Time to potty train your puppy! But where do you start? What's the right way to do it? The days of spanking your puppy with a newspaper for peeing in the house are far behind us. We know far more about dogs and dog psychology than we ever have. There have been many studies done on how dogs learn, what motivates them, and what doesn't. Potty training your puppy is one of your first steps in learning how this all works. Crate training is NOT cruel! If done correctly and with a positive approach, your puppy will very quickly learn that the crate is a safe place.
The first thing you need is a crate. But don't run out and buy the biggest one you can find. Just the opposite, you need a crate just big enough for your puppy to turn around in. There are wire crates and solid plastic ones. Many makers of wire dog crates have followed the trend and are now making crates with moveable walls so your puppy's crate can grow with him. If you get a crate that is too big, your puppy will very quickly figure out that he can pee or poop in a corner, and sleep on the opposite side without having to step or lay in the mess. If your crate is the right size, your puppy will keep the crate clean, because he doesn't want to sleep in the mess. Dogs are very "neat" animals and don't want to sleep in that any more than you do.
Now you need to decide where to put the crate. It should be in an area where the people are. Your puppy is part of the family and should not be isolated away in a laundry room or bathroom, etc. Put the crate in a high traffic area like the kitchen, or main entryway, or even in your living room. Some people like to have two crates, putting the second one in the master bedroom so the puppy can sleep there at night.
Your puppy's first few nights home are full of changes. When he was with his litter-mates, they slept in a pile, all nice and warm and cozy. Now he's alone, and its dark, and he's in a new place. He may cry the first few nights. If he does, you need to ignore this. He will eventually fall asleep. However, if he falls asleep for a couple of hours and then wakes up crying, you need to get him outside to pee. After a coupe of weeks your puppy should be able to sleep most of the night without going outside.
Do not put blankets or towels in the crate to sleep on for several weeks. Even if the crate is the right size, he will pee on it and still not have to lay in the mess. Also, puppies , particularly doodles, like to chew things, and putting a towel or a blanket in with your puppy puts him at significant risk of eating a large piece of material which can be life threatening to a puppy.
You can make going into the crate a positive experience by giving your puppy a treat every time you put him in it. We use the word "Kennel". We tell puppy, "Kennel", then put a treat right in front of his nose, using it to lead him into the crate. Once he's in and turns around to face you, give him a treat and tell him what a good boy he is. Do this EVERY time you put him into the crate, and within a couple of weeks your puppy will go in on command. Remember to never chase your puppy to get him into the kennel. If you do, you've turned it into a negative experience (or a game of "catch me if you can") and you're defeating the purpose.
So you have a crate that is just the right size, what do you DO with it? Here's what a typical day of crate training with a new puppy would look like.
6:00 am. wake up, put a couple tiny treats in your pocket, and bring your leashed puppy directly outside to the area you want him to use as his toilet. Don't stop to play on the way, business first! Tell you puppy, "Go potty....go potty!" in your happiest voice. THE VERY SECOND HE PEES, give him a treat and love him up. Puppies have a memory about 1 second long, so it's crucial you reward him immediately!
Time to go inside and eat! (Your puppy is going to eat about 4 times a day during the first couple of weeks.) Feed your puppy, then spend a few minutes playing. DO NOT TAKE YOUR EYES OFF YOUR PUPPY DURING THIS TIME! Remember that what goes in must come out! Within about 15-20 minutes of eating your little buddy is going to need to go outside again. Bring him out, tell him "go potty", and remember to reward him when he does. Your puppy might want to play a few more minutes, and then it's time for a nap! He's tired already. This routine will repeat many, many dimes per day during his first few weeks home.
At any time that your puppy is out of the crate, your eyes need to be 100% on him. If his nose touches the ground, or he seems even the slightest bit distracted from your game, you need to get him outside NOW! Remember if your puppy pees or poops in the house, he didn't have an "accident". He did exactly what he was supposed to do, but YOU didn't watch quite close enough! Whatever you do, don't yell at your puppy for peeing in the house. Once he walks away from the spot, he has no memory of what he just did that got you so upset. Don't worry, within a couple of days, after paying close attention, you'll learn to recognize your puppy's signals that he needs to go out.
Remember that in these first few weeks, if your attention can't be 100% on the puppy, he needs to be in his crate. The first few days he might cry. If he does, IGNORE IT! If you go to him, he will very quickly learn "if I cry, the people come back to get me!"
When you go to bed at night, your puppy should be in his crate, NOT IN BED WITH YOU! A puppy can easily pee on a bed without you knowing it. Their urine has very little odor to it, and they pee very tiny amounts. You DON'T want your puppy to pee on your bed. If it happens once, it will happen again. Not only that, but sleeping on the bed as a puppy tells him that he is your equal. In a pack, the leader gets the good spot, and the other dogs get the less-preferred spot. Later, when your puppy is older, you can invite him up on your bed for a cuddle, but then you need to have him sleep in his own spot.
Your crate can be used at other times too. The kids come home from school and everyone is wound up and the puppy is getting a little too crazy....time to hang out in the crate for a little bit. The family is eating dinner and the kitchen is really busy, time to hang out in the crate for a little bit. In other words, if your eyes can't be on him, he can't be out. If you feel like the activity level getting out of hand, he needs to go in the crate. But if your puppy is spending more time in the crate than he is out, you're crating him too much. Yep, your puppy needs LOTS of supervision during these first few weeks. Many people compare this time to having a new baby in the house. Guess what? YOU DO have a new baby in the house! But don't worry, your diligence is going to pay off, leaving you with a reliably housebroken puppy!
When your puppy can go a week or so without peeing in the crate, you can give him a TINY bit more space. (this is where the crates with moveable walls comes in handy!) Keep expanding his space as he grows, and as he keeps his space clean. When your puppy has gone a full month without a single accident in the house, you can expand the space he has when you can't watch him. A puppy playpen works well for this. But, if your puppy pees in there, he's not ready to have that space and you need to go back to square one.
When you have to leave your puppy home alone, put him in the crate. As he gets older, and you trust him more, you can start to leave him in a larger area like the kitchen or a puppy play pen. But remember, if there are problems, don't hesitate to go back to the crate.
If at any time, even if your puppy is 4 months old, has an "accident" in the house you need to go back to day one with crate training. But remember, it wasn't your puppy's fault. Someone gave him more freedom than he was ready for. As your puppy gets older (somewhere past 8-10 months old or so) you can start to leave him out of the crate at night. Maybe he has a bed of his own, mabye he's just on the floor of your room. (our doodles like to sleep on the cool kitchen floor!) But pay close attention, and don't hesitate to go back to the crate if there's a problem, weather it be pottying or getting into trouble.
The most important thing to remember is HANG IN THERE! This is the hardest time of puppy hood. But it's a short few months and before you know it, you'll have a housebroken puppy who's moving onto adolescence