Whilst it seems to last forever when you are in the middle of it, teaching your Labrador puppy to be clean indoors is actually a fairly short process.
The idea of this article is to give you a guide to ‘stress free house training’.
Essentially your puppy is on your side, he wants to keep his ‘den’ nice too.
There are however a number of factors that conspire against you in your housetraining adventures
- Your puppy’s memory
- Your puppy’s bladder control
- The size of your home
- The power of ‘habit’
Labrador puppies have a very short memory. If he is in your hall your puppy has probably forgotten where the back door is. When he trots back into the kitchen he will remember again, but by then it will probably be too late.
Poor Bladder control
Puppies have a small bladder capacity, and very little ability to wait before emptying their bladder once it is full. Some eight week old puppies have very immature bladders and need to empty them at 15 to 30 minute intervals for much of their waking day. This can last for much of the first week.
Whilst tiny pups may need to wee a lot, it is important that you are aware of what is normal and what is not.
If the gaps between wees are not gradually stretching out, day by day, get your puppy checked by the vet. Likewise if your puppy is weeing this frequently at night after you have taken his water up, and when resting in his crate.
If the gaps between wees are getting shorter again after previously widening, this is another sign that you need to get your pup checked by the vet. Bladder infections do happen and need sorting out.
The size of your home
The reason we are able to house train dogs at all, is because they instinctively keep their den or sleeping area clean. Your puppy divides your house into two areas
- His den
- Not his den
He will do his utmost not to empty his bladder or bowels in his den.
To begin with, his den is just the place he sleeps in. Later his play area, the parts of the house he is allowed into, becomes absorbed into the den and eventually the whole house becomes the family ‘den’ that he shares with you.
To start with your puppy will happily wee and poo anywhere that is ‘not his den’.
A lot of new puppy owners give their pup the run of the whole house right from day one, and this can make it very difficult to house train your puppy. The area is just too large for the puppy to even consider as a part of his den. That’s if he can remember where his sleeping area is.
Much of housetraining is about teaching your puppy to include your entire house in the area he regards as his den. One of the best ways to do this is to start by giving the puppy access to a very small area in your home and increasing that area gradually as he matures and his memory improves.
The power of habit
Puppies like to wee in places where they have wee’d before. The power of habit is both useful and a nuisance at the same time.
It can help you to help your puppy establish a preference for using a designated toilet area outdoors. But it also means that once your puppy has made a large puddle under your dining room table, he will try to do so again.
Clearing up accidents
Puppies are attracted to the area they have previously used by the smell at the scene of the accident. And as we know, a puppy’s sense of smell is astonishingly powerful. He can detect the tiniest traces of ammonia. This means you need to be extremely vigilant in preventing accidents, and in clearing up after them.
Otherwise he will be tempted to return to the scene of the crime over and over, which you will find extremely annoying.
You can buy special cleaning fluids like this one: Urine-Off Spray that do not smell of ammonia, to clear up after your puppy. And these may help reduce repetitive accidents in the same place.
But the very best approach is to throw all your efforts into avoiding accidents for these first few weeks.
The use of punishment is not helpful in the housetraining process. Firstly because puppies have such poor memories that unless you catch him in the very act of emptying himself on your hearth rug, he will not remember having done so.
Secondly, because even if you do catch the puppy in the act, he is likely to associate any punishment not with the hearth rug, but with you!
This rapidly results in a puppy which sneaks away to wee in secret and behind things in order to avoid your unreasonable reaction to his natural bodily functions.
It also means that at three oclock in the morning when you are waiting in the garden in your pyjamas for him to do a wee, he will be unable to ‘go’ lest you become unreasonable out here too.
A gradual process
The best approach to housetraining or ‘potty training’ as it is increasingly called, is a gradual process. You should do the following a tiny bit at a time.
- Increase the amount of time between visits to his outdoor toileting area
- Increase the area of the house into which he is allowed access
Gap between toilet trips
Start with the smallest time gaps you need to avoid accidents. This might mean a trip outside every 25 minutes for the first few days. Your puppy will be able to last longer whilst he is asleep and may manage 4-6 hours during the night. This will gradually stretch out over the first two or three weeks.
If the puppy has an accident, make the gap between trips a bit shorter. Wait a few days before trying to stretch them out again. If you can’t watch the puppy for a few minutes, and provided he has had chance recently to visit his outdoor toilet area, pop him in his crate for quarter of an hour.
Provided the crate is small enough he won’t wee in it.
Check out our crate training article for more information on using a crate to help with toilet training, especially night time toilet training.
Area accessible to the puppy
Don’t be tempted to give your puppy free run of the house. You won’t be able to watch him all the time. He will have accidents, and these will lead to more accidents.
Keep your puppy off carpets until the pup is reliably dry during the day. It is almost impossible to get all traces of urine out of the carpet without thoroughly shampooing it.
Use baby gates to keep the puppy in a small area of the house and on hard washable floors. When he has mastered keeping that area clean and dry (at four to six months old) , you can expand it to include more of the house.
Rewards and commands
When you take the puppy to his toilet area and he obliges in the right place, by all means make a big fuss of him. Let him know what a clever dog he is to get it right. You can also, if you wish, associate a ‘cue word’ with his cleverness.
I use the phrase ‘hurry up’ which I say quietly as the puppy starts to wee. Don’t be too enthusiastic to begin with or the puppy may stop weeing to come and see what all the fuss is about. Just quietly give your cue, you could use ’do a wee’ or ’go to the toilet’, it doesnt matter what phrase you choose as long as you don’t change it.
Later on, when he is bigger, and it is raining and you want him to hurry up, you will find that your cue word becomes a ‘wee on command’ phrase. Which can be very useful.
When is it over?
If you can follow this guidelines, house-training should be almost done and dusted by the time your puppy is six to eight month’s old. He may still need a few more trips outside than an older dog, but accidents should be a rare event.
Share your tips
If you have any house training tips you want to share with other readers, drop them into the comments box below
More help and information
If you enjoy Pippa’s puppy articles, you will love her new book: The Happy Puppy Handbook – a definitive guide to early puppy care and training.
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