Housetraining: What’s really going on?
We tend to think of housetraining as teaching a puppy to eliminate outdoors or in a specific location in our home (or both). Our perception of housetraining tends to focus on indoors versus outdoors or living room versus bathroom.
And many people think that punishing mistakes will teach the pup to eliminate in the right place next time.
But from the puppy’s perspective, the situation is quite different.
- Most young dogs will begin to avoid eliminating where they eat and sleep at about 5 weeks of age. By about 7 or 8 weeks of age, they begin to develop preferences for the type of surface they use for elimination (i.e. grass vs. paper vs. concrete).
- Most puppies like to eliminate on absorbent surfaces. A living room rug is just as attractive to them as a patch of grass unless we intervene by helping them develop a clear preference.
- Puppies don’t focus on “indoors vs. outdoors” as much as they focus on surface, location and smell. We can help them succeed at housetraining by consistently providing only surfaces which will be acceptable for them to use when they are adults (for most people, this is grass, sod, dirt, concrete).
- Most puppies like to stay clean and avoid eliminating where they eat and sleep. So they tend to “hold” when they cannot walk away from the spot they eliminated in. This is why humane confinement is such a valuable tool in housetraining.
- Puppies need to feel safe. If they associate eliminating in the presence of a person (and perhaps their leash) with treats and praise, they will readily do so. But if they associate eliminating with a person present with being startled or punished, they will likely try to hold back when someone is there and wait until they are alone to eliminate.
- Puppies do what works for them. If eliminating on the desired surface, in the desired location always results in treats, play, attention, petting (whatever is pleasing to that puppy at any particular time) and eliminating in other places never results in anything interesting, the pup will be much more inclined to eliminate in the desired area. Focusing on building a strong, positive association with eliminating in the desired place is much more effective (and humane) than attempting to punish errors.
Errorless housetraining is accomplished by using these canine perceptions to our advantage. And it can begin early!
What Can you and your Breeder do to build confidence in your puppy?
The "Rules of 7's" is a concept utilized by good breeders to help develop a confident puppy from birth to 8 weeks of age.
However, we feel that since the age of 8 weeks to 16 weeks is considered "The Sweet Spot" for encouraging the best behaviors and to continue with confidence building, we find that 'new' families will do well to continue along these lines for the first several weeks at home:
"The Rules of 7's"
- Experience 7 different types of surfaces--carpets, concrete, wood, vinyl, grass, dirt, gravel, wood chips, etc.
- Play with 7 different types of objects, big balls, small balls, soft fabric toys, squeaky toys, paper items (packing paper all crunched up into giant balls) cardboard items (paper towel rolls) metal items, hoses, tunnels, small steps, etc.
- Experience 7 different locations - front yard, back yard, garage, laundry room, kitchen, car, etc.
- Meet 7 new people - children, older adults, someone with a cane or walking stick, someone in a uniform, etc.
- Expose to 7 new challenges, climb off a box, go through a tunnel, climb over obstacles, play hide and seek, go down steps, meet new dogs and other animals.
- Eat from 7 different containers.
- Eat in 7 different locations.
Continue to be introduced to 'novel' situations, but in moderation! This will allow puppies to continue to use 'learned' coping skills to face the novel situation, cope with it, recover and remember! (end)