Once you've made the decision to bring a precious new puppy into your family, one of your first challenges is going to be house training a puppy. No matter how adorable that puppy's big brown eyes are, housebreaking puppies is never an easy business. It can be frustrating and stressful. However, it can be much easier on you, your family, and your new puppy if you understand the basics of house training a puppy.
There are several ways of housebreaking puppies. Today, the most commonly recommended method is crate training puppies. When you are crate training puppies, you are tapping into the animal's wolf-like instincts not to use the bathroom in their den. You see, when dogs or wolves made their homes in caves and other small areas that offered them protection, the worst thing they could do was urinate or defecate in that area. When you are crate training puppies, you are providing them with an artificial den.
The most important tool in crate training puppies is, of course, the crate. It's not so important which type of crate you buy, but you should purchase one that is large enough for the dog at its full size and you should use dividers to make the crate small enough so your puppy can stand up, turn around, and lie down – no bigger. Too much room gives that puppy a chance to use the restroom in another section of the “den.” You can learn more about crate training puppies at the American Dog Trainers Network (http://www.inch.com/~dogs/cratetraining.html).
Whether you decide on crate training puppies or on another method of housebreaking puppies, it's important to keep them on a schedule. Puppies, like children, do best when they have structure in their lives. That means the puppy should have a set schedule for getting food (and even water when the weather is cooler), for going outside to the bathroom, for going on walks, and for going to bed. In most cases, putting a puppy on a schedule also means putting your whole family on a schedule, but taking this step is going to greatly speed up the time it takes for house breaking a puppy. If you're interested in seeing some sample schedules for house training a puppy, this document from Lake Travis Animal Hospital (PDF) includes some good examples.
Another big issue around housebreaking puppies is how to handle accidents. Many pet owners believe the way to handle accidents is by rubbing the puppy's nose in the mess while saying “No!” or “Bad!” Unfortunately, this type of punishment does little to deter future accidents and can actually cause the puppy to become afraid of going to the bathroom or to become a submissive urinator. The bottom line is that if we don't catch the puppy in the act of making a mistake, no amount of yelling and punishing is going to do anything but scare that puppy – not of going to the bathroom in the house but of us.
Instead, while you are housebreaking puppies, you need to watch them and at the first sign of an accident, you make a loud noise to break the puppy's concentration (clapping, for example). Immediately scoop the puppy in your arms and take him to the appropriate potty spot. When he goes to the bathroom there, praise him like crazy. Act like this is the best thing anyone has ever done in the entire history of the world. Because that puppy wants to please you, he's eventually going to make the connection between your happy reaction and his using the bathroom in that spot.
When you're house training a puppy, you need – above all else – patience. Some puppies will catch on quickly; other puppies take longer. No matter what though, you have to stay patient and consistent. Those are the two most important keys to successfully housebreaking puppies.