My Happy Pooch
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    How to Potty Train your Puppy: with or without a Crate

    Getting a new puppy is an exciting journey, but it’s also filled with messes and frustration. House training a new puppy can be very difficult without a plan. In this guide, we'll talk about tried and true strategies. Our goal is to teach the puppy to associate going outside with relieving themselves.

    In my opinion, there is no better way to potty train your pup than crate training. Later on in this guide, I'll speak in much more detail about how to use a crate to house train a dog. To skip down to that section, click on "Crate Training" in the Quick Navigation below.

    Most owners have no idea how to potty train a puppy. Before the internet, you needed to rely on old books or word of mouth. Fortunately for you, you’re reading my guide, lucky you!  Today you’ll learn not only how to train your puppy, but why those strategies work, and what you can do if you’re having trouble with some of the steps.

    The breed of the animal can make a small difference in how easy they will be to train. All puppies are challenging to house train and will require effort and time. Regardless of how effective a trainer or owner is, this is not a short process. A puppy will 'have accidents" indoors before they finally learn to relieve themselves outdoors.

    House training is an incredibly important step, so it’s fantastic that you’re here to learn more about it. In fact, failure to house train puppies is one of the leading causes why dogs are given to shelters. It can be very challenging to live with a puppy that makes messes in your home.

    In the wild, a puppy’s mother would hide any messes that they made. This would discouraging them from using the same spot in their den again. Our job is to is to teach our puppy not to make messes in "our den".

    Setting Expectations

    sign: no poop zone

    Puppy training is hard and takes a long time, no matter how experienced you are or how easy and relaxed the animal is. First you need to set your expectations. Both before and after getting your puppy. You need to be aware of the long journey ahead of you.

    Setting your expectations can prevent you from becoming too frustrated with your puppy. This will make it more likely that you properly train them the first time around.

    It’s not unlikely that house training a puppy can take up to a year. Especially if you don’t know how to potty train your puppy efficiently.
    At the very least, you should expect that it will take months to potty train a puppy. With the goal of never making a mess inside of the home again.

    During this period of training, your puppy will still relieve herself indoors occasionally. Try not to get disheartened. It’s a natural part of the process. You need to keep training them enthusiastically for the training to be effective.

    With that out of the way, let’s get on to how to potty train your puppy. We'll also talk about some of the challenges that owners most commonly face.

    Using Association when Potty Training your Puppy

    The number one tactic that we are using as puppy owners is association. We want your pup to associate the need to relieve themselves with the outdoors. With scheduling, encouragement and rewards our puppy will learn to hold their bladder until they are outside.

    The main reason why association fails is that owners give up too early. Remember when we set our expectations? It can often take months or up to a year for a puppy to become fully house trained.

    The next step is to give them plenty of outdoors time to ensure that it happens. Every time that they make indoors is a setback. It associates the indoors with that action. So, you need to do everything that you can to prevent this from happening.

    To ensure that this happens less, give them as much time outside as possible. Especially after eating, waking and playing. This is when they are most likely to need to go. You should be preemptive by taking them for a walk outside. Although this is going to eat up a lot of your time, it’s the quickest and most effective way to house train the puppy. It deeply ingrains the association in their head.

    • Puppies are intelligent animals, but their brains are still developing. For association to work it needs to be quickly after the act.
    • Associate relieving themselves outdoors with a treat. This can encourage them to have less accident indoors.
    • Unfortunately, association isn’t an instant hack, there will be messes. Slowly, they will develop the association and then should become fully potty trained.

    Reward Rather than Punish

    dog being punished for urinate or pee at home by his owner

    A tactic which is used far too commonly is punishment. While dogs are smart animals, a new puppy isn’t intelligent enough to correlate your anger to an act that they did minutes or even hours before.

    All that you’re doing is training them to fear you. This is the opposite of what you need to do if you want them to become house trained.

    Instead of punishing them, you should clap loudly if you see them trying to relieve themselves indoors and quickly take them outdoors. No punishment should be given and as soon as they relieve themselves outdoors, you’ll want to reward them.

    reward could come in the form of a treat, an enthusiastic rub, and hug, or a walk around the park with their favorite toy. It doesn’t particularly matter how you reward them it only matters that you do so consistently.

    By rewarding them for their behavior, they can quickly make the connection in their little puppy brains. They will associate your happiness, their reward, going potty outside.

    When they go potty indoors, they associate that with a loud clap and being bum rushed out the door.

    It might take a few weeks for this to start to become effective. Once it does, you’ll see quick progress. You'll often be a month or less away from having them completely house trained.

    Although it’s a long process, once it’s done it will normally stay for life. You’ll be able to form a deeper bond with your animal once they are house trained and you’ll no longer have to clean up after them every single day!

    Experts believe that puppies learn much faster through reward rather than punishment. It’s crucial that the reward comes directly after they use the bathroom so that they can associate the two.

    The easiest type of reward is undoubtedly a treat. Some dog experts believe that this is ideal for puppies. When they receive precisely the same treat each time, they might associate the two quicker.

    Cleaning Up

    Cute chihuahua have a spray bottle and WC paper between legs for clean her poo

    Cleaning up after your puppy is an not a fun chore. It's a job that has to be done, so let's do it correctly. Your goal should be to remove all the scent that your puppy left. This will deter them from using the same spot again to relieve themselves.

    You may find that your little friend keeps relieving herself in the same spot in your home. The reason why they do this is that they can smell their scent there. They associate that spot with their "potty place". This cycle can be broken by completely eliminating the scent.

    Standard cleaning products only mask odors with a weak chemical scent. Enzyme cleaners are far more effective at removing any biological odors.

    One problem which you may never have thought of is this: another dog could have used that spot before and your puppy is trying to mask that scent. This is particularly common for owners who have moved into a different home or who have had other dogs before.

