Is this your first puppy in a while? Can’t exactly recall how you did the house training last time? It’s not always easy, that’s true, but the basic principles are pretty straightforward: hand out plenty of rewards, and use the pup’s instincts to your advantage.


The first thing to remember is that punishments never work very well. Punishments are essentially used to point out wrong behaviors. In any kind of training, throughout the rest of his life, your dog will be faced with 50 different options for behavior. Only one of them will be the one you want repeated. Why take the time to address 49 different inappropriate behaviors when you can more clearly point out the right one with a treat? And let’s not waste his brain capacity with worrying over when you are going to strike him. Have a large supply of little treats on hand, and be sure that they are little, because you will be doling them out quite freely. Conventional dog treats are essentially junk food, so no more than 10% of his daily calories should ever come out of a treat bag. Consider swapping out traditional biscuit for slices of carrot, kernels of plain popcorn, or even nuggets of the pup’s regular food. Some pups will mistake anything for a treat, so long as the presentation suggests that it’s special. Rewards should be handed out for the desired behavior, every time it occurs and as quickly as possible. The more rapidly you can hand over the treat, the more clear it will be to your pet exactly what he did right.


Be patient. House training occasionally seems to happen overnight, but let’s not hold every baby to the same rigorous standard. Do you need a little extra help? Crate training might be the key. The kennel is used as an indoor dog house. It is a bed, not a jail—a place for quiet reflection, not yelling and cowering. It’s important to get a small enough kennel, only large enough for your pet to stand up and turn around. Natural instinct will guide most pups not to urinate and defecate in the kennel, so long as the available space is small enough. After a few hours resting in the crate, your pet will probably need to relieve himself. Take him directly outside without delay, and the likelihood is that you will get an opportunity to reward him. The crate can be used for most of the day at first, if necessary, or only the problematic segments of the day. Many dogs continue to use their crate as a bed and sanctuary for the remainder of their lives.


Use any means possible to catch your dog performing the desired behavior, and strive to be ready at all times for that behavior to occur. Every treat awarded at the right time is another brick in your successful training program, whether you are teaching him to relieve himself outdoors or perform a complicated trick.


Dr. M.S. Regan