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Latest health and behavior news and advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

Features November 2014 Issue

Can Training Your Puppy to ‘Go’ in the House Ever Be Right?

Advice on paper training.

If you’ve ever gotten, or are about to get, a new puppy, you may have read that paper training — laying out papers somewhere in the house where the pup learns to do her business inside before learning to do it outside — is one way to go. In general, we counsel against it, for the simple reason that it sets up your puppy for learning something that at some point you’re going to want her to unlearn. You can also be setting yourself up for accidents. If you teach your new dog to “go” on newspapers and then leave the Sunday paper or a magazine on the floor one morning as you get up to pour yourself some more coffee, you may find a urine-soaked or feces-festooned headline on your return to your seat. You taught the dog that paper is her toilet, right?

We believe that even toy puppies who will remain small in adulthood should be toilet trained outdoors. Even a tiny dog with bows and ribbons in her hair can be housetrained as well as a bruiser of a German shepherd. Besides, to be graphically blunt, do you really want to be dealing with tiny Tootsie-roll droppings in your home for the next 15 years or longer?

Still, we are aware that some situations do call for paper training: one in which a dog lives on the 24th floor of a high-rise in a crowded city without any grass along the sidewalk and cannot be expected to wait to go down the elevator and then across town to the park; one in which a beloved dog lives with someone who has limited ambulatory mobility and may not be able to get outside several times a day for scheduled trips to the “bathroom”; and one in which a puppy is ruining the antique Persian carpet, and all other floor surfaces, in the house because she’s not getting the hang of “going” outside in a timely manner.

With such contingencies in mind, here are the instructions for paper training a dog, which are similar to the instructions for using a crate to housetrain a pup:

Confine the puppy to a relatively small space in the house — a bathroom, or the laundry room or mudroom — and spread a wide swath of newspapers at one end and the pup’s food, water, and bed at the other end. Since even a young dog will work very hard not to soil the area in which she eats and rests, she will eliminate her waste as far as possible from her feeding station and bed, which is to say, on the newspaper at the opposite end of the small room. (Gradually, the area of the floor covered by the papers can be shrunken down as she learns the drill.) Each time she gets it right, praise her to the hilt — and let her out! She’s not supposed to be living in your bathroom.

Alternatively, take the dog to the designated newspaper-covered spot in the house on leash when you believe she needs to go. Use the same tactics you would to train a dog outside. Don’t distract her, and be patient, essentially ignoring her while she sniffs around. Then praise her warmly and with treats when she does the deed.

Note: If you ever want to switch your dog from paper training to regular housetraining, do it in one fell swoop. You will not make it easier on her by trying to switch her gradually from house to outside. You’ll just be confusing the heck out of her; she won’t know what to do where. n

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