One of the biggest mistakes people make is allowing little dogs to have accidents in the house. The impact being a home that smells like pee for the life of your pet. A good rule of thumb should be that if you wouldn't let a Mastiff or Wolfhound do something in your house, don't let your little dog do it either.
Pee and poop is the bane of every first-time puppy owner. The secret to success is supervision and praise.
First the crate. Some people have an aversion to crating their dogs, but let's put it into perspective. Putting a puppy into a crate is like putting a baby into a crib at night. It's safe, secure, and they grow to love it. At the end of the day, don't you feel great about going to your very own space - your cozy bed? Crate-trained dogs are happy dogs. It can be their little safe place in the world. It's one of the best ways to have a clean house when they're young and being house-broken. It's great when you have people over that your dog doesn't like - or when they're old, grumpy, or ill. It's safer for travel - a dog flying into the back of your head in a vehicle accident can kill you and your dog.
The crate should be big enough for your dog to stretch out and stand up in without his head touching the top of the crate. It also needs to be small enough for confinement - your puppy should not be able to walk to the opposite side of his crate to poop and pee. When you are housetraining, you are either directly supervising your dog or he's in his crate. This leaves zero chance for an accident to happen.
Your new puppy will pee after it wakes up, after it eats, after it exercises, and after it naps. After each of these activities, take him outside right away to the spot where you’d like him to pee. When he pees, praise him like he's the best dog ever. "What a good dog! You're a wonderful puppy!" Give him a treat. Ideally, have him walk to the spot - don't just carry him there. This is important for little dogs - after all, their legs are very useful. After a very short time, he'll understand that his wonderul person is very happy and rewards him with treats when he pees and poops outside.
If your dog has an accident in the house, it's not his fault - it's yours! Likely he was allowed to roam the house unsupervised first thing in the morning, after a meal or after being taken out of his crate. Don't worry - you'll do better next time. Just be sure to watch more carefully and take him out at the appropriate times.
The key is praise - you want your dog to love you and want to be with you.
If you didn't properly supervise and he has an accident inside, never, never, never ever rub his nose in it. That just makes him fearful of you. And, unless you’re right there when it happens, you may as well not bother trying to correct him. He’ll have already forgotten the deed. If you catch him squatting, shout "no" and NEVER, NEVER slap - take him outside to his spot to finish. Then treat and praise. Better yet, next time do a better job supervising and it won't come to that.
Do have set feeding times, don't free-feed. This way your puppy will understand that you're the keeper of all that is good in his world, you can control portions so you'll keep him fit rather than fat, you'll know if he's not feeling well if he skips any meals, and most importantly when he's young, you'll be able to take him out for his regular post-meal poop and pee.
To get him used to his crate, put all of the good things in his world in it. Toys, and treats, and even feed him in his crate. If he makes a fuss, ignore him until he is settled (don't cave and let him out when whining or he'll never learn that it's all ok.) He will not want to pee or poop where he eats and all of this other good stuff happens.
And, here’s a bonus tip. Rather than barking or scratching when he wants to go out, you can teach your dog to ring a bell to go out. All you need to do is attach a bell to the door frame and each time you take your pooch out after sleeping and eating, rub his nose lightly on the bell before you go out. He’ll soon realize that he needs to sound the bell when he wants out. Because you can hear the bell, it’s great when you’re in a room where you can’t see the door and your pup wants out. We do the bell thing with our dogs and it works like a charm!
Remember - kids wear diapers for years!!! Don’t get too frustrated if your pup takes a bit of time to be house broken.
If you are unsuccessful when using this approach, or if your older dog starts to have accidents, talk with your veterinarian. Bladder or urinary tract infections, stones or other medical conditions could be causing urinary incontenence and may need treatment.
Because of it supports relationship-building between people and dogs, we are very strong advocates of clicker training and positive reinforcement. If you'd like to learn more, one of the best resources is Sue Ailsby's two-volume Training Levels: Steps to Success books. The books provide detailed step-by-step approaches to training. The books are available at Pawsitively Purfect in Regina.