    In this case, it might be necessary to remove the rug or area that they are using as their bathroom. It can be incredibly hard to remove scent that has been there for a long period.

    Once you have removed your puppies scent from the area, you have removed the association. You'll need to continue to encourage them to use the outside. They'll mark their "potty place" spot outdoors. When this has happens, they are far more likely to want to relieve themselves outdoors. (instead of on your brand new rug!)

    To get the maximum out of this tactic you’ll want to try and take your puppy to exactly the same spot in your yard every time. Eventually, their little puppy brains will tell them, "I've gotta go and this is my spot.

    Keeping a Strict Schedule

    Puppies tend to have incredibly weak bladders which they will strengthen over time. Until this point, it’s often ideal for you to take them out once per hour, as well as when you wake up and go to sleep. This is unrealistic for most of us, which is why potty training is such a difficult task.

    One thing that you can do to improve the situation is to create an incredibly strict schedule. This starts with feeding and watering them at the same time each day. It's important to remove any uneaten food so that they can’t continue to eat later. This allows you to monitor their food intake. It also allows the puppy to get used to a strict schedule. Your puppy will associate eating, waking and you coming home with them using the bathroom.

    By doing this, you can encourage them only to use the bathroom at a set time. Take them out and give them at least ten minutes to attempt to go. If they fail to relieve themselves, you’ll want to try again in 30-minute intervals.

    I realize that this is an inconvenient strategy. Teaching a puppy to hold it in and only go outside is unnatural. It can take a lot of effort on our part as owners.

    The most common times for puppies to use the bathroom is straight after waking, feeding and playing. By keeping this in mind, you can reduce the chance of them having an accident indoors. To summarize:

    • Keep a strict schedule for when they eat, wake and play.
    • Take them outside as soon as you wake up, after they eat, after they play and before you go to sleep.
    • This schedule should encourage them to go at specific times of the day. 

    Crate Training

    labrador puppy inside a dog crate

    Crate training for dogs is perhaps the best thing you can do for a new puppy. There are some that think that crate training a puppy is cruel but nothing could be further from the truth.

    Many dog owners make crate training more difficult than it actually is. Done correctly, your dog will greatly enjoy this training (and so will you).

    Dogs are a type of den animal. They like to have a personal space to sleep, to rest, or even hide from loud noises or unfamiliar guests. Puppy crate training can make use of your pet’s natural instincts for personal space. It’s best to have an easy to follow, gradual process to follow.

    The Benefits of Crate Training for Dogs

    There are a variety of useful reasons to start puppy crate training. One of the most important reasons relates to house training.

    Using a crate is the best way to house train your puppy. Puppies will make every effort to avoid soiling their den or bed. That reason alone makes for a strong case to put in the time and effort involved to succeed.

    Set the crate up as a relaxing space, the puppy will wait until it’s able to escape the crate before doing its toilet duties. This makes it possible to have more control over when and where the puppy starts to relieve itself.

    Start by dividing the house into areas where the dog is and isn’t allowed. Crate training allows you to limit your dog’s access to certain areas of the house while they are learning the house rules.

    Useful Dog Crate Training Tips

    • Avoid making the crate training process a traumatic experience. Make every effort to make the puppy feel relaxed. Never force your pup into the crate.
    • Placing one or two treats inside the crate can become a useful encouragement method. Try to be generous with praise as he or she enters the crate and eats the snacks.
    • At first, your puppy might not wish to enter the crate. It may be necessary to pick them up and place them inside while leaving the door open.
    • It’s important to be reassuring to the puppy that seems to be frightened or agitated. Once the puppy is more relaxed inside the crate, call it to come out and join you. Give further praise and reassurance when the puppy comes out to meet you.
    • Begin your training for just a short period of time. Fifteen to twenty minutes at most. Avoid leaving the puppy alone on the first occasion inside the crate.
    • If a dog is left entirely alone, it could become a traumatic experience. Future attempts at training can be a lot more difficult. This means the puppy is less likely to want to enter the crate and there is a greater chance they will misbehave.
    • Continue with the puppy crate training until your pup is comfortable and shows no sign of fear. At this time it’s possible to slowly close the door. Leave the door closed for several minutes provided the dog’s temperament remains calm. Repeat this process until you are able to leave the puppy in the crate for longer periods of time.

    Crate Training Older Dogs

    The crate can be a safe place as an older dog becomes less self-assured. If a senior dog has an “accident” inside the crate, make sure it’s cleaned up quickly. This will assure they will continue to appreciate their special place.

    The dog’s crate should be a positive place for your pet to go. It should never be used as a “jail” or a place to have a timeout.

    When you have crate trained your dog the right way, they will genuinely enjoy the safety and security of having their own little apartment.

    Situate the crate in a sheltered spot and provide fresh water. Your older dog will be more than happy to have his own space.

    Looking for the Best Crate for Dogs?

    Here's our review of the best dog crates for 2018. In this review we highlight the 5 different types of dog crates:

    • Heavy Duty Crates
    • Wire Crates
    • Wooden Crates
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      Plastic Crates
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      Soft Sided Crates
    best dog crates

    Our Review for Best Dog Playpen

    If it's a playpen you're looking for, please check out our review for the best dog playpens. These pens are bigger than a crate and are primarily designed to be a safe fenced in enclosure with room enough for your dog (or dogs) to play or just kick back and relax.

    best dog playpen

    More about Puppy Training

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    About the AuthorAngela Miller

    Hello, my name is Angela Miller. Several years ago, I rescued a little seven-year-old Bichon Frise. I started looking into dog nutrition so I could keep my little love bug for as long as I possibly could. I love my dog too much to feed him unhealthy food. I hope some of the things I've learned along the way will help you and your dog.