Understanding Your Pup
Housetraining your German Shepherd is all about helping him do what he wants to do, which is to keep his “den” clean!
The Den Principle
In your young GSD’s mind, if he relieves himself away from where he sleeps, he is being a good pup, even when that place is your living area! So your job is to broaden his concept of what his “den” consists of – his living area and yours.
Factoring in Pup’s Limitations
When an infant pup has limited holding ability , so you have realistic expectations. Some very young pups pee every 30 minutes while others will handle a one hour schedule. A full-grown German Shepherd may hold for some 8 hours.
In his early months a pup can only hold for about as many hours as the months of his life – at 3 months, he’ll hold for 3 hours, and so on. Night hours are different, and he may manage a 6-hour stretch. By 6 months your pup should be house trained and able to hold for several hours.
If your schedule allows, follow this guideline for housetraining: Take your pup out after eating, after drinking, after a play session, when awaking – day or night, and every 45 minutes during the day. Don’t be intimidated by all this; you’ll soon form the routine!
When you are not around to keep a watchful eye on your GSD, the key is to restrict his unsupervised freedom in the house. You can put him in a cage, or in a designated area of the house. This could be a pen or a small room such as a bathroom.
At first, owners can be hesitant about putting their dog in a cage, or crate as it is also called. A dog crate can be perceived as excessively restrictive; but the perception changes once a crate, and its benefits, are better understood. Properly used, a crate represents comfort and security to your pup. It becomes his private retreat in a busy household. In addition, it is a handy toilet-training tool.
If you are leaving your pup for two hours or less, using a cage is probably your best option. Restrict his cage to a sleeping-area size (details are below) and he’ll be able to stay clean. As soon as you return, take him outside to relieve himself.
The Dog Crate
Most crates are either wire or plastic, and they come in many sizes. It’s important you choose the right size for your GSD. Choose one large enough to accommodate him once full-grown; but it should come with partitions, so you can adapt the useable area to fit your dog at various stages of growth. There should be enough height in the cage for your dog to stand, and sufficient width and length for him to turn around and to lie down. The reason for restricting the space in this manner is that your dog will not want to soil his sleeping area, so if that’s all his cage consists of, there’s a greater possibility of it staying clean. If there’s excess space, he’ll likely sleep at one end and relieve himself at the other. Your pup will learn to keep his crate clean if you follow this guideline, providing of course you don’t leave him longer than he can hold. As soon as you return home, pick up your pup and take him outside.
If you have no choice but to leave your pup for longer stretches – more than an hour or two, then you will need to paper train. You can set up a pen, or use a small room such as a bathroom. Begin by covering the entire floor space with a tarp, over which you lay newspapers. Your pup will first eliminate indiscriminately all over the area, but will gradually narrow down to a preferred location. As he does, you can start to leave paper off the areas that he’s keeping clean. Eventually you’ll be left with a relatively small patch to cover.
Choosing the Best Location
While your pup is still very young – he should be less than three months, select a designated toilet area in the yard within easy reach of the back door. Your dog will become familiar with the location, and his nose will remind him of its purpose.
The Right Technique
Pick your puppy up and carry him to the designated area, being mindful that in the early stages he has neither the discipline nor the holding ability to get himself outside accident-free. Rather than just putting your pup out on his own, take him out yourself, in the early stages. Otherwise, his anxiety of being separated will likely cause an unneeded distraction from his task. Doing it the right way carries the added advantage that as you witness him doing his good deed, you can instantly reward him with enthusiastic praise. Since your GSD loves to please you, he’ll quickly remember the things that make you happy, speeding along the housetraining process
Your Pup Wants to Please You
Positive reinforcement is important as you train your dog. This means rewarding good behavior, rather than punishing bad behavior. As you lead your pup through the housetraining process, be aware that there will be accidents along the way. If you find a wet patch or deposit in your house, clean it up and remove the odor, since the marking provided by remaining smells indicate in your pup’s mind that this is where he goes. If you catch your pup in the act of relieving himself where he shouldn’t, scoop him up and take him outside. If you act quickly he is likely to stop in mid stream. Put him down in the designated area outside and watch him finish his business. Right away, praise him and give him a treat. He’ll learn from this to make the association that good things happen when he goes in the right place.
Talking of good things, food is always high on that list for your dog; and here there’s something you can do to assist the training process. We recommend that you avoid free-feeding, that is, leaving food out for access all day; rather, have definite meal times for your pup. This is also a beneficial ongoing practice. See articles, Guide to Feeding German Shepherds and Healthcare for Your German Shepherd.