LARRY, our Chinook puppy, is 17 weeks old. It's been nearly two weeks since he's had an "accident" in the house. I used quotation marks around accident because during the house training process, if a puppy eliminates indoors rather than outside, the fault is the human's, not the puppy's. I've been really diligent about house training Larry, and it seems to have paid off.
The best way to house train a puppy is to use a crate.
Since most dogs avoid soiling where they sleep, a crate encourages control. Before four months of age, a puppy doesn't have much bladder capacity or sphincter control. He'll need to relieve himself frequently. Many people mistakenly think that when a puppy can make it through the night without going to the bathroom, he can hold it for eight hours during the day. The truth is that bodily functions slow down at night, enabling dogs (and people) to sleep through the night. Not true during the day.
The many times a puppy will need to relief himself are predictable: upon waking, after eating, during or after play or excitement, during or after chewing, and just because it's been a while. If you puppy sniffs around and circles with his head down, it's likely he's about to squat - not always, but sometimes. Watch for these signs so you can quickly get your puppy outside.
Following these simple rules makes house training painless and relatively quick:
. Go outside with your puppy and praise him every time he eliminates outside. Continue quietly praising (verbal praise) the entire time he's squatting.
. When you cannot supervise, crate him even if it's just for a few minutes while you shower or talk on the phone. If you aren't able to watch your puppy, use his crate. When you let him out of the crate, immediately take him outside. Once he's gone out, he can play in the house under supervision.
. When you take him out, ask "Do you want to go out?" in a happy voice, pick him up and carry him where you want him to go. As he gets older, you can stop carrying him. Carrying is for young puppies that will eliminate en route to the door.
. Teach your puppy where the bathroom spot is. Take him directly there, and wait until he goes. Go to the same place each time you take him out. Play with him in another location, not his bathroom spot.
. Feed a high quality diet on a regular schedule. Do not vary the schedule, even on weekends, and do not vary his diet during house training.
. Withhold water for three hours before bed, and take him out last thing before bed.
. Avoid using newspapers or piddle pads, unless you plan to use them forever. Paper training teaches a dog to eliminate in the house.
. Have a stool check done for worms and monitor his stools. A puppy's stools are an indicator of health, proper diet and proper feeding. If stools are loose and he's free of worms, you may be overfeeding.
. Keep a journal of all eliminations, including accidents, noting time of day. You may notice a pattern, such as a frequent accident around the same time. Taking the dog out just before that will help it learn (and you won't have to clean it up).
What about accidents? Never use punishment. Here's what to do:
. Clean up with a non-ammonia cleaner. Ammonia draws the dog to the spot.
. If you catch your puppy in the act of relieving himself, say "Ah Ah!" to interrupt him, pick him up and carry him to his spot. Wait until he relieves himself there, praise and take him back inside.
. If you didn't catch him in the act, simply clean it up. Don't mutter under your breath; don't point to it; don't drag him over to it; don't tell him how angry you are; don't even sigh and act upset. Such punishment will only confuse him, and will prolong house training. Most important, it will cause your puppy to distrust you.
If house training your puppy doesn't seem to be progressing as you think it should, seek the help of a positive dog trainer or behaviorist.
Gail Fisher, author of "The Thinking Dog," runs All Dogs Gym & Inn. If you would like a topic addressed in this column, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write c/o All Dogs Gym & Inn, 505 Sheffield Rd., Manchester 03103.