Give your pup lots of potty breaks

If ever there is an evergreen topic in pet-dom, it is house-training puppies.

The magic formula: Puppies have about one hour of bladder control for every month of age. So a puppy that goes home at 8 weeks (never younger, no matter what the breeder tells you) can hold it for only two hours. Plan potty breaks accordingly.

Forget the newspaper: The rolled-up version, that is. Like children, puppies learn best through rewards, not punishment. Accompany your puppy outside for potty breaks, and be sure to praise him lavishly when he does his business. Those who are fans of clicker training can “mark” this behavior by clicking when the dog first begins to squat, then rewarding with a food treat after.

I command thee to pee! As odd as it may sound, you can attach a command to pottying to solicit the response in your dog. Make sure it is a phrase that works in public, as well as in the solitude of your backyard. While some folks can sing, “Go poopies!” in mixed company without batting an eyelash, my personal preference is the more generic “Hurry up” or “Let's go.”

Timing is everything: The only time you can correct your puppy for a housebreaking lapse is if you catch him in the act. Scoop him up mid-squat, say “no” firmly, and take him outside to resume his relief effort. If he does, praise lavishly.

If you come upon the mess after it has been made, silently clean it up and blame yourself for lousy vigilance.

Gee, whiz: No crystal ball can tell you precisely when your puppy will piddle, but there are some pretty clear signs, including sniffing and whining. Always take a puppy outside after waking, eating or playing, as these activities tend to herald nature's call.

Consistency counts: The best way to house-train a puppy is to ensure that he never makes a mistake in the house to begin with. This means, essentially, never allowing the puppy out of eyeshot until he is reliably potty-trained. It's a lot of effort, but you will shorten the process – and spare your rugs – if you make the commitment.

Crate expectations: Dogs naturally do not want to soil their sleeping quarters or “dens,” which is what their crate represents. Crates that are too big, however, encourage puppies to eliminate in a far corner. Instead, you want your crate to be just large enough for the puppy to comfortably stand and turn around in.

Rather than buying a revolving inventory of crates, simply buy one that will best suit your dog when he reaches his adult size and weight. Then, if you have a wire crate, purchase a crate divider that neatly segments the crate. (Caveat: I often reserve using these crates until the puppy is older, as small jaws can get stuck in the wire easily.)

Plastic airline-style crates require a bit more ingenuity: Find an empty cardboard box that is large enough to displace the amount of room needed, and place it at the back of the crate.

Clean sweep: With their powerful sense of scent, dogs will return to the scene of the crime and repeat the offense if you do not adequately clean up their messes. Never use ammonia, as that mimics the scent of urine. You can invest in commercial pet-stain cleaners, but I find that white vinegar cut with equal parts water works just as well.

As a preventive measure, I buy clear plastic sheeting (the kind used by painters to protect floors and furniture from drips – the thickest I can find), and lay it over carpets during the first few weeks of house-training. It also acts as an early detection system: When I hear the frantic patter of puppy feet on plastic, it means an intervention is required now.

Know what you are up against: Certain breeds – bichon frises and pugs come to mind – have a reputation for being difficult to house-train. Know this going in, and ask fellow fanciers in that breed for tips.