Housebreaking a puppy is never easy, but with small or toy breed dogs, the challenge to successfully potty-train can seem close to impossible. Chihuahuas and other tiny dogs have a reputation in the dog world as being notoriously difficult to housebreak. While larger breed dogs can become housebroken within a few months, it generally takes about a year to fully housebreak a Chihuahua, and some owners never accomplish complete housebreaking. If you are a new small dog owner, here are some tips to maintain your sanity during the puppy housebreaking process.
The Normal Methods Don’t Work
No doubt you have heard different methods for housebreaking your puppy. Some of these methods include crate training and taking your puppy outside every couple of hours, right after he wakes up, right after he eats, and right after he plays. Be prepared that these methods are not very effective on small breeds.
The idea behind crate training is to confine the puppy to a small space while he is not housebroken, and he will learn to hold it until you take him outside because he will not want to soil himself in a confined area. Small breeds, especially Chihuahuas, for some reason, lack the natural inclination to keep themselves clean and do not seem to mind soiling themselves (or you). When your small breed puppy is very young, be prepared to bathe him often, and clean the crate at least once a day. Do not get discouraged. This is completely normal behavior for small breeds.
Taking your small breed puppy outside every few hours and right after sleeping, eating and playing generally does not work very well, either. The entire world is a playground, and many times your puppy will get distracted and forget he is outside to do a job. This of course, leads him to immediately relieve himself upon returning inside, making you feel like he’s got the entire process memorized backwards. Do not worry. You have done nothing wrong.
In addition, take solid waste and place it outside on a specific area where you desire your puppy to relieve himself. Clean up pee spots using an enzyme-based cleanser such as Petzyme.
Consistently Use Negative and Positive Reinforcement
It may sound cruel to punish such a sweet little baby, but negative reinforcement must be used to some extent. It is too easy to go soft on tiny puppies because they look so fragile and innocent and therefore there is a tendency is to overlook some accidents. You must consistently use both negative and positive reinforcement techniques. If your puppy does not experience consistent reinforcement from you, the housebreaking process will take much longer to complete, if it ever gets accomplished at all.
Negatively reinforce unwanted behavior and positively reinforce wanted behavior. This provides quicker results. Puppies learn to avoid doing things that result in a scolding, and learn to do things that result in praise. Ignoring negative behavior and only praising positive behavior does not result in the negative behavior from going away. It simply tells your puppy that relieving himself wherever he pleases is as natural and normal as eating food out of his bowl.
Punish the Deed, Not the Result
Toy breed puppies have incredibly short memory spans, so accidents which are found and punished after the fact have no impact. In fact, all you are doing is telling your puppy that pee or poop is bad. The finer points, such as ‘don’t pee on the carpet,’ are lost on your puppy. If your puppy associates pee or poop to a negative reinforcement, he will only learn to hide his actions from you. This can result in owning a dog that is never fully housetrained.
The key is to keep your puppy in sight at all times. During the housebreaking process, a puppy should never have the run of the house. Especially toy breeds. They are so tiny and quick that they can squat and pee or poop without ever being noticed. You must keep your puppy within sight at all times so you can punish the deed as it is occurring. This will reinforce the idea that the deed is wrong, not the result.
Keep a Short Leash
In order to keep an eye on your puppy, keep him on a leash inside the house. Tie the leash to your belt or put the handle underneath the coffee table leg, but keep him in sight at all times.
During the leash process, keep your puppy in the same room as you as much as possible so you catch him in the act of relieving himself and negatively reinforce the behavior. He might not care whether he soils his area, but he will care that his actions lead to a scolding from you. Make sure he can access his toys, food and water dishes, and even his bed while he is on the leash. Continue to take him outside to his designated area for potty breaks after he wakes up, eats, and plays. Give him plenty of praise and hugs when he relieves himself outside to reinforce positive behavior.
Always crate your puppy at night, when you are away from home, or cannot tend to his needs for a while. NEVER leave your puppy on a leash unattended.
Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back
Once your puppy is used to being on a leash inside the house and is relieving himself outside, you can try giving your puppy more freedom inside. Do this by allowing him off the leash for short periods of time. Keep an eye on him, but allow him to roam with you not in sight. Try letting him off the leash for a couple of hours. If he has no accidents, slowly increase the time he is allowed off the leash. You will eventually get to the point where he has not had any accidents for days, and then suddenly it will be as though he forgot everything he learned and he will begin relieving himself in the house again. This behavior is normal. Don’t worry; he still is making progress. If he has an accident, punish the deed and take him outside to his special area. Put him back on the leash and keep him on the leash until he stops relieving himself inside. Then slowly allow him more freedom. Eventually, he will go for days and weeks with no accidents and before you know it, he is completely housebroken.
Keep in mind that your little puppy is still a baby and only you can teach him what is acceptable and what is not. He is not born knowing these things. You must teach him. Above all, practice patience. With a little patience and a lot of love, your little puppy will grow into a well mannered, fully housebroken member of your family.