My whippet puppy Lemmy is now an adult and very reliably housebroken. I must have finally done something right, because he was my easiest pup by far to housebreak. Some of that is credit to his breeder, Yvonne Sovereign of Sowagla Whippets who gave him a good foundation before he came to us at 9 weeks. He was already crate trained, I can’t tell you how nice it was not to have a screaming pup the first few nights! Lemmy hasn’t had any accidents since he was 4 months old, and even then he only had a few that were my fault. I read a ton of books, the ones I liked and used were “How to Housebreak Your Dog in 7 Days” and “My Smart Puppy“.
Set Them up for Success
The single most important thing you can do while housebreaking is to make sure your puppy never has a chance to fail. That means for the first few days and weeks your puppy should never, ever be out of your sight and direct supervision. If you are cooking dinner your puppy should be in a crate or x-pen. If you are working on the computer same thing, crate or x-pen. If your main focus is not your puppy, THEY SHOULD NOT BE LOOSE. All this does is allow them to have accidents and that is a habit you do not want to encourage. It also allows them to chew on inappropriate things – puppies are lightning fast and can destroy something during a 2 minute phone call. If not watching, put them away!!
When to Take Them Outside
It may be a little easier with older puppies, but I’ll start with what I did at 9 weeks. In the beginning you will feel like you’re going outside every 20 minutes and in some cases will be. I’m assuming you don’t have a dog door, which would probably make training a little bit different. Take them out:
- After sleeping
- After eating or drinking
- After playing
- Every 1-2 hrs if they haven’t been out in that long
- Any time they start wandering and sniffing, circling or pacing
- Before moving them from a more confined to a less confined area (eg. crate to x-pen, x-pen to room)
Sometimes this means you’ll take them outside and literally take them out 10-20 minutes later. Don’t worry, once they get the hang of it you won’t have a revolving door in your house. When they go, and I’m serious, pretend like they just deposited a brick of solid gold on your lawn. Bend down, clap your hands and say in your happiest most gleeful voice “What a good puppy! You are just the best puppy on the earth!!!” If you are not feeling well or in a bad mood smile when you say it, you’ll sound more genuine and they can tell if you aren’t. Very rarely you can give a treat too, so they know you are thrilled, but I didn’t use treats that often. Expect that very young pups will need at least one trip out overnight. If you’re a deep sleeper you may need an alarm, but usually your pup will whine to let you know they need to go out. Make the nighttime potty break all business, no talking until they go, then praise them, scoop them up and back into the crate. You don’t want 3am to be the time they get up to play.
If you want you can start building an association with a word. You can use the same word for #1 and #2, or you can get fancy and use a different word for each. Make sure you say the word just after they start going and you can repeat it once or twice, without much emotion. I used “Hurry” and when I say it now he will pee. Don’t say it all excitedly or your dog may stop going and come try and figure out what you’re so happy about.
Dealing with Accidents
Accidents happen, especially in the beginning. One rule you must follow is never, ever punish a dog for an accident. Once waste has lost connection with their body you are not allowed to say anything, unless you want to call yourself some choice names. If you catch the pup in the act (this means urine or poop is coming out of their body) don’t yell “Oh no what the &^$$ are you doing BAD DOG!!!” simply make a loud noise, scoop them up and get them outside as quickly as possible. If they finish outside you must praise them and act like they’ve produced gold again. The noise I use for “Stop what you are doing now” is a very loud, very annoying “EHHHHH” sound somewhat along the lines of a fire alarm. My pup learned very quickly this meant stop and I always followed it up with showing him what he should be doing. It works much better than “No” or “No stop that!” or any other string of words because its attention getting and consistent. Make sure you clean up any accidents immediately with an enzyme cleaner like Nature’s Miracle. If you didn’t find it immediately then you aren’t following the “confined unless being watched” rule!
A quick note about accidents in the crate – I’ve found with very young pups sometimes their crate gives them enough room to avoid an accident. Check their bedding when you pull them out of the crate to be sure it isn’t wet. If it is, reduce the amount of bedding you’re using and reduce the time they’re spending in the crate. This happened a few times with our pup because I had a bunch of padding in with him. When I switched to a single small towel after thoroughly cleaning his crate we had no more issues. As he got older I added the padding back in.
Is it Working?
There are times when you’ll question whether you’re pup is actually being housebroken, or just going outside because you’re out there every 40 minutes. Every time they go outside you are creating good habits and they are learning. If they’ve been good for a long time and suddenly have an accident usually it’s because they have too much freedom. Decrease the size of the area they are loose in. For example, when Lemmy had been perfect for about a month I let him be loose in the family room, dining room and office. That was too much space and he went to the place furthest from me and pooped on the floor. I put him back on the tether for a while and he went back to being perfect. If you have a house that is difficult to gate off, or older dogs who make gating an area difficult a tether is a great way to limit your pups access. Use a light weight collar with a clip from a hardware store and about 10 feet of cotton clothesline attached. Tie a knot in the end and close it in a door. Not only does it help keep your pup in view it also gives other pets an easy way to get out of range when they’ve had enough. NEVER leave your pup tethered without supervision.
Keep it Up
As your pup gets older gradually increase their space and times between going outside. I still say a quick “Good boy!” when my pup goes outside and occasionally will go nuts with the praise like I did in the beginning, just to reinforce how pleased I am with him. By now you should know their signals, whether its whining, staring or standing by the door, or even nosing you.
A Quick Note about Whippets and Weather
Some whippets don’t like rain or the cold, but I think if you start from the very beginning acting like those things are no big deal, your dog will think the same. Every time your puppy goes outside you need to be out there with them. No opening the door and watching from inside. For one thing, you need to be out with them so you can praise them the minute they go, for another if they are out by themselves you may not actually see them go. This means in the beginning you may be standing outside in freezing temps, or in our case torrential rains. I took Lemmy out during a Nor easter and as long as I was with him he could care less about the water. Now he’ll go out regardless of the weather.