Thursday, April 9, 2009

Housetraining Poppy

I have named my new puppy Poppy and she is the most wonderful little sweetheart. It has been eight years since I have had a puppy and I had forgotten just how much work it is. I am lucky in that I can bring her to work with me and while there she is constantly being loved on by everyone in the hospital.

I am crate training Poppy, which I recommend to all dog owners. When Poppy is not in her crate I have to watch her at all times. It is amazing how busy she is: constantly exploring, chewing and trying to play with my other dogs (who most of the time are happy to play along). I also need to be vigilant about looking for signs that she has to go to the bathroom so she can progress with her housetraining.

Crate training is a crucial first step to housetraining. I am teaching Poppy to view the crate as her sanctuary, her very own place to be when she wants to get away. My first step was to choose the right size crate: large enough so she can stand up and move around but not too large so she can lie down in one spot and eliminate in the other. Right now Poppy still isn’t sure she likes the crate, but I’m working on changing her attitude by giving her a stuffed Kong—her very favorite treat—each time she goes in her crate. Since this is the only time she gets a Kong, I am confident that she will soon look forward to spending time in her crate.

Just like I advise all the dog owners I see at the hospital, I never, ever put Poppy in the crate as punishment. Instead, I use it more as a playpen to keep her safe when I’m not able to constantly watch her.

One of my most important jobs right now is to establish a schedule so Poppy can start to plan when she is going to go to the bathroom. This is a difficult concept for a very young puppy like Poppy, but by four to six months of age she should start to understand. Because puppies need to go to the bathroom at least every 2-4 hours I never leave Poppy in the crate for any longer than this. Starting out with a set schedule will also help decrease the frequency of “accidents” because I will be able to anticipate when Poppy will need to go outside.

Each time before I put Poppy in the crate and immediately when I let her out, I take her outside so she can go to the bathroom. Instinctively most dogs will not urinate or defecate in the same space they sleep in, thus she should “hold it” while in the crate. When Poppy goes to the bathroom outside I lavish her with praise—as if this was the best thing in the world she could possibly have done! This seems to be enough for Poppy, but for some dog owners using a small treat as a reward works well too.

It took only a few days for me to figure out the signs that Poppy needs to go outside. Now, when she plays in the house, I keep a sharp eye out for these signs which include stopping play abruptly to sniff around or heading off in the house by herself. As soon as I notice this I take her outside before she has an accident in the house. And each time she goes outside, I tell her she is the best girl ever!

If an accident does occur, I NEVER punish Poppy by striking her or “rubbing her nose” in the mess. I know that this would accomplish nothing other than making her scared of her environment and me. Instead, I simply clean up the accident with an enzymatic cleaner such as Nature’s Miracle or Anti-Icky Poo and remind myself to keep a better eye on Poppy next time.

As with all dog training, housetraining works best with positive reinforcement, plenty of patience, lots of time and consistency. I know that Poppy only wants to please me, so I give her guidance and love which will only strengthen the bond between us. She is also a puppy genius; she learned to sit in no time at all. Please check back in next week for tips on training your puppy.

Housetraining can be a challenge. If you have questions, or want advice about the best ways to proceed, speak to your veterinarian. Working together, you’ll be able to find the solution that best fits your pet and your lifestyle.


  1. Great post Ashley! Can't wait to meet her!

  2. This is coming in very handy for Poppy's litter mates! Of COURSE she is a genius. :-) She looks great!

  3. Wonderful advice and tips! I don't have a dog (yet) but this is invaluable information for anyone who has a puppy or even a dog that needs a little "assistance" with learning the rules of "bathroom time". :-)