Puppy Training Tips 

Let's Start Training Tips With A Little House Breaking

Be prepared for housetraining your puppy. The best start is getting the supplies you need before bringing your puppy home.

Get the basics: a Crate w/ Divider a Polar Fleece Pet Blanket an Exercise pen, newspapers, cleaner, and a collar and leash (preferably 3/8" wide).

Scenario One: House Training Your Puppy While You Go To Work All Day

The system used at Yankee for the newborn to 8 week old litter is something you can easily replicate at home to continue house training.

What I recommend is to use a crate or box large enough for the pup to sleep in. Keep the door open and enclose the crate inside a larger area such as an exercise pen.

This divides the area into two spaces; a clean and potty area.

puppy housebreakingOlder version of beginning housebreaking at Yankee

Even easier than the crate and exercise pen, is the 42" x 27" crate with divider. Use wire snippers and cut a hole in the divider leaving just a low lip at the bottom to hold items in their correct part of the crate. This acts like a doorway between the area the pup will sleep in and where he will potty. Put a bed or blanket on one side and newspapers on the other. It's totally self contained.

This will allow the pup to follow his natural instinct to keep his “den” area clean by moving to the outer pen area to poo and pee when you are not available to take him out.

While he is bound to make mistakes, he will learn where to potty and where to play, eat and sleep. It's a slower, passive way to house training your puppy.

When you get home, place individual sheets of paper over the areas that the pup peed or pooed. That way, while the scent will continue to direct him to the same area to relieve himself, he won’t actually be stepping in wet or feces. This is the cheap version of pheromone infused doggie pads. If he soiled his bedding replace with clean while washing the removed bedding. 

You could use the disposable  pads with pheromones when house training your puppy but I don’t recommend them since puppies LOVE to shred them and eating the plastic can’t be good. Besides, newspaper is cheaper !

At some point you can change out the newspapers, but leave a few “breadcrumbs” to entice your little one to continue using this specific area of the pen.

Another idea is to have the “bathroom” positioned furthest away from where you enter the room. Otherwise your Sheltie will race through the mess to greet you before you can cover it up.

When you are home and available, take your Sheltie out to relieve himself frequently to continue house training your puppy.

As the pup gets older, he should use the exercise pen area less and the great outdoors more.

How long will it take, you ask?

A general rule of thumb is that he can hold his urine 1 hr + his age in months (e.g., 1 hr + 4 months old = 5 hrs MAX!) IF he were placed in a very confined crate that he would not want to mess up.

But if he were given enough room to pee without soiling himself, your pup will generally relieve himself much more frequently.

Remember patience!

One day you will realize you are no longer picking up poo and pee. You and your buddy have reached a milestone.

But if you want to set up my latest version of puppy heaven, this is what I do. I've had quite a few people ask how I set up my latest prototype of a puppy play area and where I get the supplies. So I figured it made sense to put everything on this page.:

Yankee's System For Puppy Play Area

The Crate

First off there is the crate. Yes, this is a big one. When you have a litter of puppies, it's a good size to house them all.

And even when you have a single puppy you are bringing home, it gives room for the puppy to eat and sleep in a clean area with the attached pen being their "great outdoors".

This is being modelled by the lovely Miss Halley. a full grown sheltie.

crate for puppies
crate for puppies

It is 48" long and 30" wide and 33" high. It comes with a divider that I use when the litter is too young to make it out of the crate into the play area. Why 48" long? Because the exercise pen's panels are 24" each so when I hook up the pen to the side of the crate, it makes for a nice rectangular puppy play area. (Yes, I'm a bit OCD)


Inside the crate you place either

  • a fleece if you want it cozy warm or
  • a washable puppy pee pad

Most fleece I have bought from pet stores are garbage. Wash them once and all the pile gets balled up and there is no cushion. There are only 2 companies I like and use. Pro-Fleece is from the UK and can only be bought in Canada. So if you want to pay the extra for "importing", go for it, but I found the US made version just as good and easier to get.

What's really nice about the fleece is when the puppy makes a mistake (WHAT?!?!? a mistake?!?!?) and pees in the crate, the urine goes right through the fleece so the puppy stays dry. Just put newspaper or a puppy pee pad underneath to absorb the urine.

Keeping the crate area as clean and odor free (as in; "can your puppy smell the urine?", not you) so that he is more apt to go to his "outside" play area.  That means washing the fleece and replacing the newspaper and cleaning the crate pan regularly. 

