn Praise And Rewards
If a dog performs an action that leads to a reward, they are far more likely to repeat that action.
If an action leads to something unpleasant, they are far less likely to repeat that action.
So how can you use this fact during house training?
Due to the love and leadership you’ll give to your puppy, they learn to love and respect you and they truly relish your praise. They love to think they’ve pleased you and are keen to earn some happy and positive attention.
So when your puppy relieves themselves in the spot you’d like them to, give hearty praise and perhaps a tasty treat. They love this and so they’re far more likely to repeat the behavior.
But when you catch them making a mistake, give a firm ‘NO!’ as a correction which they do not like. And so they become less likely to do this again.
An Ability To Learn Through Repetition
Dogs learn through repetition. They are creatures of habit, love routine and if something is repeated often enough that always leads to a good result or avoids a bad one, it will soon become habit and then a way of life.
The combination of a desire to seek rewards and learning through repetition is a very powerful one.
You take advantage of this by always correcting them if you catch them toileting in the wrong spot, then taking them to the correct place and praising and treating them for doing things right.
Do this often and repetitively enough (the aim being every time!) and your puppy will very soon learn that they should toilet where you’ve shown them.
The above three behaviors are incredibly beneficial to the house training process, you just need to take advantage of them.
Why You Shouldn’t Allow Your Puppy Full Run Of The House
As previously explained, puppies will not relieve themselves inside of their den. But they are more than willing to do it absolutely anywhere else!
And the problem with this is that a spot where they have gone before and they can still smell, they are likely to go back to and do so again.
Yes, you can (and for this reason simply MUST) clean meticulously to remove the smell, and I give advice on how to remove pet stains and odors thoroughly in this series, but the best way to avoid this is to not let them toilet inside in the first place.
You can massively cut the number of places they can mistakenly learn are their bathroom spots by initially restricting their living space.
A second reason for restricting access to your home is because no matter how vigilant you are and how concentrated you are on watching your puppy, there will ALWAYS be times when you let your guard slip.
All it takes is a split second for them to slink off and relieve themselves. And every accident is a step back, and sometimes a large step back in the house training process.
Finally, your puppy has an innate instinct to keep their den clean and initially they will only see their den as the place they sleep. But if you expand this area slowly, they will learn to view the area they live and play in as their den to keep clean too.
If you open up a great big house with disjointed rooms all at once, your puppy will see each room as completely different areas. But if you expand their space slowly and house train them in each new area, it will form a link in their minds that the new indoor space is also their den to be kept clean.
So the best and fastest way to house training success is to restrict puppy to just a small area and as their control and association with what’s their living space improves, then you can begin to expand the areas they’re allowed into.
Treat full run of your home as a privilege they earn by showing they can be trusted.
Why A Mix Of Confinement And Supervision Is Best
NEVER allowing a puppy to relieve themselves in the wrong spot and ALWAYS taking them to the right spot is the quickest route to house training success.
But even with the best intentions you will never be able to do this 100% of the time. And every little accident is a small step backwards I’m afraid. So the fewer accidents, the better.
Some people don’t like the idea of confinement, but when using supervision only, there are bound to be accidents. You will let your attention slip when on the phone, or engrossed in your favorite TV show for instance.
Now think of this. As previously discussed, dogs will do just about anything to avoid peeing or pooping in their dens. When that den is a crate they learn to hold their pee and poop when they’re inside.
So when you’re on the phone, or the doorbell rings, if you pop your puppy inside of their crate they will not pee or poop due to their natural denning instincts.
You have just eliminated many of the times they’re able to make a mistake when your guard is down. And there’s an added benefit of your puppy learning some control over their bladder and bowel. They learn that just because they feel an urge, doesn’t mean they have to go right away.
Finally, when you release them from the crate they will be ready to eliminate and you can take them to the correct spot. So they will go in the correct place more often and predictably, giving you more chances to praise them for doing the right thing.
So the best and most effective method of house training is a mix of constant supervision and confinement. Using a crate during house training and always concentrating on your puppy when out of the crate.
Due to either always being watched and taken to the correct spot for relief, or being in their crate and their natural instincts preventing them from toileting inside, they make far fewer mistakes than by any other method.
This means puppy will learn far quicker and you’ll have far less cleaning to do!
What To Do When Puppy Makes A Mistake, How To Deal With ‘Accidents’
If you can keep this fact in mind, it should help to fight off any stress or annoyance you might feel.
Your puppy doesn’t soil your home on purpose. They have just as strong a desire to keep their den clean as you do, they just don’t yet know the entire house is now their den. This is what house training teaches them.
So what should you do when puppy has an accident? It depends on the situation.
How To Deal With Catching Puppy In The Act
If you catch your puppy in the act of toileting in the wrong spot, clap your hands and firmly say ‘NO!’
