Training a new puppy, or bringing home an adult dog can be a daunting task. At the early training stages, it seems as if every hour must be devoted to helping monitor your dog’s actions to help him learn the rules of his new home. Though this is a challenging process, putting in the time will prove a rewarding investment in both your relationship with the new pooch, and his behavior in the home.

House Training Rules

House training consists of everything from potty training, to teaching the dog boundaries in the house itself, as well as decorum and demeanor around guests.  Owners must determine the house rules, and guide their dog’s actions by helping them find a proper solution whether that be in eliminating, or in staying out of certain rooms, and off the furniture.

Potty Training

This aspect of training may be the least pleasant, yet it is the most urgent training needed. Even those who are fortunate enough to have a backyard where the pup can eliminate, the dog still needs to be shown that pooping indoors is not allowed. This requires dedicated supervision from the pet-owner, and redirection if the puppy starts to make a mistake. No pet-parent likes to find a surprise waiting for them on the kitchen floor, so the sooner a dog can learn the rules, the better of everyone will be. Those that live in apartments or are city-dwellers with small dogs, there is the option to use puppy litter or keep a portable grass patch inside, where dogs can eliminate without needing to go outside or to the nearest park. Some people with larger houses will put in a “doggie door” so the pooch can excuse himself whenever nature calls. However most dogs require being taken out for a walk to find a place to eliminate; and picking up after them is one of the many responsibilities that goes with the territory.

Stay consistent

With potty training, be alert and ready to take your dog outside the moment he starts sniffing around. If you have an indoor area for him to urinate, make sure it is always kept in the same place so he knows where to find it. Pick the same spot to place his food, feed him at the same times of day, always taking him outside an hour or two later.   Doing so will allow your dog to establish expectations about when he will be fed and taken outside to eliminate.   This will also aid his digestive pattern, training his body to know when it is time to eat and when it is time to go potty. Be sure to begin by taking the dog outside every two hours to begin with, just to make sure your dog has ample opportunity to relieve himself in a “safe” zone. Whatever training choices you make, be sure that you and your whole family are on the same page, so that if you tell your dog to stay downstairs, he will be getting the same message from your kids and spouse too.

Help your puppy succeed

Don’t leave him in carpeted areas, or around shoes, or tempting chewable items. Make your home a “yes” environment for him, while he is a adjusting. Keep your dog over hard-wood floors or tile, and give him his own pen or safe area to be. Instead of viewing the pen as a bad area or a place of punishment and restriction, by allowing the dog to sleep in there and enter as he pleases, he will regard the pen as his own safe place.   Be intentional with how you train, always asking “If I do this now, what might happen later?” Consider each decision you make, striving to create a positive home by helping your dog do his best. If you don’t want him chewing on your furniture, keep him out of your living room. If he is drawn to the line of shoes by the front door, get a shoe crate to keep your shoes away from the pup. Most importantly, provide things he CAN chew, such as bones, rawhide, rubber balls, etc. If you remove something from your dog, be sure to provide something that is a “yes” for him. Also help your dog stay out of trouble, by taking things away that pose a problem. For example, if he likes getting into the trash, move it somewhere away from him like below the sink. Or a few hours before bed, take away his water bowl so that the dog will be less likely to go potty in the middle of the night. Help your practice good behavior by removing the “tempting” items and giving him good choices to make.

Supervise your dog

Part of setting him up to succeed will be to keep him from having the chance to make a mistake. Watch your dog. Make sure he stays with you at all times, since he will be less likely to have an accident if he is being watched. This might feel tedious, but it will help establish boundaries about when and where to eliminate, and which rooms he is allowed in. If you are not working with him directly, tying him to a specific area on a leash will help him stay in the areas you want him to be. This will also help him practice staying of the furniture or downstairs –whatever your boundaries might be. If he attempts to hop up on the couch, quickly move him off and say “off.” Repeat this every time the offense occurs, until your dog stops trying. Make sure everyone in the family is supportive about these boundaries, and practices the same restraints if the dog tries to be sneaky around someone.
If you have had to leave the room, and have tethered the dog somewhere, you must be sure to check on him frequently in case he needs a potty break. A dog will show you that he needs to go outside if he starts to sniff around, squat or scratch the floor. If you can’t supervise your dog for a few hours, put him in a space that he won’t be able to soil. There should be only enough room for him to lie down, or sit in the confined area until you return.

When you are away

If you have to travel or leave your puppy for more than a few hours, confine your dog to a space where he has room to play, eat, sleep, and a specific area to eliminate waste. Make sure the areas are separate so that he will be able to have “living space” apart from his “waste space.”   Put his toys, bed and food in one area together, and an easy-to-clean elimination corner in another. This you can designate through a box covered in litter, or a thick patch of newspaper or shredded paper on cardboard.

Clean up the mess

Accidents happen and are a natural part of the house breaking process. Though this goes without saying, it will be very important to ensure that any scent of dog urine or excrement must be entirely removed, or a dog may be tempted to soil the area again, since it smells like a designated “waste” area. By using chemicals to clean the floor, or spraying lemon or vinegar on the place, every trace of the odor will be completely removed. It is also very important not to get angry at your dog if the accident has already been made. Do not yell, swat, or shove your dog’s face in the mess since he will not know what that means. Practice gently and firmly redirecting your dog toward positive behavior. For example, if you catch your dog in the middle of the mistake, interrupt him right away and take him outside to finish his business.

Reward your dog

Whenever your dog goes on his indoor pet patch, or eliminates outside, be sure to encourage the behavior vociferously. Immediately afterwards, be sure to congratulate him, feed him treats, and pet him. He needs to see the positive effects of those good decisions, through both verbal affirmation and treats. This will help instruct your dog to continue progressing in his good behaviors; nothing communicates as well as praise and a delicious morsel!

Important tips to bear in mind

Throughout the training process, be sure not to punish or scold your dog when he has made a mistake, unless you catch him in the act. If the dog is yelled at, or has his nose rubbed in the waste, he will not associate the mistake with the punishment. Instead he will be confused and frightened from your reaction and will still not be aware that he needs to avoid the habit next time.

Note: Some dogs have difficulty in learning house rules, being potty trained, or practicing the healthy habits that their owners are teaching them. This could be due to physical difficulties that allow them less control over their bladders, or digestive systems. In some cases (particularly for rescued dogs), animals can also struggle with debilitating anxiety, fear of abandonment, fear of going outside, or fear of bad weather, etc. If your pup is showing signs of these fears or physical ailments, take him to a vet who can refer him to a behavior specialist that will help guide you in how to overcome these issues in the training process.