How to paper train a puppy

August 24, 2010 at 12:09 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Nano peeking out from under the couch

Like Pico, Nano likes being under low things

Nano’s success rate at using the puppy pad has been steadily increasing, which is fantastic news. As I have occasionally mentioned this to people, several of them have asked, “How do you make a puppy go to the bathroom where you want? I’ve always wondered that.” Well, the answer is not as mysterious as you might think.

Before I tell you how, let me tell you where I got my information. Before I got Pico I read a lot of dog training books and finally settled on a method that seems well-reasoned, nice, and effective. I attribute most of Pico’s training to these books, and in the areas where he is weak I can usually see where it was my failing. For example, Pico gets pretty irritated and snappy if he’s eating or chewing on some food and then I come and take it away for some reason. This could have been avoided if, as a puppy, I often took away his food and petted him while he was eating and sometimes put more food in his bowl. I simply forgot about this rule when he was little — there’s a lot to remember! — and that is clearly something for which I am responsible, not stubbornness or possessiveness on his part.

So because Pico is pretty well trained, I feel confident recommending these books. There are two:

The first one is my favorite. It’s a very practical and quick and efficient read — he gives you the info, it’s interesting, and then he moves on to another interesting topic. The second one is good too, but the authors are a bit more wordy and it takes much longer for them to get points across. However, they are both truly excellent books and I would recommend them to anybody.

So! Back to the subject at hand: how to paper train a puppy.

Nano sleeping against Blake's shoes

Nano loves curling up against Blake's shoes

Step 1. You must get your puppy from someplace where you can vouch for the cleanliness of the puppy’s surroundings. Ideally this is some breeder’s facility that you’ve actually visually verified yourself. Puppies naturally don’t want to be around poop and pee, but if they are kept in an unclean area, that natural inclination just poofs out of existence. It’s important that it be maintained to make paper training easier, though it’s still possible to train without that guarantee.

Step 2. If you do get your dog from a breeder, make sure the breeder has worked with the puppy on paper training. Most breeders won’t give you a puppy til at least 8-10 weeks, and paper training efforts need to begin much earlier than that.

Step 3. When you first get your puppy, it won’t know where to go. If it starts to pee somewhere besides the paper, don’t freak out and yell at it. Just make a noise — tap a pen on the side of a table or clap your hands — which’ll usually make her stop. Then scoop her up and set her on the pad. Whether she continues peeing or not, it’s generally good to praise her then. If she continues peeing on the pad, give her the most excited praise you can and follow it with a treat.

Step 4. Every time you see her go on the pad, be excited and pet her and give her a treat.

Step 5. Puppies won’t pee where they hang out. If your puppy likes to relax on the puppy pad, don’t let her! Make her move (nicely). If you have hard floors and she prefers the softness of the pad, buy her an $8 dog bed. But if she thinks of the pad as a comfy place to sit and play with toys or whatever, she won’t want to pee there. As a corollary to this, if there’s a place in your house where she particularly likes to go, spend some time hanging out there yourself. Read a book, play with her, etc. (Don’t put her dog bed there, though, until she’s used to it — or else she might think the dog bed is for peeing in.)

Nano curled up against Blake's flip flops

Also Blake's flip flops

Also, puppies can’t hold it for very long. So if they have a large area to romp around in — like, say, your whole house — there will almost always be some area where nobody hangs out that your puppy might think makes a great toilet. And it’ll often be closer to her then her pad, so she’ll consider it fair game for peeing. To combat this, increase the puppy’s living area gradually. When you first get the puppy, find out how much space she’s used to. Then increase it gradually over time using an exercise pen or a baby gate. (This one is cheap and has worked well for us.) Only increase the size when she’s doing well on paper training in her current area. You can also put multiple pads down around the house, but it might take her a while to get used to all of them. Increasing her area gradually has worked very well for us.