If you truly surprise them they can tense and stop what they’re doing (depending on age…not when under 12 weeks.)
If they stop, pick them up and take them to the correct bathroom spot and praise them heavily when they go there.
But if they don’t stop, some very good advice is not to drag them outside. Let them finish where they are or the puddle you have to clean becomes a long line the length of the room and is so much more work to clean up.
Don’t shout, don’t get angry, and certainly do not punish them. You want to just firmly say ‘NO!’ and if it doesn’t stop them, then you’ve simply been too late.
How To Deal With Coming Across A Mess Long After The Event
Basically, there is nothing you can or should do.
You should stay calm, not get angry, take your dog out of the room so they do not see you clean and then thoroughly clean the spot until there’s not a single trace of odor.
You take them out of the room and do not let them see you clean because if they do, it says you’ve accepted the behavior and are cleaning up after them much like their mothers did. This can attract them back to the same spot and do it again another time.
Now, notice that in neither of the two possible scenarios above do you get angry at or punish your puppy. Especially important is not doing so long after the event.
Why You Should Never Punish Your Dog Or Puppy For Accidents
First of all, remind yourself that any accidents are completely your fault.
You should have taken puppy out sooner, supervised and recognized their pre-toileting signals, or not allowed them so much freedom to access and relieve themselves where they did.
Secondly, it’s vitally important you don’t take your frustrations out on your puppy and here’s why…
Because they simply do not and cannot understand!
Punishing a puppy for what comes naturally, for going to toilet, does absolutely nothing toward teaching them to go where you’d like. Any form of punishment just has the possibility of making your puppy scared of you, they will have no idea WHY they’re being punished.
Many people think they do because they say their dog looks guilty. But this isn’t guilt.
That stooping low, cowering and looking away is all fear and submissive calming signals, trying to appease you and them doing what they can to try to calm you.
They have this look because they learn over time that when there’s pee or poop on the floor, you’re going to be raging mad. But they’re completely unable to make the connection between your anger and the fact they made the mess.
What they’re doing is trying to appease you because there’s mess on the floor, not because they feel guilty for doing it. This point has been proven in multi-dog households where this cycle of events occurs.
If dogs get punished way after the event, even the ones that never made the mess will look ‘guilty.’ Because they know you’re going to be angry and they’re offering submissive signals in an attempt to avoid your anger.
So please don’t punish them long after the event. It’s too late and you missed your opportunity for correction and re-direction. Punishing them now just serves to destroy the relationship of love and trust you are trying to build and this will hamper all your future training efforts too.
Cleaning Up After Accidents And Mistakes
Deeply and thoroughly cleaning after any house training accidents or mistakes is an absolutely crucial part of your house training program if you’re hoping to find quick success.
Find out why it’s so important and how to clean thoroughly in the following article: Accidents Happen: How To Remove Pet Stains And Odors
How You Tackle House Training Shapes Your Entire Future Relationship With Your Dog
The most successful, happy and enjoyable relationships are built on love, trust and respect. And this goes for the relationship with your dog too, not just your friends and family.
If they truly love and respect you, they’re far more likely to trust and want to work with you. Their desire to please you and earn your respect and praise will be as high as possible.
In this state, they will listen to you far more, be willing to follow your directions and accept you as leader far more readily and hence be way easier to train and manage throughout life.
House training is one of the very first things you will train your puppy and at an age where they are very impressionable and forming their opinions about you and humans in general.
How you treat your puppy now and the bond you form over house training shapes the entire future of your relationship and life together.
So it’s worth learning to do it the best you possibly can, with as little stress for either you or your puppy as possible, and set the scene for your dog to see you as their leader and as their very best and most dependable friend.
Trying to force your way through house training with a dominant attitude, using punishment and getting angry will only set the scene for your dog to grow up distrusting, fearful and unsure of you.
This often makes them harder to control and a little disobedient and unwilling to work for you. And this will make you both miss out and wondering what might have been.
My Complete House Training Program
This was part 3 in a 12-part series where I’ve tried to provide all the guidance you could possibly need and covered everything I can think of for you to successfully house train your puppy or adult dog. Please see the entire series linked to below:
- Part 1: House Training – The Ultimate Guide
- Part 2: Basic Need To Know Facts Before You Start
- Part 3: The Mindset And Approach You Must Take
- Part 4: House Training Products, Supplies And Equipment You will Need
- Part 5: Accidents Happen: How To Remove Pet Stains And Odors
- Part 6: Feeding Choices Make A Massive Difference
- Part 7: How To Use A Crate To House Train A Puppy
- Part 8: House Training Without A Crate: Constant Supervision
- Part 9: How To Paper Train Your Puppy Or Dog The Easy Way
- Part 10: Umbilical Cord House Training: What is It? How Does It Work?
- Part 11: How To House Train A Puppy
- Part 12: How To House Train An Adult Dog – And Solving Common Issues
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