Now let's say it's summer time and your puppy doesn't need the warmth of fleece. You can use washable puppy pee pads. Again, one in the crate, one in the wash. These come with vinyl backing so no newspaper is required to absorb urine.

I have tried using disposable pee pads, but unless you can securely hide them under something puppies can't get under, forget it. Puppy training tip:  They LOVE to shred and eat the disposables and eating plastic doesn't sound like a good idea to me.

The Puppy Play Area

Moving on to the puppy play area....

It's the beginning of them learning that their den is to be kept clean and they go "outside" to pee and poo. So those of you who work all day, you don't have to worry the puppy is trying to hold it for 8 hours.

Traditionally, one uses newspaper. However, not only will the puppy end up pretty wet by the end of the day, the ink from the newspaper will make him pretty dirty looking. Washable pee pads are an option as it gets rid of the dirty aspects but not the wet so much.

I recently came across this 1' x1' tile that seems to fit the situation perfectly. The tiles drain liquids so the puppy stays dry, the holes are small enough not to be a problem for tiny sheltie feet, and if the puppy has firm stool, gently picking up with a tissue leaves the tile mostly clean.

floor tile for puppy play pen

But let's say the puppy squishes the poop. Hey, it happens. I use a paper towel to get up what I can, spray the area with cleaner and use a bristle toilet bowl brush to clean the rest. 

This leaves some of the poo and all of the pee below the surface, which can be newspaper, disposable pee pads (puppies can't get to them with these tiles), or the washable pee pads.

Depending on the amount of excrement produced by your puppy removing the tile and replacing the absorbant layer beneath can be done every few days. 

Obviously, when dealing with an entire litter of puppies, things build up faster and there are mornings when it is just easier to break the flooring down in sections, bring it outside and hose it off.

The tile snaps apart and together again very easily. I break it into 3 sections of 2' x 4'.

Now if you are placing this puppy play area on vinyl flooring, you just need a layer of newspaper, the tile and you are done. If you are placing it on a floor you want to protect, you need to go to Home Depot or a flooring place to get whatever cheap vinyl floor remnant you can. If you try to use some sort of soft sheeting like tarp or painting dropcloth, you may find cleaning it to be a pain. Stiff makes it easier to clean.

Next is the exercise pen. I find 24" high sufficient to enclose the drain tile floor area. However if you are worried you have your very own Houdini, you can get taller. You can get the exercise pen shown in the photos at most pet stores. 

puppy play area
puppy play area
connect crate to play area
puppy play area

I hook it onto the crate with the enclosed clips, though you can buy extras at any hardware store.

See how the two panels on the end are 48" and make for a perfect fit? <SIGH>, how I do love a good rectangle.

Also, notice in the photo, 1) wood floor, 2) vinyl remnant, 3) washable pee pad (or you could use newspaper and just throw it away rather than have to wash, and 4) the drain tiles. PERFECTION!!! 

The final piece is the bar I put on top to prevent the panels around the puppy play area from going askew when the puppies jump on it. Since my pen pictured here is against a wall, I only need the bars on two of the three sides. You have to saw the bar or use a dremel to cut it the right lengths. Then you shove it down over the panels, and voila! a sturdy puppy play area.

You can buy the bars at Home Depot.

Scenario Two: Housebreaking A Puppy When You Are Home All Day

If you're home all day long, the old fashioned way of housebreaking is a very credible way to go. But it takes persistence and patience because puppies are quick to leave a deposit.

Being home means you have the opportunity to actively participate in the process. So, when do you take a pup out to go to the bathroom?

When he first wakes up in the morning..... (when he wakes up, which is usually before you would want to wake up). No, don’t wait to get dressed or brush your teeth or start the coffee or anything else. Have your jacket and slippers ready to go, right next to your bed and go out NOW, NOW, NOW! Or you will miss your opportunity to have him pee outside.

Usually puppies won’t pee or poo while you hold them. So in the beginning, carrying them gives you a better chance of making it to the great outdoors without an accident.

What other times?

  • Take him out when he wakes up in the middle of the night. Just a quick trip out and back.
  • About 5 to 15 minutes after he has eaten.
  • After he has had a play session.
  • Right before going to bed for the night.
  • Every hour when nothing is going on.

In other words, your life is all about potty! (Ain't it grand??) I'd say that housebreaking is more time consuming than most other training aspects.

Housebreaking At Night

At night, putting your Sheltie in a crate or pen in your bedroom close to your bed will be more comforting than in a separate room.  You will also be able to hear him if he wakes in the middle of the night and needs to go out. 

