Congratulations! If you’re ready to read this article, it means you’ve done all the work to get your dog to the point where he’s had no accidents in the crate or the house for 2 months. The hardest part of housebreaking is behind you. Your reward (and your dog’s!) for all that hard work is that he’ll now be able to have more freedom in the house when he’s unsupervised.
There are two things you need to do now. You’ll need to work on your puppy having less supervision when you’re home, and on giving him access to more space when he’s alone. This should be done slowly, methodically and carefully – just like every other part of his housebreaking program. If you rush into it and give him too much freedom and space, there’s a far greater chance he’ll start having accidents and then you’ll have to go back to a strict crate training and supervision program. Bummer.
When working on this part of the training, remember there are other things that can go wrong. If your dog is a destructive guy, leaving him unsupervised – even for short periods – might not be such a hot idea. You’ll need to resolve any destructive tendencies before giving your dog freedom, or you may lose a lot of shoes and furniture in the process!
Up to this point, you’ve been on your puppy like white on rice. He hasn’t been allowed out of your sight in the house, so he’s learned – at least to some extent – that the house isn’t a toilet. When we start allowing him more freedom, we want to set him up to succeed. It’s not a good idea to start this training when he’s just had a big meal and a bowl of water or when he hasn’t been outside for a potty trip for a while. At a time when your dog hasn’t had anything to eat or drink, right after a successful potty trip, let him wander around the house on his own.
Start with about 10 minutes at a time, then allow him longer periods of time on his own as he continues to do well. Keep track of the time, though, so you’re still sure to get your puppy out to potty on a reasonable schedule. When you’re working on this training, your dog should still be kept in his crate or a larger confinement area (see below) when alone. Don’t allow him to be home alone with the run of the house at this point in training.
Since you’ve been housebreaking your dog, he’s been in his crate every time you’ve left the house. When you’re ready to work on giving him more freedom when he’s alone, choose a small area where he can’t get himself into too much trouble – ideally, an area without rugs or with carpeting that will be easy to clean – just in case there are any accidents. Kitchens and laundry rooms usually work well. If the room doesn’t have a door, you’ll need to use puppy gates to block off the area.
When doing this training, we want to set up a best case scenario for your puppy to succeed. That means he should have had no recent food or water, a recent successful potty trip, and some exercise (so he’s not on energy overload when you try to confine him in his new area). It’s also a great idea to give him something extra-yummy to chew on while he’s in there – like a pig ear or a hollow dog toy stuffed with canned dog food, peanut butter or cream cheese that’s been frozen (it gets hard and takes longer to eat that way). If he’s too stressed to eat his special treat while you’re gone, don’t let him eat it once you’ve come back. Put it away and give it back to him the next time you confine him. We want him to learn that his only chance to get his yummy thing is when he’s alone, so he’ll finally give in, relax, and keep himself busy with his special treat when you’re gone.
When you leave and when you return, don’t make a big fuss over the dog. We want to be casual and relaxed about coming and going so your dog learns to think it’s no big deal.
Start by leaving your dog for very short periods of time. At first, even the time it takes you to run to the store and back may be too much, so you might start with 5 or 10 minutes and just go hang out outside until the time’s up. As he does well, increase the length of time that your puppy spends in his new area.
After a month or two of good behavior, enlarge his confinement area further by adding on another room or hallway. Use puppy gates or an exercise pen to enclose areas without doors. Follow the same method above each time you add a new area to your dog’s confinement zone.
If your puppy starts having accidents at any point after you’ve enlarged his area, you’ve probably advanced too quickly. Simply put him back into the smaller confinement area, then try enlarging it again after a month of good behavior. As your dog continues to do well, use this method to add on a room at a time until your dog has the run of the whole house.
If your dog has accidents when you’re home and he’s wandering around, you may want to consider training him to bark or ring a bell to alert you when he needs to go. You could also train him to use a dog door so he can let himself out if he needs to go.
If your puppy continues to have accidents in the house when you’re not home, you could train him to use a dog door – or you may decide to keep him in the yard or a dog run when you’re gone so he can stretch his legs without stretching your patience.
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