With a new Labrador Retriever puppy in the home, don’t be surprised if your rising time is suddenly a little earlier than you’ve been accustomed to. Puppies have earned a reputation as very early risers. When your pup wakes you at the crack of dawn, you will have to get up and take her to her elimination spot. Be patient. When your dog is an adult, she may enjoy sleeping in as much as you do.
At the end of the chapter, you’ll find a typical housetraining schedule for puppies aged 10 weeks to 6 months. It’s fine to adjust the rising times when using this schedule, but you should not adjust the intervals between feedings and potty outings unless your pup’s behavior justifies a change. Your puppy can only meet your expectations in housetraining if you help her learn the rules.
The schedule for puppies is devised with the assumption that someone will be home most of the time with the pup. That would be the best scenario, of course, but is not always possible. You may be able to ease the problems of a latchkey pup by having a neighbor or friend look in on the pup at noon and take her to eliminate. A better solution might be hiring a pet sitter to drop by midday. A professional pet sitter will be knowledgeable about companion animals and can give your pup high-quality care and socialization. Some can even help train your pup in both potty manners and basic obedience. Ask your veterinarian and your dog-owning friends to recommend a good pet sitter.
If you must leave your pup alone during her early housetraining period, be sure to cover the entire floor of her corral with thick layers of overlapping newspaper. If you come home to messes in the puppy corral, just clean them up. Be patient – she’s still a baby.
Use this schedule as a basic plan to help prevent housetraining accidents. Meanwhile, use your own powers of observation to discover how to best modify the basic schedule to fit your dog’s unique needs. Each dog is an individual and will have her own rhythms, and each dog is reliable at a different age.
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If you see your pup about to eliminate somewhere other than the designated area, interrupt her immediately. Say “wait, wait, wait!” or clap your hands loudly to startle her into stopping. Carry the pup, if she’s still small enough, or take her collar and lead her to the correct area. Once your dog is in the potty area, give her the command to eliminate. Use a friendly voice for the command, then wait patiently for her to produce. The pup may be tense because you’ve just startled her and may have to relax a bit before she’s able to eliminate. When she does her job, include the command word in the praise you give (“good potty”).
The old-fashioned way of housetraining involved punishing a dog’s mistakes even before she knew what she was supposed to do. Puppies were punished for breaking rules they didn’t understand about functions they couldn’t control. This was not fair. While your dog is new to housetraining, there is no need or excuse for punishing her mistakes. Your job is to take the Labrador Retriever to the potty area just before she needs to go, especially with pups under 3 months old. If you aren’t watching your pup closely enough and she has an accident, don’t punish the puppy for your failure to anticipate her needs. It’s not the pup’s fault; it’s yours.
In any case, punishment is not an effective tool for housetraining most dogs. Many will react to punishment by hiding puddles and feces where you won’t find them right away (like behind the couch or under the desk). This eventually may lead to punishment after the fact, which leads to more hiding, and so on.
Instead of punishing for mistakes, stay a step ahead of potty accidents by learning to anticipate your pup’s needs. Accompany your dog to the designated potty area when she needs to go. Tell her what you want her to do and praise her when she goes. This will work wonders. Punishment won’t be necessary if you are a good teacher.
What happens if you come upon a mess after the fact? Some trainers say a dog can’t remember having eliminated, even a few moments after she has done so. This is not true. The fact is that urine and feces carry a dog’s unique scent, which she (and every other dog) can instantly recognize. So, if you happen upon a potty mistake after the fact you can still use it to teach your dog.
But remember, no punishment! Spanking, hitting, shaking, or scaring a puppy for having a housetraining accident is confusing and counterproductive. Spend your energy instead on positive forms of teaching.
Take your pup and a paper towel to the mess. Point to the urine or feces and calmly tell your puppy, “no potty here.” Then scoop or sop up the accident with the paper towel. Take the evidence and the pup to the approved potty area. Drop the mess on the ground and tell the dog, “good potty here,” as if she had done the deed in the right place. If your pup sniffs at the evidence, praise her calmly. If the accident happened very recently your dog may not have to go yet, but wait with her a few minutes anyway. If she eliminates, praise her. Afterwards, go finish cleaning up the mess.
Soon the puppy will understand that there is a place where you are pleased about elimination and other places where you are not. Praising for elimination in the approved place will help your pup remember the rules.
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Be vigilant and don’t let the pup make a mistake in the house. Each time you successfully anticipate elimination and take your pup to the potty spot, you’ll move a step closer to your goal. Stay aware of your puppy’s needs. If you ignore the pup, she will make mistakes, and you’ll be cleaning up more messes.
