We adopted an eight-week-old puppy named Bitsy from a local shelter about a week ago. I'll admit it. I'm not an animal person but I'll do anything for my ten-year-old, Phoebe. That girl owes me big time. On the car ride home Phoebe said, "This is the happiest day of my life." The shelter listed the puppy as a terrier mix. However, once we started the paperwork, the manager revealed that her mother was a chihuahua! We're hoping it's a myth that chihuahuas are difficult to house train.
For a control freak like me puppy house training is a nightmare. We quickly renamed her Luna (Bitsy was a little too close to Bitchy), as the shelter manager told us she doesn't really know her name yet. Week One was a blur of constantly taking Luna outside to check if she had to eliminate. But still she had at least one accident a day. Now that it's Week Two I feel like my nerves can handle blogging about it.
We're following Sarah Hodgson's method for house training in Puppies for Dummies:
Step One: Put the puppy on a leash and tell her "Outside." Take her to the door.
Step Two: Lead her to the grass and say "Let's potty." In our case, Luna preferred the ivy that borders our lawn. I read that dogs feel vulnerable when they're eliminating so they usually choose a private area. If she poops or pees say "Potty" while she's crouching and doing her thing. Once she's done pooping give her lots of praise. I squeal "Good girl!" while scratching under her neck. Then give her a treat. Linger outside for ten minutes or so in case she also needs to pee.
Step Three: Say "Inside" and go directly back into the house. In the beginning, we're trying to make it clear to Luna that the front lawn is just for eliminating. Once she gets the hang of it, we don't have to be so restrictive.
Feed your puppy on a schedule. My kids keep a detailed log recording what time Luna does the following: Eat, Poop, Pee, Nap. At the shelter, Luna was allowed to graze all day because she was so small (3 lbs!), and they were afraid she wouldn't gain enough weight. Because house training was my top priority, I nixed the grazing habit right away. She still kind of plays with her food. She grabs a kibble, takes it a few feet away, and then eats it. Then she goes back for more one painstaking kibble at a time. We often have to walk over, point at her bowl, and remind her to "Eat." Did I mention that I'm controlling? After half an hour we take her food bowl away.
Get your puppy a crate. We bought a plastic one from Petco. We lined the bottom with a pink towel and gave her a mini Build-a-Bear teddy my kids found in their room. It has tightly stitched thread eyes so we don't have to worry about Luna swallowing small parts. Lucky for us she liked her crate right away. During the day, we leave the gate open so she can go in for naps but at night we lock her in so she can't get out while we're asleep. When we let her out in the morning, she poops and pees outside right away.
Know when to take your puppy out to eliminate. The best bets are after she sleeps and after she eats. Based on Luna's log, she poops within an hour of eating. Sometimes if she hasn't pooped after the last meal, she might have trouble eating so we have to take her out to check if she needs to poop. Peeing is less predictable but here's the general formula for calculating how long your puppy can hold her bladder: months old + 1. This means Luna can hold her bladder for up to 3 hours. Usually it's longer during the night. Her record is going to sleep at 10:30 and not getting up until 5:30. That said, she usually goes more often than every three hours, because we leave her water bowl out until 7:30 in the evening.
Be prepared. Keep at least two treats in your pocket at all times. That way, in case she poops and pees you can be consistent about rewarding both times. Hang your keys on the doorknob so you don't get locked out. Have a flashlight or lantern, your shoes, and plastic bags by the door. You don't want to be searching for these things when you're racing outside.
Because Luna has not received all her vaccinations, we can't take her on sidewalks where she could pick up Parvo. Also, she doesn't get her rabies vaccine until she's four months old so she can't come into contact on a walk with strange dogs. The safest bet is to use our backyard but we don't have grass in our backyard. Luckily our house is at the end of a cul-de-sac, so the vet gave us the green light to use our front lawn where it's unlikely a dog walker would venture so far off the beaten path. Good thing I didn't listen to people advising me to use newspapers or pads in the house.
Most of the time when Luna had an accident, we would realize in hindsight that she had given us a sign. Once she was pacing, one time she was chasing her own tail in circles, another time she was nippy with Phoebe. In general, if you're giving your puppy lots of attention and she still acts restless and nippy, she might need to eliminate. Of course, puppies are playful, curious, and naughty so it's often confusing whether she's just acting like a puppy or acting weird. We've also discovered that like human infants, she gets fussy around late afternoon.
I found myself so hell bent on preventing an accident that sometimes I would stay outside with Luna for an hour. I felt like a puppy abuser dragging her back to the ivy every ten minutes to check to see if she had to pee. Once you see that she understands potty, you have to let go a little and watch for the signs. True, you risk an accident but worse case, you take her out a few extra times and get better at catching the signs. This is only week two but Luna has shown me that she understands potty by crouching and trying to pee--even though she has nothing!
Although I know she's not considered house trained until she doesn't have an accident for four weeks straight, I've seen so much progress in one week that I'm hopeful we have a genius dog. Whenever I feel frustrated, I remind myself that someday her bladder will be stronger, she'll only needs to eat twice a day, and she can go on walks.