Basic care - Housebreaking
Every person living in a house should adopt the same habits and the same vocabulary in order to facilitate the puppy's training. See the page on Basic Notions.
Positive reinforcement: stroke, pet and reward the animal only when it obeys a command or behaves properly; avoid stroking it in other circumstances. This will make the dog more receptive to training. In other words, no stroking or "free" rewards. This will also help the puppy develop its independence.
Feed your pet according to a strict schedule: take the recommended amount of food per day and divide it in 3 meals, given at regular hours (even on the weekend!). After 20 minutes, remove the food and leave a little bit of water. The puppy will need to relieve itself 10 to 20 minutes after eating its meal; be ready to take it outside!
Go outside with your dog regularly, holding it on a leash and always using the same door. Choose a place where it can relieve itself in the summer as well as in the winter. Always bring it to this place and say words like "toilet", "pee" or any other word of your choice. This must all be done with enthusiasm. The puppy should have fun doing what you want it to do and this must show in your tone of voice; use a stimulating and happy tone. If your neighbours look at you in a funny way, it means that you are using the right method! Once at the chosen area, you can play with your puppy and stimulate it. You will notice that it won't take long before it does its business. When this happens, congratulate it immediately: "Good dog!". Give it a small reward if you want to (a piece of dog biscuit). Remember that you have only 4 seconds to express satisfaction; therefore, it is important to reward it at the exact moment it does what it is supposed to do. If it doesn't do anything after 5 minutes, it is useless to remain any longer outside. If you have a cage, put it back in it instead of letting it walk freely around the house, or keep it inside on a leash so as to always have an eye on it.
If you catch it crouching down to relieve itself in the house, you can say "NO" while "growling" softly, and above all without slapping it! Bring it immediately outside and there, demonstrate happiness by saying the special words chosen for its nature's needs. Whether it relieves itself or not, it is important to act happy once you are outside. It is the contrast in your expression that will enable it to understand the difference.
If you find urine or stools in the house, or if you catch it right after the fact, ignore the mess and pick it up when the animal cannot see you. It is useless to reprimand a puppy; it will not associate its mess with the punishment, even if it looks miserable. After one second, the action is already gone and forgotten for the dog in training. It will look miserable, but it will not be able to recognize that it has done its business in the wrong place a few seconds ago. You should definitely not put its nose in its urine or stools; doing this will not help it learn where it should have gone and the animal will quickly become confused, thinking that it should not relieve itself! Next time, it will try to hide to do it!
To clean an area soiled with stools or urine, avoid any ammonia-based solution (Lysol for example), because the odour of this product, which is close to the odour of uric acid, could prompt your pet to return to the soiled area. Once cleaned with soap, you can rinse the area with a half-and-half vinegar and water solution. This mixture will mask the pheromones (hormones that are distinctive of each animal and that humans cannot smell) and the urine smell.
The cage or "house" represents a burrow, a shelter, safety for your dog; the animal needs it. For the house, plan a wire cage adapted to the dog's adult size. Dimensions should allow it to lie on its side while stretching its legs, without allowing its digits to go through the wire mesh. It should also allow your dog to lie flat with its legs stretched out in front. During the puppy's growth, you should limit the space in the cage with an adjustable panel, so the puppy does not have more space than he needs to lie down with its legs stretched out in front. Contact your cage manufacturer to get a separating wire panel built for this use. You could also use a Plexiglas or plastic panel. Avoid wood because your dog could scratch its foot pads or gnaw part of it! A dog will not want to relieve itself where it sleeps. That is why housebreaking of a dog that lives in a cage goes faster. In addition, the cage will not allow your dog to break things in the house in your absence or during the night. Your puppy must get used to the cage gradually; it must be pleasant and not stressful for your dog. It should not be a punishment. It is possible for your dog to get used to the cage if the experience is fun. You can also offer a treat each time it enters the cage.
Housetraining is an important step in your puppy's education. You might as well take all the time you need to start off well!
Don't hesitate to ask professionals for advice on this matter; it will be our pleasure to give you all the information you need.
Catherine Drolet, dmv and Jean Lessard, dog trainer HVRS.