Keep a chart of your new dog’s elimination behavior for the first three or four days. Jot down what times she eats, sleeps, and eliminates. After several days a pattern will emerge that can help you determine your pup’s body rhythms. Most dogs tend to eliminate at fairly regular intervals. Once you know your new dog’s natural rhythms, you’ll be able to anticipate her needs and schedule appropriate potty outings.
Understanding the meanings of your dog’s postures can also help you win the battle of the puddle. When your dog is getting ready to eliminate, she will display a specific set of postures. The sooner you can learn to read these signals, the cleaner your floor will stay.
A young puppy who feels the urge to eliminate may start to sniff the ground and walk in a circle. If the pup is very young, she may simply squat and go. All young puppies, male or female, squat to urinate. If you are house-training a pup under 4 months of age, regardless of sex, watch for the beginnings of a squat as the signal to rush the pup to the potty area.
When a puppy is getting ready to defecate, she may run urgently back and forth or turn in a circle while sniffing or starting to squat. If defecation is imminent, the pup’s anus may protrude or open slightly. When she starts to go, the pup will squat and hunch her back, her tail sticking straight out behind. There is no mistaking this posture; nothing else looks like this. If your pup takes this position, take her to her potty area. Hurry! You may have to carry her to get there in time.
A young Labrador Retriever won’t have much time between feeling the urge and actually eliminating, so you’ll have to be quick to note her postural clues and intercept your pup in time. Pups from 3 to 6 months have a few seconds more between the urge and the act than younger ones do. The older your pup, the more time you’ll have to get her to the potty area after she begins the posture signals that alert you to her need.
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A pup or dog who has not finished housetraining should never be allowed the run of the house unattended. A new dog (especially a puppy) with unlimited access to your house will make her own choices about where to eliminate. Vigilance during your new dog’s first few weeks in your home will pay big dividends. Every potty mistake delays housetraining progress; every success speeds it along.
Prevent problems by setting up a controlled environment for your new pet. A good place for a puppy corral is often the kitchen. Kitchens almost always have waterproof or easily cleaned floors, which is a distinct asset with leaky pups. A bathroom, laundry room, or enclosed porch could be used for a puppy corral, but the kitchen is generally the best location. Kitchens are a meeting place and a hub of activity for many families, and a puppy will learn better manners when she is socialized thoroughly with family, friends, and nice strangers.
The way you structure your pup’s corral area is very important. Her bed, food, and water should be at the opposite end of the corral from the potty area. When you first get your pup, spread newspaper over the rest of the floor of her playpen corral. Lay the papers at least four pages thick and be sure to overlap the edges. As you note the pup’s progress, you can remove the papers nearest the sleeping and eating corner. Gradually decrease the size of the papered area until only the end where you want the pup to eliminate is covered. If you will be training your dog to eliminate outside, place newspaper at the end of the corral that is closest to the door that leads outdoors. That way as she moves away from the clean area to the papered area, the pup will also form the habit of heading toward the door to go out.
Maintain a scent marker for the pup’s potty area by reserving a small soiled piece of paper when you clean up. Place this piece, with her scent of urine, under the top sheet of the clean papers you spread. This will cue your pup where to eliminate.
Most dog owners use a combination of indoor papers and outdoor elimination areas. When the pup is left by herself in the corral, she can potty on the ever-present newspaper. When you are available to take the pup outside, she can do her business in the outdoor spot. It is not difficult to switch a pup from indoor paper training to outdoor elimination. Owners of large pups often switch early, but potty papers are still useful if the pup spends time in her indoor corral while you’re away. Use the papers as long as your pup needs them. If you come home and they haven’t been soiled, you are ahead.
Don’t Overuse the Crate
A crate serves well as a dog’s overnight bed, but you should not leave the dog in her crate for more than an hour or two during the day. Throughout the day, she needs to play and exercise. She is likely to want to drink some water and will undoubtedly eliminate. Confining your dog all day will give her no option but to soil her crate. This is not just unpleasant for you and the dog, but it reinforces bad cleanliness habits. And crating a pup for the whole day is abusive. Don’t do it.
When setting up your pup’s outdoor yard, put the lounging area as far away as possible from the potty area, just as with the indoor corral setup. People with large yards, for example, might leave a patch unmowed at the edge of the lawn to serve as the dog’s elimination area. Other dog owners teach the dog to relieve herself in a designated corner of a deck or patio. For an apartment-dwelling city dog, the outdoor potty area might be a tiny balcony or the curb. Each dog owner has somewhat different expectations for their dog. Teach your Labrador Retriever to eliminate in a spot that suits your environment and lifestyle.
