The first thing to know about house training a puppy is that she does not physically have control over her muscles of elimination before she reaches four months of age. However, that is a general rule of thumb and puppies do vary in the development of their self-control so you have to watch your little one and her signals of needing to go so you can judge for yourself how long she can hold it!
A puppy has a very small stomach, an even smaller bladder and undeveloped muscle control of the sphincter. She needs a lot of help and patience to become house-trained. It should be obvious that no puppy should be expected to spend a whole day in a crate because she does not have control of her bladder. By caging her and then not walking her frequently enough, you put the puppy in an unnatural situation in which she is forced to soil her crate (her den). That interferes with a dog’s inborn instinct to keep the den clean — which means that a puppy who will do this is very likely the product of a mass production facility in which dogs are confined in wire bottom cages and never removed from them, and forced to live, eat, sleep and eliminate all in a small space.
Smaller breed dogs have smaller bladders and have to relieve themselves more frequently, so if you have a three month old Newfoundland, she is going to need to relieve herself less frequently than a little Havanese baby. Until a baby dog is twelve weeks old, she is going to need to eliminate every hour or two as long as she is awake.
One important house training tip is to keep treats in your pocket — a combination of Halo Liv-a-Little small biscuits or the freeze-dried protein — and be sure to instantly reward the puppy after she relieves herself outside. When you put her back in her crate, remember to give her another treat when you put her back in, making the whole experience rewarding, coming and going!
The older a puppy gets, the longer she can wait between walks. A rule of thumb many trainers agree upon is that a puppy can hold her urine for the number of hours that corresponds to her age in months, plus one. So an eight-week-old puppy (two months) can hold it for three hours—but that is the most time she can hold it, so she may feel the urgency to eliminate before that. Up to the age of three to four months, the frequency of needing to go out becomes every five or six hours, at the most (unless you have a toy breed, in which case you have to think how teeny tiny that bladder still is, and will always remain to some extent). Once a puppy reaches six months, she should be able to hold it as long as an adult dog: nine hours, which is a normal workday for many people.
However, aside from the issue of elimination, what about the length of time a dog can humanely be kept in a crate? One formula to estimating the length of time a puppy can comfortably stay in a crate is to calculate one hour for every month of her age, and then add one — which therefore means that a three-month-old puppy can be crated for four hours. In theory, an adult dog can stay in a crate for eight hours, but it’s hard on them not to be able to move around for that long, and mentally, it’s tough not to be so tightly confined and not have anything to do.
For more information on understanding your dog and her needs, be sure to tune in to GOOD DOGS! my radio show with co-host and trainer Babette Haggerty.
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