Dr. M. Margaret King
Special to The Sun
Q: We are getting a new puppy next month and we have not had one for 17 years. Please refresh us on how is the best way to potty train it. Also should we really keep him in a crate or cage when we are gone?
A: It is good you are planning ahead and asking such great questions. Certainly a puppy does not come with bathroom manners, they do have to be trained.
The idea is to never let puppy potty inappropriately in the house. This is, of course, idealistic but nevertheless, a good goal to set.
Housetraining will begin the minute puppy arrives. Pick an outdoor area you prefer puppy to use before it comes home. You will need to give it every chance to use this potty area and no chance, if possible, to use the floor. This will require the help of everyone to do the frequent outside trips.
Your high percentage times to take it out are right after a nap, after a meal, after a play period and just before bedtime. Take it out to its special grassy potty area by the same route every time. Pick a word to use when it is pottying such as “potty.” This will help it associate the command with the deed like sit or roll-over. When it does potty praise it and use a happy voice. Some people like to give a small doggy treat for a job well done. This is a personal preference.
Your signals from it will include a sudden stop, sniffing at the area and circling an area and this will mean “pick me up and take me to my proper potty spot outside, preferably before I leak.”
Some people find it handy to tie a bell to a string and hang it close to the door to the potty area. Every time you go by, ring the bell and show puppy. This can become a signal to tell you your puppy needs to go out. Some puppies pick right up on this, others learn to bark or whine to go out.
There will indeed be times when you need to leave the home and puppy will be on its own. The cage makes a perfect place to put puppy to cut down on accidents and other mischief. The puppy will take to the crate easily since they see it as a “den” and they are instinctively both “den” and “pack” animals. You and the family are its “pack.”
Start by placing its favorite toy in the crate, then a treat or two. Teach it the word “kennel” and give a small treat to encourage the act. Many dogs actually appreciate a den and feel safe there. Use caution in putting stuffed toys into the crate with it. If chewed up, these can become surgical emergencies to remove them from the gut.
They will frequently begin to go to the crate to take naps and to play with a toy. The rule of thumb for how long it can stay in the crate without a potty break is one hour more than they are months old. So for a 4-month-old dog, five hours would be about max. Again, instinctively it will not want to soil its cage or den. However, when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go.
Should puppy have an accident in the house, liquid or solid, immediately pick the accident up with a paper towel. Pick up puppy and use a gruff voice all the way outside. When you get to the potty area, place the accident on the ground in front of the puppy and change your tone of voice to “good dog,” potty and again praise and reward if the job is done. This only works if you see it do the deed. If it happened minutes to hours ago, this lesson will not work as puppy does not know what happened.
The more habitual you can make the sleeping, eating, playing and bedtime, the easier will be the training time. The time you invest in doing these activities in excess when the puppy first arrives will save hours of cleaning floors, disciplining and wishing puppy was better trained.
Some puppies are an immediate train, and others can take several weeks. You can start to assume puppy is trained when it goes about a month without an accident. Watch closely for its “signal” and the project will become easier much sooner.
DR. M. MARGARET KING, a longtime Edmond veterinarian, is a guest columnist. If you have any questions for her, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.