Be sure to pick up droppings in your yard at least once a day. Dogs have a natural desire to stay far away from their own excrement, and if too many piles litter the ground, your dog won’t want to walk through it and will start eliminating elsewhere. Leave just one small piece of feces in the potty area to remind your dog where the right spot is located.
To help a pup adapt to the change from indoors to outdoors, take one of her potty papers outside to the new elimination area. Let the pup stand on the paper when she goes potty outdoors. Each day for four days, reduce the size of the paper by half. By the fifth day, the pup, having used a smaller and smaller piece of paper to stand on, will probably just go to that spot and eliminate.
Take your pup to her outdoor potty place frequently throughout the day. A puppy can hold her urine for only about as many hours as her age in months, and will move her bowels as many times a day as she eats. So a 2-month-old pup will urinate about every two hours, while at 4 months she can manage about four hours between piddles. Pups vary somewhat in their rate of development, so this is not a hard and fast rule. It does, however, present a realistic idea of how long a pup can be left without access to a potty place. Past 4 months, her potty trips will be less frequent.
When you take the dog outdoors to her spot, keep her leashed so that she won’t wander away. Stand quietly and let her sniff around in the designated area. If your pup starts to leave before she has eliminated, gently lead her back and remind her to go. If your pup sniffs at the spot, praise her calmly, say the command word, and just wait. If she produces, praise serenely, then give her time to sniff around a little more. She may not be finished, so give her time to go again before allowing her to play and explore her new home.
Make sure your dog has access to clean water at all times. Limiting the amount of water a dog drinks is not necessary for housetraining success and can be very dangerous. A dog needs water to digest food, to maintain a proper body temperature and proper blood volume, and to clean her system of toxins and wastes. A healthy dog will automatically drink the right amount. Do not restrict water intake. Controlling your dog’s access to water is not the key to housetraining her; controlling her access to everything else in your home is.
If you find yourself waiting more than five minutes for your Labrador Retriever to potty, take her back inside. Watch your pup carefully for twenty minutes, not giving her any opportunity to slip away to eliminate unnoticed. If you are too busy to watch the pup, put her in her crate. After twenty minutes, take her to the outdoor potty spot again and tell her what to do. If you’re unsuccessful after five minutes, crate the dog again. Give her another chance to eliminate in fifteen or twenty minutes. Eventually, she will have to go
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Housetraining is a matter of establishing good habits in your dog. That means you never want her to learn anything she will eventually have to unlearn. Start off housetraining on the right foot by teaching your Labrador Retriever that you prefer her to eliminate outside. Designate a potty area in your backyard (if you have one) or in the street in front of your home and take your dog to it as soon as you arrive home. Let her sniff a bit and, when she squats to go, give the action a name: “potty” or “do it” or anything else you won’t be embarrassed to say in public. Eventually your dog will associate that word with the act and will eliminate on command. When she’s finished, praise her with “good potty!”
That first day, take your puppy out to the potty area frequently. Although she may not eliminate every time, you are establishing a routine: You take her to her spot, ask her to eliminate, and praise her when she does.
Just before bedtime, take your dog to her potty area once more. Stand by and wait until she produces. Do not put your dog to bed for the night until she has eliminated. Be patient and calm. This is not the time to play with or excite your dog. If she’s too excited, a pup not only won’t eliminate, she probably won’t want to sleep either.
Most dogs, even young ones, will not soil their beds if they can avoid it. For this reason, a sleeping crate can be a tremendous help during housetraining. Being crated at night can help a dog develop the muscles that control elimination. So after your Labrador Retriever has emptied out, put her to bed in her crate.
A good place to put your dog’s sleeping crate is near your own bed. Dogs are pack animals, so they feel safer sleeping with others in a common area. In your bedroom, the pup will be near you, and you’ll be close enough to hear when she wakes during the night and needs to eliminate.
Pups under 4 months old often are not able to hold their urine all night. If your puppy has settled down to sleep but awakens and fusses a few hours later, she probably needs to go out. For the best housetraining progress, take your pup to her elimination area whenever she needs to go, even in the wee hours of the morning.
Your pup may soil in her crate if you ignore her late night urgency. It’s unfair to let this happen, and it sends the wrong message about your expectations for cleanliness. Resign yourself to this midnight outing and just get up and take the pup out. Your pup will outgrow this need soon and will learn in the process that she can count on you, and you’ll wake happily each morning to a clean dog.
