Got a new puppy or thinking about getting one? Start everyone off on the right paw the Fear Free way. We’ll talk about socialization, house training, crate training, daily schedules, play, and much more!
So you know you’re supposed to socialize your new puppy but you just don’t have time in your schedule for a puppy class. Don’t worry; by following a few simple rules, you can keep your puppy safe while making sure he has the experiences he needs to become a well-adjusted member of your family.
First, get your treat bag on! Purchase or make a treat pouch and get in the habit of wearing it everywhere. Every morning when you measure your puppy’s breakfast kibble, put most of it in a bowl or foraging toy and put a portion of it in your pouch to use during the day. When you take your puppy places or plan to expose him to things that may be scary, add some special treats to the bag such as tiny pieces of boiled chicken, string cheese, or soft, chewy, commercial dog treats.
Second, take your puppy with you everywhere that you safely can. Avoid allowing your puppy to walk in areas where dog of unknown health status may have traveled, so no pet stores or dog parks!
Do take your puppy through the drive-thru at the bank or fast food restaurant and allow him to see you talking to and interacting with people outside your car.
Do take your puppy to visit friends and family members, especially if they have well-behaved, well-vaccinated dogs, other species of animals, and family members of all ages and types.
Third, reinforce your puppy with a piece of kibble or other tasty treat every time he experiences something new and shows any interest at all. If the puppy acts concerned or startled when experiencing something new, don’t force him to explore further; just be patient and wait. You can toss treats closer to the object or person so that he is reinforced for being brave. It is important that it be the puppy’s choice to investigate!
When meeting unfamiliar people, stop and give your pup a treat. If he shows an interest in approaching the new person, allow the pup to approach (you can tell the puppy “Go say hello”) and allow the person to give your puppy another lower-value treat. This teaches the puppy to associate good things with meeting new people while also helping to teach some self-control.
Do praise your puppy, but never scold regardless of how your puppy is acting. Scolding is never helpful if puppy is afraid, and increases the chance of making the puppy afraid of you! If you feel a puppy's behavior is inappropriate (your puppy is overly excited and ignoring you, or is fearful and distressed), remove him from the situation quickly but calmly and use a happy, upbeat tone of voice to try to distract him or draw his attention back to you.
Fourth, keep these same ideas in mind at home and think about giving your puppy the opportunity to experience new things in a very careful and considerate way.
For example, when it is time to vacuum, don’t just begin vacuuming around the puppy while he is confined to his crate and expect him to get used to it! First bring out the vacuum cleaner and, without turning it on, allow your puppy to explore at his own pace and eat treats that you slowly toss closer and closer to the vacuum cleaner. When you first turn it on, turn it on at the lowest setting with the puppy across the room, to keep from scaring him. Taking it slow and associating the big scary machine with yummy treats is the best way to teach your puppy there is nothing to fear. If you don’t have time to do this, place the puppy in a safe place out of hearing or visual range of the vacuum while you clean the house until you do have time to make this experience a positive one.
Expose the puppy to other household appliances, different flooring, gadgets, machinery, bicycles, umbrellas, and anything you can think of in this same careful way. The more positive experiences the puppy has during the first 4 months of life, with the greatest variety of people, places, and things, the greater the chances that the puppy will grow into a dog with fewer signs of fear and anxiety when confronted with novel situations.
Fifth, place an Adaptil Junior collar on your pup and replace it every thirty days for at least the first three months. Adaptil Junior, a collar made just for puppies, is impregnated with dog appeasing pheromone, a pheromone that mother dogs produce during the time that they are nursing their puppies.1
In one study, half the puppies attending puppy classes wore an Adaptil collar and the other half wore a placebo collar. At 1, 3 and 6 months later, the puppies who had worn Adaptil collars demonstrated signs of being better socialized than the puppies who wore placebo collars. They showed fewer signs of fear or anxiety when exposed to unfamiliar people, novel objects, and other situations that often result in fear in poorly socialized dogs.2 Wearing an Adaptil collar may help puppies develop into adult dogs who are better adapted to day to day life in a typical busy human household.
Pageat P, Gaultier E. Current research in canine and feline pheromones. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 2003: 33;187-211.
Denenberg S, Landsberg GM. Effects of dog appeasing pheromone on anxiety and fear in puppies during training and on long term socialization. JAVMA 2008: 233;12.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.
This article was authored by Marty Becker, DVM, and Mikkel Becker, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, KPA CTP, CDBC, CTC
When a new puppy joins your family, you have a great opportunity to ensure she’ll grow up to be a confident, healthy dog. Central to that goal is helping her understand where she can and can’t go to the bathroom. Here are our tried and true tips for raising a perfectly housetrained dog.
First, learn to read your puppy’s body language. Pawing at you, standing at the top of the stairs or in front of the door, barking, sniffling, pacing, circling, and whining are all the canine equivalent of crossing your legs and desperately asking Siri where the next rest area is.
