By Carolyn Bahm
Several of Tupelo’s pet experts offered advice on housebreaking a puppy.
– Gotta eat, gotta go: There is an effect called “displacement,” said Dr. Lynn Cox, a Tupelo veterinarian. Within about 10 minutes after a dog eats, he typically needs to go to the bathroom. Take your dog outside (or to his paper) after he eats.
Do not leave the puppy’s food out for self-feeding during the day while housebreaking, advised, Dr. B.J. Cash, another Tupelo vet.
– Go early, go often: Give a puppy frequent bathroom breaks when crate training, Cash said. “What people don’t remember is little puppies have small bladders.”
– Food matters: A good quality puppy food is highly digestible, so there will be less bulk in the puppy’s stool, Cox said. Any messes also tend to be firmer and easier to clean up. Cox recommends such brands as Iams, Hill’s Science Diet or Eukanuba. Some other brands, particularly the lower-priced generic ones, are lacking in vitamins and minerals and may have indigestible filler material such as chicken feathers counted as part of the protein.
Even some well-known name brands, such as Purina Puppy Chow, are very salty and encourage the puppy to drink excessive fluids, said Sally Mosier, training director for the Tupelo Kennel Club.
– Watch the signs: Puppies commonly signal when they need to urinate or defecate by circling, sniffing an area, arching his back or lingering near the door to an outside potty area, Cox said. Cash said some puppies also search for different textures of flooring, such as hardwood floors or carpeting.
– Potty, not party: Crate training requires persistence. If the dog is just playing outside when he’s supposed to be taking a bathroom break, take him back to his crate indoors, Cox said. Try another outdoor trip again after a while, and praise him for any success.
– Rain or shine: Take the puppy outside even in rainy or chilly weather. “They’ll soon learn to get their business over with real fast,” Cox said.
– Some solo, some don’t: Some puppies will just linger by the door if you put them outside alone, particularly during bad weather, Cox said. They may be more likely to urinate and defecate outside if you accompany them. After two or three weeks, you may be able to decrease the amount of time you spend outside on these trips and then let the dog begin going out alone. Depending on the dog’s personality, he may always want company, Cox said.
– Do you mind?: Some dogs are more shy than others are, and they like privacy. Your puppy may prefer to have bushes where he can hide to do his business, Cox said.
– You know the routine: Sticking to a more-or-less regular schedule helps enormously in housebreaking, various experts said. Cox recommends taking the dog outside first thing in the morning, then taking him outside again after every feeding and once again before you retire for the night. Which family member takes the dog outside matters less than having regular times for feeding and bathroom breaks.
“Routine is highly important, just like it is when kids are potty training,” Cox said.
– Other routine hints: Use the same exterior door, take the dog to the same outside spot and use the same words of encouragement and praise each time, Cox said.
Mosier said some people prefer to use a movable exercise pen, comprised of about six to eight panels with a small door on one side. Put the dog inside each time he is to go potty, and then he’ll associate the pen with that function. It’s useful when traveling because the puppy will know what to do in the familiar pen environment, no matter where it is placed. The pen should be placed in a driveway or on a patio so owners can tell easily if the dog has urinated, Mosier said.
– The door to relief: Teach the dog that you expect him to move his bowels or urinate every time you go outside to his bathroom spot, Cox said. One way of emphasizing this is to set aside a certain door, he said: Don’t go out the same door to play as you do when taking the dog to his bathroom spot.
For play periods, that may mean taking the puppy out the front door, around the house and through the gate into your fenced-in back yard instead of just using a more direct route via your back door, but the extra effort will help make things clear in your puppy’s mind.
– Commercial help: Some products are designed to help with housebreaking. Some spray-on scents and drops can be applied to paper to encourage a puppy to urinate in a certain spot. Absorbent, appropriately scented “puppy pads” may serve the same purpose. Dogs are territorial by nature, and they are encouraged to mark the spot themselves, Cox explained.
He said his office has seen limited success with these products. “We offer a money-back guarantee, and I’d guess we see about 70 percent of them come back.”
Cox continued, “The best thing is still proper training and patience.”
– Be kind: Gentle, consistent training is important. It’s not necessary to be abusive during housebreaking. Your firm, disapproving scolding may be punishment enough if the puppy soils your floor. Alternately, you might swat him with a rolled-up newspaper, Cox said. Don’t toss keys or other sharp, hard or heavy objects at the puppy.
Don’t hit the puppy with your hand, said Claudette Harlow, Tupelo/Lee animal shelter manager. “The hand is for loving and feeding.”
Don’t rub his nose in his urine or feces, Mosier said. “They don’t know what you’re doing, and it just makes a mess.”
Punish only if you catch the puppy in the act of soiling your floor, Cash said. If scolded later, the puppy doesn’t understand why you’re fussing at him.
Also remember that the puppy is not “testing” your authority. Cox said, “He just doesn’t know what’s expected.”
– Expect relapses: Dogs may have housebreaking accidents during times of stress or illness, such as with a urinary tract infection. If a trained dog begins relapsing, it’s a good idea to talk to your vet about possible illnesses, Cox said.
– Pet door is no panacea: Pet doors let the puppy go outside as needed, but they also present other problems. Some doors have to be blocked to prevent cold wind entering the home during winter. The doors also admit stray cats and even raccoons at times. Even some burglars have been known to reach through a pet door to unlock the home’s door, Cox said.
– Don’t redecorate often: Expect your dog to “mark” his territory again if you move furniture, Cox said. Expect the same territorial behavior again if he feels threatened by other animals, such as wounded strays you adopt or even other cats and dogs strolling near the home’s windows and doors.
– Get help: If you can’t stay home to housebreak your puppy, some veterinary clinics offer pet-sitting. At Hankins Small Animal Clinic, pet owners can drop off their pets during the workday for about $4 to $5 per day, on average. Private sitting is also available in the home for varying fees.
– The great outdoors: If all else fails and you run out of patience before the dog is housebroken, consider making him an outside pet, Cox said.