The next morning, the very first order of business is to take your pup out to eliminate. Don’t forget to take her to her special potty spot, ask her to eliminate, and then praise her when she does. After your pup empties out in the morning, give her breakfast, and then take her to her potty area again. After that, she shouldn’t need to eliminate again right away, so you can allow her some free playtime. Keep an eye on the pup though, because when she pauses in play she may need to go potty. Take her to the right spot, give the command, and praise if she produces.
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While your puppy’s mother and breeder are getting her started on good house-training habits, you’ll need to do some shopping. If you have all the essentials in place before your dog arrives, it will be easier to help her learn the rules from day one.
Newspaper: The younger your puppy and larger her breed, the more newspapers you’ll need. Newspaper is absorbent, abundant, cheap, and convenient.
Puddle Pads: If you prefer not to stockpile newspaper, a commercial alternative is puddle pads. These thick paper pads can be purchased under several trade names at pet supply stores. The pads have waterproof backing, so puppy urine doesn’t seep through onto the floor. Their disadvantages are that they will cost you more than newspapers and that they contain plastics that are not biodegradable.
Poop Removal Tool: There are several types of poop removal tools available. Some are designed with a separate pan and rake, and others have the handles hinged like scissors. Some scoops need two hands for operation, while others are designed for one-handed use. Try out the different brands at your pet supply store. Put a handful of pebbles or dog kibble on the floor and then pick them up with each type of scoop to determine which works best for you.
Plastic Bags: When you take your Labrador Retriever outside your yard, you must pick up after her. Labrador Retriever waste is unsightly, smelly, and can harbor disease. In many cities and towns, the law mandates that dog owners clean up pet waste deposited on public ground. Picking up after your dog using a plastic bag scoop is simple. Just put your hand inside the bag, like a mitten, and then grab the droppings. Turn the bag inside out, tie the top, and that’s that.
Crate: To housetrain a puppy, you will need some way to confine her when you’re unable to supervise. A dog crate is a secure way to confine your dog for short periods during the day and to use as a comfortable bed at night. Crates come in wire mesh and in plastic. The wire ones are fold-able to store flat in a smaller space. The plastic ones are more cozy, draft-free, and quiet, and are approved for airline travel.
Baby Gates: Since you shouldn’t crate a dog for more than an hour or two at a time during the day, baby gates are a good way to limit your dog’s freedom in the house. Be sure the baby gates you use are safe. The old-fashioned wooden, expanding lattice type has seriously injured a number of children by collapsing and trapping a leg, arm, or neck. That type of gate can hurt a puppy, too, so use the modern grid type gates instead. You’ll need more than one baby gate if you have several doorways to close off.
Exercise Pen: Portable exercise pens are great when you have a young pup. These metal or plastic pens are made of rectangular panels that are hinged together. The pens are freestanding, sturdy, foldable, and can be carried like a suitcase. You could set one up in your kitchen as the pup’s daytime corral, and then take it outdoors to contain your pup while you garden or just sit and enjoy the day.
Enzymatic Cleaner: All dogs make housetraining mistakes. Accept this and be ready for it by buying an enzymatic cleaner made especially for pet accidents. Dogs like to eliminate where they have done it before, and lingering smells lead them to those spots. Ordinary household cleaners may remove all the odors you can smell, but only an enzymatic cleaner will remove everything your dog can smell.
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By the time Labrador Retriever are about 3 weeks old, they start to follow their mother around. When they are a few steps away from their clean sleeping area, the mama dog stops. The pups try to nurse but mom won’t allow it. The pups mill around in frustration, then nature calls, and they all urinate and defecate here, away from their bed. The mother dog returns to the nest, with her brood waddling behind her. Their first housetraining lesson has been a success. The next one to housetrain puppies should be their breeder. The breeder watches as the puppies eliminate, then deftly removes the soiled papers and replaces them with clean papers before the pups can traipse back through their messes. He has wisely arranged the puppies’ space so their bed, food, and drinking water are as far away from the elimination area as possible. This way, when the pups follow their mama, they will move away from their sleeping and eating area before eliminating. This habit will help the pups be easily housetrained.
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Never punish your dog for failing to obey you or try to punish him into compliance. Bribing, repeating yourself, and doing a behavior for him all avoid the real issue of dog training – his will. He must be helped to be willing, not made to achieve tasks. Good dog training helps your dog want to obey. He learns that he can gain what he values most through cooperation and compliance, and can’t gain those things any other way.
