Question: We just got a puppy and one of our friends said we should start with “puppy pads.” Do you recommend this method?
Answer: Puppy pads, for the uninitiated, are disposable, usually about 2-by-2 feet, and permeated with an attractant dogs can smell that encourages them to go to the bathroom on the pad. Honestly, the only time I recommend them is for folks who live in a high-rise because, personally, I prefer dogs to always potty outside, period. If you live on the 10th floor, it’s tough to whisk your pup out when you need to.
By “the book,” a puppy can hold it an hour for every month of age, but this is just a guideline. A good rule of thumb is to take her out after she naps, after she plays and after she eats. And about every two hours, too, for good measure.
Keep your eye on her in the house. Vigilant supervision and setting her up for success is the key to this training. Make it so she doesn’t have an opportunity to have an accident in the house because she is either being watched and supervised, being taken outside, or she’s crated.
Dogs have a subconscious aversion to soiling their den. (I’ll talk about the crate more next week.) Some people dislike crates, but this is a human hangup that dissociates from the reality that dogs are den animals and usually come to love their little “den” because, subconsciously, it represents safety and solace. And crates are a brilliant tool for housebreaking.
The most pertinent piece of potty training is the reward aspect because, ultimately, between making it hard for your dog to have an accident in the house and consistent, timely rewarding, Fluffy figures out the pattern of being rewarded for using the bathroom outside. She comes to want to pee and poop outside.
Have teensy treats, the size of a pencil eraser, in your pocket, and when you take her outside, lead (or carry) her to her spot, and give her whatever cue you want to use, i.e. “potty,” “do your business,” “hurry up,” etc. I have a cue for everything I want my dog, Tillie, to do, and I recommend having a potty cue, simply for concise communication purposes.
Moving forward, when, let’s say, you’re traveling and you stop to get gas, in spite of the distractions of the new place, if you tell her to “potty” she’ll know what you want.
It doesn’t matter what command you use, but whatever it is, when it’s time for her to do her business, say it once and don’t repeat it. Repeating a cue over and over is a bad habit and unnecessary. After you give her the cue, just cross your fingers and stand by. As soon as she gets into position, unobtrusively inch over to her and wait for her to finish. Don’t jump the gun on praising. Wait till she finishes. You don’t want to distract her.
But the very instant she finishes, in an exuberant voice, say “good girl potty!” and pop a treat into her mouth. Offer tons of praise and affection. This has to happen within two seconds of her finishing.
She’s being rewarded for the completion of the task. By repeating the initial cue (e.g., “potty”) as you’re praising, you get the word into her head. The praise should be over the top because we want our pup to know something really wonderful has just happened. And if her tail is wagging, the lesson is getting in.
Finally, I don’t recommend any negative reinforcement during puppy potty training. The biggest “correction” your pup should get would be a “Noooo!” when she squats in the house. Then quickly pick her up and take her outside. She may or may not go when you get out there, though. If she does, great. Now you have the opportunity to reward her with at the very least praise and affection.
Best-case scenario, she never has much of a chance to have an accident in the house because you’re good at staying on top of this training. The best news? This will be temporary.