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Very few puppies are fully house-trained when they enter their new homes and most owners are prepared for a period of extra cleaning when they take on a young pup. However, in many cases the process of house training is unnecessarily long and drawn out and there is considerable tension between pet and owner as a result. By following some simple rules and avoiding some of the common mistakes you can maximise your chances of success, and make the whole process far less stressful for you and your puppy.

Spot the right moment.

It is important for your puppy to be in the right location when it feels the need to relieve itself. If you take your puppy outside when it is most likely to want to go to the toilet (after every meal, when it wakes up, after drinking and after play) you maximise the chances of it forming an appropriate association between being outside and relieving itself. Every time your puppy makes a mistake and goes to the toilet in the house it learns an inappropriate association and the process of house training is slowed down. Taking your puppy outside on a regular basis can be one of the quickest and simplest ways of house training. Up to the age of about 12 weeks your puppy may need to toilet every hour or so during waking hours. He should be able to last longer overnight but it can be worth setting an alarm clock for the early hours to avoid accidents. Many people choose to use newspaper or commercial puppy pads as a house training tool. These can be useful if the puppy has to be left alone but are not ideal as a main method of house training. Puppies need to learn about substrate (different surface types, such as grass, gravel, cement etc) and location preferences for toileting so by taking your puppy out of the house and into the garden to toilet should result in faster and more successful training. Reward works better than punishment!

If you ensure that you are with your young puppy when it is outside, you can give some form of reward to coincide with the process of toileting and thereby encourage him to see toileting in the garden as a good thing to do! Quiet praise whilst the puppy is actually urinating or defecating is the most appropriate form of reward. There is usually no need to use higher value rewards such as food treats because the relief of toileting is in itself a rewarding activity i.e. the puppy feels more comfortable afterwards.

Never punish your puppy if you have not caught it ‘on the job’ Going to the toilet is a necessary and natural behaviour and any form of punishment in house training will lead to confusion. If puppies are punished they are more likely to learn to avoid toileting in front of their owners than to learn that they toileted in the wrong location. This can make the training process far more difficult and many owners will spend hours in the garden waiting for their puppy to relieve itself only to find that it runs back into the house to toilet on the lounge carpet. The puppy has learned that toileting in private is safer! Retrospective punishment is also entirely inappropriate. If your puppy has an accident out of your sight you should calmly pop the puppy out of the way and clean up the mess. Owners often mistakenly believe a puppy to ‘know he’s done wrong’ because he will hang his head low and look ‘sorry’ or ‘guilty’. In fact this is simply a response to the tense or angry body language or voice of the owner or the puppy may have learned from previous experience that he will be told off if there is urine or faeces present. The puppy is showing appeasing gestures in an attempt to deflect your anger and its behaviour has no association with the act of toileting, which occurred some time before. Inappropriate aversive responses such as rolled up newspapers, pushing puppies’ noses in excreta and screaming at them for being naughty should be avoided at all costs.

Don’t clean up its business in front of it if possible, it is best to avoid cleaning up your puppy’s mistakes in front of it especially if you are feeling annoyed or frustrated. Your puppy is very aware of your body language and will be sensitive to your displeasure. Better to clean up out of the puppy’s sight to avoid any misinterpretation. Punishment in the presence of faeces is a risk factor for the development of coprophagia (eating faeces).