Lessons I've learned from a difficult to housetrain puppy.

posted: by: Tammy Chastain DVM Tags: "Clinic Specials" "News" 

Our family added a new four-legged member last summer.  Callie, the boxer, joined our crew in July of 2021 at 8 weeks of age.  Mind you, it had been almost twelve years since we had a puppy in our home.  Naively, I figured we could handle all the challenges that came with a new puppy - no problem.  Besides, I was a veterinarian, and should have the answers if issues arose, shouldn't I?  Well, our new family member has proven that even the animal professionals can be on the verge of pulling their hair out when it comes to housetraining.  She has humbled me, given me more compassion for those struggling with their own pups, and taught me several lessons along the way.  Here are a few of tips I'd like to share.

1.)  Teaching a puppy to eliminate in our preferred location is a "two steps forward, one step back" kind of process.  Sometimes it feels like one step forward and two steps back!  Progress and set-backs are very normal.

2.)  Reward with high value treats, praise or toy outside, right after your puppy potties.  Waiting to give a treat once they have come inside does not reward the correct behavior.  It can often be counterproductive, since he/she might be anxious to come back inside too soon expecting a treat rather than taking the time to fully eliminate outside.

3.)  Use a crate!!  Getting your puppy used to spending time in a crate has a multitude of benefits.  It is one of the most helpful tools when housetraining, especially when you use a crate of an appropriate size.  It is important to make sure it is only big enough for the pup to easily turn around and lay down comfortably.  Naturally, they do not want to eliminate where they sleep.  If your pup does not potty when taken outside, place him back in the crate for a while and try again a little later.

4.)  Don't give your puppy too much unsupervised freedom.  It seemed like as soon as I would turn my head, Callie would wonder into a different room and have an accident.  Block off rooms, close doors, use baby gates, or even tether your pup to your belt loop to keep him or her within your line of site at all times when they are out of their crate.  Remember that if given too much free reign, they will have more accidents in the house.  That not only means more clean up for you, but it also inadvertently "rewards" the pup, since he or she finds relief when and where they void.

5.)  Watch for cues and be mindful of timing.  Often a puppy's cues can be subtle and hard to identify.  However, you can bet he or she likely needs to relieve themselves right after a meal, after naps, and after some rowdy playtime.  It is best to get them out during these times of the day, but watch closely during these activities as well.  They may help you know what cues your pup exhibits when they need to go.  Sometimes it can simply be that they stop playing and start to wonder away with their nose to the floor.

6.)  Keep in mind there can be medical reason that a puppy is difficult to housebreak.  When all of the above efforts have failed to yield a progress and accidents keep occurring, consider seeking veterinary help.  This is especially important if you are noticing urine leaking, blood in the urine, straining to urinate/defecate, or diarrhea.  There may be an underlying infection, birth defect, or other medical cause for the issues.  I performed a urinalysis, urine culture, and radiographs on Callie to help rule out any medical causes that might be contributing to our struggles.  We did find she had some mild overactive bladder issues that improved a little with medication. However, medication alone was certainly no substitute for continued patience and consistency with our housetraining efforts.

If you are are encountering difficulties with housetraining, please feel free to reach out to our veterinary staff and/or trainer for assistance.  We can certainly help troubleshoot...or at the very least, commiserate and assure you that you are not alone in this challenging process.