Your dog is learning to earn, rather than expect, the good things in life. And you’ve become much more important to him than you were before. Because you are allowing him to experiment and learn, he doesn’t have to be forced, manipulated, or bribed. When he wants something, he can gain it by cooperating with you. One of those “somethings” – and a great reward you shouldn’t underestimate – is your positive attention, paid to him with love and sincere approval!
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Your Labrador Retriever pretty much has a one-track mind. Once he is focused on something, everything else is excluded. This can be great, for instance, when he’s focusing on you! But it can also be dangerous if, for example, his attention is riveted on the bunny he is chasing and he does not hear you call – that is, not unless he has been trained to pay attention when you say his name.
When you call your dog’s name, you will again be seeking a specific response – eye contact. The best way to teach this is to trigger his alerting response by making a noise with your mouth, such as whistling or a kissing sound, and then immediately doing something he’ll find very intriguing.
You can play a treasure hunt game to help teach him to regard his name as a request for attention. As a bonus, you can reinforce the rest of his new vocabulary at the same time.
Make a kissing sound, then jump up and find a dog toy or dramatically raid the fridge and rather noisily eat a piece of cheese. After doing this twice, make a kissing sound and then look at your dog.
Of course he is looking at you! He is waiting to see if that sound – the kissing sound – means you’re going to go hunting again. After all, you’re so good at it! Because he is looking, say his name, mark with “good”, then go hunting and find his toy. Release it to him with an “OK”. At any point if he follows you, attach your “let’s go!” command; if he leaves you, give permission with “OK”.
Using this approach, he cannot be wrong – any behavior your dog offers can be named. You can add things like “take it” when he picks up a toy, and “thank you” when he happens to drop one. Many opportunities to make your new vocabulary meaningful and positive can be found within this simple training game.
Problems to watch out for when teaching the treasure hunt:
– You really do not want your dog to come to you when you call his name (later, when you try to engage his attention to ask him to stay, he’ll already be on his way toward you). You just want him to look at you.
– Saying “watch me, watch me” doesn’t teach your dog to offer his attention. It just makes you a background noise.
– Don’t lure your dog’s attention with the reward. Get his attention and then reward him for looking. Try holding a toy in one hand with your arm stretched out to your side. Wait until he looks at you rather than the toy. Now say his name then mark with “good!” and release the toy. As he goes for it, say “OK”.
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Many pet owners wonder if they can retain control while walking their dogs and still allow at least some running in front, sniffing, and playing. You might worry that allowing your dog occasional freedom could result in him expecting it all the time, leading to a testy, leash-straining walk. It’s possible for both parties on the leash to have an enjoyable experience by implementing and reinforcing well-thought-out training techniques.
Begin by making word associations you’ll use on your walks. Give the dog some slack on the leash, and as he starts to walk away from you say “OK” and begin to follow him.
Do not let him drag you; set the pace even when he is being given a turn at being the leader. Whenever he starts to pull, just come to a standstill and refuse to move (or refuse to allow him to continue forward) until there is slack in the leash. Do this correction without saying anything at all. When he isn’t pulling, you may decide to just stand still and let him sniff about within the range the slack leash allows, or you may even mosey along following him. After a few minutes of “recess,” it is time to work. Say something like “that’s it” or “time’s up”, close the distance between you and your dog, and touch him.
Next say “let’s go” (or whatever command you want to use to mean “follow me as we walk”). Turn and walk off, and, if he follows, mark his behavior with “good!” Then stop, squat down, and let him catch you. Make him glad he did! Start again, and do a few transitions as he gets the hang of your follow-the-leader game, speeding up, slowing down, and trying to make it fun. When you stop, he gets to catch up and receive some deserved positive reinforcement. Don’t forget that’s the reason he is following you, so be sure to make it worth his while!
Require him to remain attentive to you. Do not allow sniffing, playing, eliminating, or pulling during your time as leader on a walk. If he seems to get distracted – which, by the way, is the main reason dogs walk poorly with their people – change direction or pace without saying a word. Just help him realize “oops, I lost track of my human”. Do not jerk his neck and say “heel” – this will make the word “heel” mean pain in the neck and will not encourage him to cooperate with you. Don’t repeat “let’s go”, either. He needs to figure out that it is his job to keep track of and follow you if he wants to earn the positive benefits you provide. The best reward you can give a dog for performing an attentive, controlled walk is a few minutes of walking without all of the controls. Of course, he must remain on a leash even during the “recess” parts of the walk, but allowing him to discriminate between attentive following – “let’s go” – and having a few moments of relaxation—“OK” – will increase his willingness to work.
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