How to house train a young puppy
Has a new puppy just joined your family? If you are like most house-proud families your first and biggest concern is how to house train your new young puppy. The reassuring news is that dogs do not naturally soil their den. If they can they will go outside and away from it instead. Your puppy's mother will normally have taught these basic hygiene habits to your puppy during its first 2-3 months.
Dog owners sometimes interfere with their pet's good natural habits. If you chain up your dog for lengthy periods it will not have the freedom to leave its kennel and may soil it. This is why a dog should be given a run several times a day to help keep its home clean. To potty train a puppy kept inside, your first step is to restrict its home to a small area. It will see this area as its "den". Your pup will naturally wish to keep its living quarters clean. You can buy or make a crate, or set up a bed in a room you can close off, like a laundry or garage.
There are broadly two alternative house training techniques from then on: teaching your pup to hold on until it can go outside, or training it to use a dirt box inside. Whichever way you prefer, your goal is to have your puppy relieve itself where you want, and not anywhere it pleases in your home, as if it was your garden. With a larger breed it makes sense to train your dog to go outdoors instead of in a dirt box. For that you need a dog door and a secure yard. If you live in an apartment, have no outdoors kennel or you are very busy or often absent, that option may not be open to you.
If you have a yard, take your puppy outside onto grass as soon as it wakes and 15-20 minutes after it eats. This may happen several times throughout the day. Every 3-4 hours, much as with a baby, is a practical guideline for a young puppy. Leave it much longer and the risk of an accident increases. Reward your puppy with praise when it performs as you want. Your aim is for this to become a routine, and eventually your puppy will let you know when it needs to go outside, even outside the routine times.
It will take several weeks to reach this stage. Accidents will happen, but you must not punish your puppy. A much more effective training method is to reward positive behavior. It is a wise idea to have your puppy live in an area with a hard floor that is easy to clean, such as in your garage or utility room, at this time.
If you can, keep your puppy in a kennel or secure run outdoors during the day, with access to relieve itself away from its sleeping quarters. This way it will be asleep for most of its time indoors with you through the night. This will reduce the time you have to dedicate as a temporary "nanny" while it learns what to do. If you install a dog door that allows the puppy access to the yard, train the puppy to use it when required. This easier for you, and greatly speeds up the house training.
It's best if the "den" area where your puppy sleeps can be adjacent to this dog door. Obviously, free access outside should not mean freedom to roam beyond a safe yard.
Access to the outdoors may not be practical for you, and the second more difficult approach is needed. Your alternative is a dirt box somewhere inside your house. You can buy absorbent materials to use in your dirt tray, which reduce any worries you may have about the smell. For a start the dirt tray should positioned close to where the puppy sleeps so that it is accessible but far enough away to be clearly separate from its "den".
You must take the puppy to the dirt tray when it awakens and about 20 minutes after it is fed. You need to reinforce success with praise, until it gets the idea of how to use the dirt tray. This method is a little more taxing than taking the puppy outdoors, but you must be patient. Some trainers recommend a paper-training stage before using the dirt box, to better communicate the idea. This is simply the use of newspaper laid on the floor as an alternative to a dirt tray. A little "starter" scent from last time the puppy went left on the paper helps to communicate the idea.
Newspaper gives the puppy a bigger area to go on - some suggest laying out several sheets for a start. Newspaper is preferred because it is low cost and easily cleaned away. You gradually reduce the amount of paper over a couple of weeks and move it to the position you want for the dirt tray. You then phase out the paper in favor of the dirt tray. Over 3-4 weeks the puppy will develop the habit of using the dirt tray. You can then move it step-by-step further away from the den or sleeping area, perhaps to a utility room or attached garage, where the family spends less time. Alternatively you can move the puppy's bed further into your own living areas if you wish, a longer distance from the dirt tray.
In effect, this means the clean "den" area is extended to encompass as much of the house as the puppy may access. You would be wise not to include access to any dark secluded corners too quickly in case they prove a temptation, should the routine visits outdoors or access to the dirt tray be disrupted for some reason. Your patience during this time will be rewarded by the house-proud habits your puppy will learn.