Diane in New Richmond, Ohio wrote to ask for my insight into her puppy’s house training problem, saying:
“We are at our wits’ end. My husband is about ready to put an ad in the paper! I need to stop this before it gets out of hand! We bought our German shepherd/Rottweiler mix puppy Niki in November from a family in Indianapolis – the mother was a Rottweiler and the father was a German shepherd. She was about 6 or 7 weeks old at the time and is 6 months old now. She seemed to be a really smart dog. Learned the standard “sit”, “down”, etc. pretty quickly. But we are having a heck of time with potty training..
We will take her outside to do her “business” and she gets “rewarded” with a treat. But she would continue to “go” in the house. We find “piles” behind furniture or down in the laundry. I took her to Vet and he said she had a bladder infection. Treated that. Everything was fine for a week. Then back to the same routine. But now she will go outside and sit – do nothing, come inside and relieve herself right in front of us!! The Vet says it is still a bladder infection and that she needs to be spayed. I don’t see how spaying will correct the pooping and peeing in the house (especially right in front of us!!). We have tried keeping her in a crate then putting her outside – same thing happens – she sits out there and comes inside to poop or pee. Any ideas?”
My advice to Diane- and anyone out there with a puppy – is that you absolutely need to have a strict clear routine and schedule. And you have to use the crate as a consistent and integral part of the puppy training. My book THE DOG BIBLE has a simple and short description of the tried-and-true formula for house training any pup. Your puppy lives in the crate – that is her home, period. Every single time anyone opens the door of that crate, the puppy must go outside immediately after the door opens – morning, daytime, evening, or night – every time. And each time you take her on a leash to an “elimination spot” where she has gone before.
You don’t let her play around – she has to eliminate and then immediately get a Halo treat. Then you release her with whoops! of joy and let her run around and play. After playing she needs to be taken on leash to the elimination spot and given praise and a Halo treat instantly after she goes. Then she is returned to her crate. She has to be under absolute supervision indoors when she is out of her crate. No run of the house. Not even loose in the kitchen with baby gates. If your puppy has left a “present” for you behind a sofa or in a closet, that means you failed her- you set her up for failure by letting her roam around without clear boundaries of where certain bodily functions were supposed to happen exclusively.
She needs to empty her bladder and bowels after any rest time in the crate – and then again after playing. Mealtimes are the best time to teach bowel habits because if you snap on her leash and walk her immediately after eating, you will quickly teach her body to eliminate after food intake.
Halo makes a great puppy food with their wonderful ingredients – make sure you feed both meals at precisely the same times every day. Then you must go right outdoors to the spot where she will soon learn she should do “her business.” Then play with her – and the moment you are done, let her eliminate again, then she goes right back in the crate (and you can toss a Halo Liv-a-Little into the crate to make re-entry even more appealing!)
No puppy should have the run of the house- as you can see with Niki it just confused her about what her people wanted. Niki is smart and learned commands easily – that’s great! It means that if she gets clear and concise indications from her people about where to relieve herself – reinforced with a tasty Halo treat – the very consistent schedule and confinement to the crate the rest of the time, means they will be setting their dog up for success.
As soon as you are sure the puppy understands the rules of the house, you can leave that crate door open and let her come and go at will. Just remember, you still want her to go right outdoors after meals to teach her body good habits.
Tracie Hotchner is the author of THE DOG BIBLE: Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know and THE CAT BIBLE: Everything Your Cat Expects You to Know. She is also a renowned pet radio host and producer, having spent 7 years on the Martha Stewart Channel of Sirius/XM with CAT CHAT® and even longer with her award-winning NPR radio show DOG TALK® (and Kitties, Too!) that continues to broadcast in the Hamptons and the Berkshires. Her most recent accomplishment is the pet talk radio network she has created on the Internet called The Radio Pet Lady Network.