Step 6. This is an important one. Puppies learn where to go by looking (smelling) for the scent of urine. If your puppy has an accident somewhere, it is of vital importance to clean it up super extra thoroughly. Even more important, however, is to use the right cleaner. People often think that any disinfecting cleaner will do, but the opposite is actually true: ammonia-based cleaners will entice puppies to pee there exactly the same way urine will! It’s absolutely vital to use an odor-neutralizing pet-specific cleaner. Most suitable cleaners will say “odor neutralizing” somewhere on the bottle, but it’s good to check for ammonia in the ingredients anyway. The odor neutralizing ones “break down” the pet enzymes or something. I’m not a chemist and can’t vouch for the science behind that, but I’ve read it enough places and have seen it work so much that I’m inclined to believe it.

Pico on the couch

Pico on the couch

I’m a big fan of Nature’s Miracle. The name makes it sound like some froo-froo feel-good organic stuff made from sunshine and rainbows instead of evil chemicals, but despite that fact it’s actually been pretty effective for us. We’re using the hard floor version since we’ve got laminate here, but the regular one is good too.

Step 7. The fact that puppies smell around for where to pee can also help! Once your puppy has used a puppy pad, instead of throwing it away, put a clean pad on top of it and leave the dirty one there. This makes a HUGE difference and is really what bumped Nano from 50% success up to around 98%. All her messes now are because she went near the edge of a pad and some of it leaked out.

Step 8. Clean up all pee that occurs — no matter what. Not the type of cleaning job that you did when you were thirteen and spilled lemonade on the floor and your mom made you clean it and you just got it wet and said you were done. It’s got to be good. I know I already mentioned this in step 6, but it bears repeating. Here’s a common problem: if you get lower-quality puppy pads, sometimes they won’t absorb the pee quickly enough, and when she hops away after a nice pee, sometimes she’ll step in it and then deposit little pee prints all over. If she’s on carpet, the prints are often invisible and only last for a few feet. If she’s on a hard floor, sometimes the prints go seemingly forEVER. Three times in the last week I’ve had to spray fifteen little sprays of cleaner on fifteen little wet paw prints that go all around the kitchen and then mop them all up. It’s only a small amount on each paw print, but you have to get it. She’ll smell it and then she’ll pee there.

Kidney bean dog

Kidney bean dog

We use these pads and they work pretty well. Sometimes we still get some prints when Pico produces quite a bit more volume than the average puppy, but for the most part they work well.

Step 9. If the pad is more than 25% used, throw it away and get a new one. Even though puppies smell for pee before going, they also won’t go on something that’s too dirty or wet or strong-smelling. This can encourage her to go in a new place (IE, your carpet). And once a place has been established as a pee spot, it’s harder to make the puppy stop using that spot. So it’s much better to use an extra pad here and there than to think, “I bet one more pee will fit…” and then have to discourage carpet use.

Step 10. Puppies can’t make after-the-fact correlational connections. (Most adult dogs can’t either.) By this I mean that you can’t praise or discourage your dog for any bathroom behavior unless it just happened or, preferably, is actually happening right at that moment. If you come in from the other room and see a wet spot on the floor, clean it up and forget about it and don’t scold the puppy. It’s just a missed opportunity,  and scolding her will only confuse her. Fortunately, puppies go to the bathroom a lot (a LOT), so you’ll have another chance before too long. Crate training can help with this — it teaches dogs to learn to hold in their pee, and so often you can predict that they’ll go to the bathroom immediately upon exiting the crate. This is extra good, because then you can set them on the pad and be ready and waiting with praise. Crate training is a separate subject that is worth looking into, but this article is pretty long so I won’t go into it here.


Convoluted paws

Convoluted paws

So that’s about it! They may seem like a lot of things to remember, but if you understand the rationale behind those rules — why they work — it’s actually pretty simple. The first time you try these out with a puppy it may seem futile — but then she’ll start using the pad almost like magic. (Except it’s science, not magic.) This post got a good bit longer than I intended, but hopefully I was able to shed some light on a subject that often seems hidden in the shadows. Also, I hope you enjoyed all my great puppy (mostly) photos. :D

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