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House Training a Puppy

This article is about house training a puppy the right way, ensuring your Sheltie quickly learns to poop outdoors. Once you get over this hurdle, caring for your puppy will be way more fun!

Housebreaking a puppy is one of the major challenges of dog ownership, particularly for first-time owners. But if you equip yourself with some rudimentary knowledge and a positive attitude, it needn’t be as hard as you think.

This article covers two house training techniques:

  • Crate Training – which involves consistently crating your puppy every time you can’t watch her for the first few months of life.
  • Gradual Housebreaking – starting indoors with newspaper and then moving outdoors when she’s old enough to “get it”. I much prefer this method.

Bringing Home Your New Puppy

As soon as you bring your new puppy home, take her outside to begin house training. The excitement of the car journey along with the unfamiliar faces, sights and sounds will have her needing to go. If you can orchestrate her first dog toilet training session so that it occurs outside, then so much the better. (Remember, the more your puppy relieves herself inside the house, the more likely she is to do it again!)

The First Dog Toilet Training Session

Step 1 – Take your Sheltie puppy to the designated toilet area and put her down on the grass. Wait while she sniffs around. Don’t start petting her or playing with her just yet, because you don’t want her to associate this area with fun and games. She has to learn that this part of the yard is for going to the toilet.

Step 2 – When she begins to relieve herself, say the phrase you want her to associate with toilet breaks: “go pee”, “busy busy”, “potty time” or whatever works for you. (Pete ingrained the word “URIIIINE!” for Howard, much to my distaste!) Make the phrase short and easily recognizable and use the same voice inflection each time, so your Sheltie can easily memorize the meaning of the phrase.

Step 3 – When she’s done peeing or pooping, make a big fuss over her. Shower her with praise and affection, and give her a little treat. It’s a job well done for both of you!

Now the indoor house training begins. As far as housebreaking a puppy goes, crate training is generally accepted to be the most effective means of house training a puppy without any mess. However, to me it sounds very anti-social for your young puppy and it means she can’t go exploring or doing her own thing.

Fortunautely, we managed to housebreak Howard and Piper with another approach – through traditional toilet training. This just means teaching your dog through conditioning and repetition, and gives your puppy much more freedom around the house and garden from day one. Choose whichever appeals to you the most.

What is Crate Training?

Crate training is the use of a small indoor kennel (a crate) to confine your young puppy when you’re not actively supervising her.

Crate Training
Crate training is a popular housebreaking technique

It’s based on the principle that your Sheltie has an inherent dislike of soiling the area where she sleeps. So when you restricting your puppy’s movement to her sleeping space, she’ll instinctively hold it in until she’s let out of the crate.

But DON’T leave her in there too long! The rule of thumb is your puppy’s age in months, plus one. So a three-month old puppy should only be crated for a maximum of four hours.

However, to me this sounds pretty terrible – this is a long time to crate a puppy and emotionally she will be going through hell. I would not recommend crating a puppy for more than a couple of hours unless you absolutely can’t help it. If she’s sleeping, of course, just let her sleep until she wakes up naturally.

It’s also important that the crate is sized properly: if it’s too big, she’ll be able to use one end as a bed and one end as a toilet. This defeats the whole purpose of house training a puppy through this confinement technique.

Crate Training a Puppy

Crate training works like this: your Sheltie puppy is in that crate at all times unless she’s sleeping, eating, going to the toilet outside, or being actively supervised. You have to be consistent or it doesn’t work. You can’t let your puppy wander off through the house unless you’re focusing your complete attention on her.

Sample Crate Training Schedule (AM)

7.00: Wake up and take puppy outside for a toilet break.
7.25: Give her a little breakfast.
7.45: Outside for a toilet break.
7.50 – 8.45: Play time. Allow your puppy out of the crate and actively play with her to stimulate her mentally.
8.45: Outside for a toilet break.
8.50 – 11.00: Back in the crate.
11.00: Outside for a toilet break.
11.05 – 12.30: Play time. Allow your puppy out of the crate and actively play with her and give her lots of cuddles and affection.
12:30: Lunch time.
12.45: Outside for a toilet break.
1.00 – 3.30: Back in the crate.

…and so on throughout the day.

Crate training generally takes two months, and as your puppy gets older you can begin to reduce the amount of time spent in the crate (but not too soon!)

Clearly, crate training takes real perseverance and your puppy will have to start life with more confinement, but it is a proven method that enables very few accidents.

Traditional Housebreaking

Howard was my first puppy ever and I had no idea about house training a puppy. Naturally, I found out the hard way; I spent a long time cleaning up stains and puddles of wee, while puppy Howard looked on at me curiously.

In the end, the technique I found worked best was a two-stage approach; first peeing indoors in a designated area, then moving it outside. Amazingly, we taught Howard to pee outside within two weeks flat with this method.

Dog Toilet Training: Indoors with Newspapers

At first, we house trained our Sheltie puppy to do his business on a pile of newspaper laid out on the kitchen floor. It was far enough from his bed and eating area to be considered an ideal “poo area” – and as long as we left a little of his urine scent behind before throwing the rest in the trash, he would keep returning to it.

The only problem with this method was that he would still go poop in the living room every morning if we weren’t watching him like a hawk. This little puppy just couldn’t be trusted! So when he was four months old we started proper housebreaking.

Dog Toilet Training: Outdoors in The Yard

Housebreaking a Puppy
Jock shows Howard how it’s done

Every morning, as soon as we woke up (usually to Howard’s noises and scuffling about the bedroom), one of us took him down to the garden for a wee. It would mean standing outside in the cold while we were still half asleep but Howard didn’t mind! Eventually he’d do his business and we went back inside.

I made this a rule every time Howard ate a meal, woke up from a sleep, or had a big play time – outside for at least a few minutes to give him the chance to go potty. Imagine how happy we were when, in the second week, Howard sat by the door, barked politely to go out, and took himself down to the garden. We were literally dancing at the sight of this tiny puppy doing a poo, but with very good reason!!

After that, he still made a few mistakes (particularly when we took him to other peoples’ houses) but it wasn’t long before he learned to go outdoors at all times.

Final Tips on House Training a Puppy

Here are just a couple more tips to help with house training your puppy. It’s important to understand that puppies’ bladders and bowels are small and weak. They can’t hold it in for more than a few hours – though this does improve with age.

The other thing to look out for is sniffing the ground in small circles. You have about three seconds to spot this behavior and take your dog out into the garden. Again, sometimes you’ll have to give her a few minutes to remember what she was about to do! Usually her own scent of urine in the yard will trigger her.

Next: How to Stop Your Sheltie Chewing

Back: Sheltie Training