Consider a puppy's development
Some puppies are not as developmentally advanced as others that are the same age and may do well forming a preference for
an area for urination and defecation, but they may not have the physical muscle and nervous control necessary to endure extended
periods without accidents. There's a lot of variation in the rates at which puppies develop, just like children. This control
will come with age if the puppy is appropriately reinforced and if there's no physical problem. This is important to know
because for puppies as well as children, the first incident of abuse often comes with housetraining and toilet training.
If the clients have truly done everything right and the 6- to 9-month-old puppy is still not completely housetrained, look
for an underlying medical problem that may be contributing to or causing the problem, such as an infection. Sometimes a slight
amount of dribbling—particularly if the dog is excited—can be normal. For example, while not true for every dog, it's common
for female puppies to dribble urine because of some of the hormonal and anatomical differences that distinguish them from
male dogs. The dribbling usually resolves or improves with age, but in some cases when it doesn't, the puppy may respond to
the hormones that become abundant during an estrous or heat cycle.
Housetraining a puppy is time-consuming because it requires clients to pay constant attention to the puppy's signals and it
requires consistent action. Housetraining a puppy when it's young is a lot easier than trying to correct inappropriate elimination
behaviors that could've been avoided by the right approach at the start.
If your clients don't have the knowledge or energy to housetrain a puppy kindly and humanely, encourage them to consider adopting
an adult dog that is already housetrained. If you have a good relationship with breeders and shelters in your area, discuss
the importance of this type of commitment with them so that you can work as a team to ensure that puppies go to homes where
realistic expectations rule.
Coming next month: A look at crate training as an option.
Dr. Overall, faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania, is a diplomate of the American College of Behavior Medicine
(ACVB) and is board-certified by the Animal Behavior Society (ABS) as an Applied Animal Behaviorist.