Canine housetraining, Part 1: Humane and age-appropriate strategies - DVM
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Canine housetraining, Part 1: Humane and age-appropriate strategies
Better outcomes are achieved when clients are knowledgeable and have realistic expectations


Minimize the development of fear

In the first two months that the client has the puppy, he or she should make sure that the puppy interacts with other dogs and people of all ages and genders. It should experience cars and traffic, meet other animals the owner lives with such as farm animals and get accustomed to most of the situations in which the adult dog will be expected to function. That said, the key to producing a behaviorally healthy and happy puppy is to understand and recognize fear, including knowing the following:

  • It's OK if the dog is a little startled by the new experiences, as long as it recovers quickly. This means the puppy is willing to continue exploring and maintains its curiosity and willingness to interact, even if it's a little uncertain.
  • It's not OK if the experience upsets the dog so much it cries, urinates or defecates and wants to hide.
  • It's not OK if the puppy does not recover quickly—within a few minutes—when it's startled by a normal but unfamiliar event or object.
  • It's not OK to deliberately scare a puppy to make it tougher. This tactic behaviorally damages the puppy.
  • It's essential that clients seek veterinary help as soon they begin to see a pattern when the puppy reacts fearfully to new things, people and events and does not recover quickly in a way that allows the puppy to enjoy life. Data show that heritable fear is identifiable as early as 5 weeks of age, and dogs that are worried and anxious by 12 weeks of age are usually worried and anxious as adults. Early recognition and treatment will safely keep dogs in the clinic population and will improve the quality of their life and humane care.

If the client intends to show the dog in conformation, agility or obedience, he or she needs to take the puppy to shows early, even before it's old enough to compete. This is possible with outdoor shows and ensures that the puppy has experience with vans, crates, pens, runs, rings, food smells, many dogs, the chaos of shows and—most important—the various options for allowing a dog to eliminate within the confines of dog show rules and events.

Please remember that if the puppy shows any signs of fear or anxiety (crying, whining, withdrawal, salivation, avoidance, shaking or trembling, nonstop panting, scanning, vigilance, inappetence, vomiting, diarrhea, uncontrolled urination or defecation) that do not stop, that dog must be removed from the situation to one where it can calm down. Please don't think that by continually exposing the dog to something worrisome that the dog will get over it. In fact, the opposite is true. Such exposure renders the puppy truly fearful and does long-term harm.

Teaching puppies to eliminate outside

The best time to start teaching a dog to eliminate in a desired location is when the puppy is between 7.5 and 8.5 weeks of age. At about 8.5 weeks, the puppy is able to choose a preferred substrate (grass, dirt or cement) and act on that choice. This is the first age at which the puppy can cognitively make the connection between the scent and feel of the place it's eliminating in and the act of elimination. This is also when it learns it is able to control the act of eliminating. Before 8 weeks of age, most puppies don't have the neurologic control to inhibit elimination. Housetraining a puppy involves two parts:

1. Getting the puppy to eliminate in the "right" place

2. Encouraging the puppy to wait to eliminate until it gets to that "right" place

This means that puppies need the neuromuscular control and the cognitive component for housetraining to succeed. This doesn't guarantee a 8.5-week-old will not have accidents after that time. It will, but the foundation for easier housetraining is best laid at that age.


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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