At this point the small crate just big enough to stand and turn around is fine IF you plan to get up each time the pup wakes and take him out to go potty. If he doesn’t go potty in 5-10 minutes, return him to bed. Don’t spend time playing with him, or he’ll think 3 AM is time to goof around!

The other option is 

  • the small pen with a potty area as mentioned above in addition to his crate, or 
  • a large crate you can divide into two areas: sleep and potty as mentioned previously.  

That way you shouldn’t have to wake up in the middle of the night to take him out. You can decide on the method that best suits you before bringing the pup home.

What NOT To Do

I am hopeful that we are well beyond the technique of rubbing a pup's nose in his urine or poo, but I will state here and now in order to be perfectly clear: Major puppy training tip: DO NOT RUB YOUR SHELTIE’S NOSE IN URINE PUDDLES if he has an accident.

This technique is useless in housebreaking a puppy. It may be more effective to rub YOUR nose in it, since it is YOUR mistake, not the pup's. Remember, YOU are supposed to be the smarter one in this relationship.

He has no clue what you are trying to tell him. Seriously, how does he know you are not telling him never to pee again, anywhere?

A Few Miscellaneous Tips for Housebreaking

I like to tell the pup, “potty, potty” while he relieves himself and then praise him when he’s done, either verbally or with a small treat. If you are into clicker training you could click and treat the behavior. That way, eventually when he hears the word “potty” he will go on cue.

Go out with your pup so you know he is, in fact, relieving himself.

Eventually, he will gain enough bladder control and learn to consider your entire residence the “clean den” area.

Puppy Training Tips Beyond Housebreaking

Including treats and play in your time together is one of the biggest of the training tips that I can offer. Also, working together for short time frames (5 minutes or so) are good. Your Sheltie has a short attention span when young.

Blend what you are teaching into her play time with you. You may want to try your hand at using the clicker as well. 

If you are unfamiliar with clicker training, it is a technique developed by Karen Pryor. She began several decades ago as a trainer for WHALES! And if she can get a whale to do what she wants using a clicker, I figure I should try any tips she has to offer. 

As Your pup gets older his attention span will increase and sessions can get a little longer if you wish.

More puppy training tips: Use exercise to reduce any over exuberance in a pup before you begin working on a particular task. The exercise should be fun and the amount determined by her.

Even if you have a tiny back yard, a free romp with you is great. "A tired dog is a good one".

Walkies! Some Puppy Training Tips For Getting Used To The Leash

Learning to walk on a leash is something to start early too. If your Sheltie doesn’t want to walk on a leash at first, put the collar and leash on and then just let her drag it around the house for an hour or so every day for a few days. 

You can also try carrying her about half a block away from home and then putting her down to walk back home a few times. Some don’t like the idea of leaving home, but feel ok about returning. (Just one of many tips a Sheltie puppy taught me.)

 For sheltie puppies, 3/8" wide collars and leashes should be big enough. I've been gathering a variety of collars and leashes (and a few harnesses) for puppy owners to buy here.

Over exercising a pup by expecting it to walk long distances can lead to joint problems later that can last a lifetime. So please don't over-estimate how far your Shetland Sheepdog can go. Be prepared to carry your pup when it gets tired. This isn't so much a puppy training tip for him, but for you.

 A front carrier for your pup is really handy for when you need to carry your pup. You wouldn't think a little pup would get heavy, but trust me, your arms begin to get tired. So for walks in the park bring one along and give your little one periodic rests.

Jump! NOT!!!

sheltie jumping obstacle

Tip: Activities such as jumps in agility or learning to jog long distances with you is not part of training when you first bring your pup home. This should be reserved for AFTER the bone plates in the legs have closed.

That means when they finish growing. Figure a year to 18 months old or check with your vet.

Yes, yes, I know, your Sheltie will jump and spin and leap all on its own. That’s fine. She will stop when tired on her own which is different than being forced to run on a leash or practice repetitious jump exercises for agility.

Even as an adult, remember, shelties are a herding breed which tend to sprint not do long distance running. Please keep that in mind if you plan to jog with your Shetland Sheepdog when he is grown. Watch for signs he is tired. They will do what you want until they drop, so it’s up to you to learn to read him or her.

Canines need to be conditioned to do any exercise just like humans. Don’t just wake up one day and decide that your Shetland Sheepdog is going to go jogging for 3 miles without building his stamina up. Build the distance up slowly.

Last of the puppy training tips: Check her feet, pads and nails and keep them trimmed and healthy so walking, running and playing stay enjoyable.

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