Dog were taken outside as much as possible during the day, and encouraged to empty themselves in the garden
They were punished (smacked or scolded) for messing indoors.
And they were expected to empty themselves on newspaper on the kitchen floor at night.
These dogs mostly got housetrained, usually without too much trauma. So why do we tend to do things differently these days?
Nowadays many of us housetrain our dogs a little differently. Few people punish puppies for accidents anymore, and the emphasis is on avoiding accidents altogether.
But if the old ways worked, why have we changed our approach?
As our understanding of how dogs learn new behaviours has grown, so has our understanding of the effects of different methods on the dogs themselves
Studies have shown that punitive training methods can cause behaviour problems down the line, and nowadays dog training methods are largely based on rewarding good behaviour, rather than punishing bad
We have improved our ability to modify canine behaviour by clever use of rewards and a better knowledge of how they work.
In addition we also have the advantage of widespread access to dog crates, which have had a significant influence on the way people now housetrain their puppies
The rise of crate training
When I was small, there was no such thing as a ‘dog crate’.
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Crates began to appear in the UK around thirty years ago, and despite being initially opposed by many (including me) the vast majority of English puppies are now crate trained.
Whilst there is definitely scope for crates to be abused, the appropriate use of a crate can really help you and improve your puppy’s quality of life.
We’ll look at crates and their use (appropriate and otherwise) in more detail in another article.
But for now, we’ll focus on their role in modern housetraining.
Why do crates help with housetraining
Puppies have a natural instinct to keep their nest or ‘den area’. This instinct was not so much help in the days when puppies could simply get out of bed and pee on the floor nearby.
An appropriately sized crate enables us to confine the puppy to his bed for short periods of time. We simply place the puppy’s bed inside the crate and whilst he is in there, he won’t empty himself unless he absolutely has to.
If done correctly, this enables us to largely eliminate accidents in the house, and speed up the learning process.
Obviously, puppies are not hamsters, and should not be kept in cages. Confinement to a crate is therefore a short-term measure to help us through the early days.
Are crates suitable for all puppies?
The answer to this question is no. Crates are not suitable for anyone that has to leave a puppy alone for longer than his capacity to comfortably hold the contents of his bladder allows.
And the length of time that a puppy can wait before emptying himself will vary greatly from one puppy to another, even between puppies of the same age.
This means that if you are regularly out of the house for more than an hour or so whilst your puppy is small, you will need to take your puppy with you, or provide him with a large pen that includes a toilet area.
Using a puppy pen
Puppy pens are safe enclosed areas where a puppy can leave his bed when he wants to, walk around, play, have a drink, and go to the toilet on a designated surface within the pen. Usually newspaper or puppy pads
Choosing your options
So nowadays you have two different options for housetraining.
- Crate training
- Pen training
Whichever option you use, you will also need to teach your puppy to use an outside toilet area. He can’t toilet indoors indefinitely. So the crate or pen are short term solutions.
With the crate training option, it is possible to have a puppy that never toilets indoors at all. This solution is ideal in families where there is usually an adult at home during the day.
If all the adults in the home are out at work during the day, you will probably need to use the pen option.
You will also need to arrange for a carer to come in and play with your puppy, and take him to his toilet area, at intervals throughout the day. Small puppies shouldn’t be left alone for long periods of time.
Teaching your puppy to toilet outside
Teaching your puppy to use an outdoor toilet area is a question of repeatedly taking him to the area and making a big fuss of him when he empties himself, whilst at the same time, minimising his opportunities to toilet indoors.
It is all about building good habits, and the more often he uses his outdoor toilet area, the more deeply ingrained this good habit will be.