Those signals are your cue to scoop her up (or clip on her leash) and get her to her designated potty area fast!
Second, let’s talk about crates. Many people think a crate is a punishment, and certainly we don’t recommend leaving your puppy in it for long periods of time. But if a crate is your puppy's sleeping area, she'll instinctively want to keep it clean. And when she's safely confined in it, you don't have to worry that she'll have an accident in the house, which will make it more likely she’ll potty in the house in the future. What’s more, a reasonable amount of time in a crate will help your puppy develop bowel and bladder control.
Which brings us to the third tip: Stick to a schedule. Puppies need to potty every two to four hours, so it’s crucial you plan accordingly. Events that can trigger a puppy’s need to urinate or defecate include waking up in the morning or from a nap, and immediately after eating and drinking.
Excitement and stress can also lead to potty accidents, so letting your puppy play indoors can result in housetraining accidents. You’ll also want to take her out just before bedtime. She should be sleeping through the night by the age of three or four months, but for younger puppies you’re going to be in for a few weeks of sleep deprivation while you take her out once or twice during the night.
Allow for plentiful potty opportunities around potty-stimulating activities. Provide bathroom breaks within 15 minutes of waking, eating, drinking, or higher excitement activity, including play.
Not all pups will make it through the night, however, as their ability to hold their bladder isn’t fully developed until about four to five months of age. The general rule of thumb for puppies is that most pups can hold it for the number of months old they are in age, plus one. So a two-month-old pup can hold it for up to about 3 hours (though this may be stretched a little during sleeping hours). Depending upon your pup, you may need to set an alarm or cue into puppy noises to take your pup out accordingly and prevent overnight accidents in their sleeping area.
If your pup seems unable to hold it for reasonable lengths of time for her age, consult with your pet’s veterinarian as this may be a sign of an underlying medical issue that requires treatment.
Even if all you want to do is sleep, go outside with your puppy every time she has to potty. That’s because you should take every opportunity to praise and reward your puppy with a tiny-sized treat every time she potties in the right place.
Play is another great reward when your pup potties outdoors. Let her have a few minutes of play after doing her duty, and you’ll find she won’t hold back on urinating or defecating because she thinks pottying will trigger going back inside or into the crate.
Letting your puppy run loose in your house is not going to end well. She will potty where you can’t see her, which will set up a cycle that can be hard to break.
Consider attaching her to you with a leash or use other containment options in puppy-proofed spaces, including closed doors, gates, and inside fencing options. Doing so limits her space and helps her to gradually become accustomed to the home, using her natural instinct to keep her own spaces clean to encourage potty in appropriate spaces only. Such containment options also allow you to always know where she is and what she’s doing, which is important for attending to even subtle cues when she’s feeling the urge to go. Over time, the pup’s space can be opened up little by little to offer increasing freedom as she proves able to go accident-free.
Lastly, if your pup tends to potty when saying “hello,” note that she may be displaying an appeasement gesture or feel a little apprehensive about the greeting. Avoid bending or leaning over the dog or reaching over her head. Instead, turn your body slightly to the side, get down more on her level, and pet her in an area she’s more comfortable being touched, like her chest.
Alternatively, you can also channel her energy away from the greeting scenario and into another task, such as turning the “hello” into an opportunity to get her toy or to do a couple of tricks, like asking her to sit and down, for treat rewards.
What about adult dogs?
House training an adult dog is essentially the same as with a puppy. The advantage is he’ll have better bladder and bowel control and won’t need such frequent potty opportunities.
When a previously house-trained adult dog starts having accidents in the home, however, it’s time to head to the veterinarian. Barring major changes in the home, this is usually caused by a medical problem rather than a behavioral one. The cause could be as simple as a urinary tract infection (which is very painful and needs to be treated immediately) or the onset of canine cognitive dysfunction (which can be treated medically).
Punishment has no place in housetraining, whatever the age of your dog. You want him to learn that going inside the house is wrong, but he’ll actually learn that people are unsafe and unpredictable.
He may become afraid to go potty in front of you, which can lead to increased indoor house soiling. Rubbing your dog’s nose in the mess he made or any other form of punishment won’t work and can make the problem worse. Instead, address the behavior by managing his environment and training better behavior.
Another cause for house soiling in previously house-trained dogs is anxiety. For example, dogs with separation anxiety or noise phobias may start having accidents within the home. In those cases, your veterinarian can work with you to control the problem or refer you to a veterinary behaviorist or certified applied animal behaviorist.
Another source of anxiety may be a trigger the dog encounters outside. The sound of distant thunder, fireworks, gun fire, or even traffic can be terrifying to the noise-averse dog. If he’s afraid to leave the house, he will be prone to potty inside where he feels safe.