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House Training

Shih Tzu House Training

Overview

Housebreaking your Shih Tzu will be one of your biggest challenges as an owner; however, it is a great way for you and your puppy or dog to work as a team.

Overall, potty training is not terribly complicated or even difficult. But nevertheless, it's common for owners to struggle with this and for Shih Tzu to have a hard time understanding what to do.

This is because there are certain steps that must be followed. And if these are done inconsistently, or if one single step is missed, success can be very limited. 

As we move forward, please keep in mind that if you want your Shih Tzu to be housebroken very quickly, it is important to take each tip seriously and follow all guidelines as closely as possible. 
5 month old Shih Tzu puppy
 CoCo, 5 months old, photo courtesy of Anita W.

Overview of What Will be Needed

Before we dive into the details, it can help to have a picture of what will be needed. Each of these aspects will work together to bring about potty training success:

#1 Having realistic expectations. 

#2 Methods to keep your Shih Tzu supervised when you are home, or in one smaller area when you cannot watch your pup or you are away from home.

#3 Exact steps on how to house train, including choosing an area and the importance of correct praise & reward.

#4 How to react to accidents to move things in the right direction. 

#1 House Training Expectations

A Shih Tzu's ability:

Puppies do not have fully developed bladder and bowel muscles. New puppies have very little ability to hold their needs at all; in most cases, they will urinate and defecate at the moment that their body is ready to.

Once a Shih Tzu is 3, 4 and then 5 months old, those bladder and bowel muscles are getting stronger. 

Simultaneously, potty training rules are being learned. 
Therefore, it is not reasonable to expect a puppy to hold his needs for very long. 

An 8-week-old Shih Tzu puppy will need to go to the bathroom as often as every 2 hours, a 3-month old every 3 hours, a 4-month-old every 4 hours, and so on.

The longest that any dog, including an adult Shih Tzu, can hold their needs is about 7 or 8 hours. 
The best age to housebreak a Shih Tzu:
Puppies as young as 2 months old can be house trained. Just be sure that your puppy is 2 weeks past his rounds of puppy shots before you bring him to any public areas or outside in your yard if there could have been other dogs there. 

This 'other dog' rule does not extend to your own dogs, if you are sure that they are up-to-date on vaccinations. 
Alternatively, adults that were not properly trained before or older adopted dogs that were never taught can learn new rules.

The most important aspect is that you prepare and then start potty training your Shih Tzu right away; every accident brings you one step back instead of forward. 
How long it takes to potty train a Shih Tzu:
This depends on 2 factors:

1. How often you are home to do the training. It is expected that most owners will need to be away from home a certain amount of time. However, the more opportunities a dog has to learn, the faster he will soak in the knowledge. 

If you work long hours or more than 5 days a week, expect potty training to take at least an additional month.

2. How closely the rules are followed. 
Shih Tzu puppy
Dierks, photo courtesy of Katie MacDevette 
If an owner insists on letting their puppy sleep in their bed, they will be severely holding back any progress while lamenting about the pup pooping on the bed. And if an owner allows their Shih Tzu to roam the house, they will be taking steps backward instead of forward while frustrated that there is pee and poo everywhere.

So, your willingness to commit to this and follow all of the rules plays a significant role in how fast your Shih Tzu will be trained. 

With all guidelines in place, a Shih Tzu can be fully housebroken in about 8 weeks. 
18 month old Shih Tzu
The Shih Tzu brothers: 
Min Su (black ) Je Ju (white ), 18 months 
Photo courtesy of Ron Hamilton 

#2 Supervision & Containment

This is perhaps the most overlooked aspect when house training, and is a top reason for failure.

It is absolutely vital that a containment method and a supervision be in place. If not, your Shih Tzu will be peeing and pooing everywhere. And the puppy or dog cannot be blamed. 
Supervising: Tethering.
Any time that you are at home and can keep a close eye on your Shih Tzu, do so. 

However, this means strictly keeping an eye on the pup. And the best way to do this is to have your Shih Tzu on leash and harness.
With your Shih Tzu right by your side, you will be able to see any motions of needing to pee or poo and react right away (more ahead). 
The harness:

You will want to use a harness and not a collar to prevent potential neck injury. There are several great choices that are easy to put on and are comfortable for a Shih Tzu (more ahead). 

In addition, a harness is best when going for walks; it offers you better control and helps to prevent breathing issues, which are common with this brachycelphic breed. 

The leash:

Loop the handle of the leash around your wrist, or you can loop it through your belt loop. 

A 6-foot non-adjustable dog leash is often the best choice. You do not want an adjustable one, since the retractable casing will impede you from connecting it to your wrist or belt (more ahead). 
When you're not home & when you're busy: Containment. 
Any time that you cannot do the tethering method, your Shih Tzu should kept in 1 spot. 

And any time that your Shih Tzu is home alone, he should be in 1 designated spot.  

One of the best methods of doing this is to make use of a comfortable, properly sized indoor canine playpen. 

Playpens are fantastic for several reasons:
  • To help prevent separation anxiety. When dogs have a 'den', they feel more secure. The pen also ensures that all of their comfort items are within reach. 
  • To limit accidents. If your Shih Tzu is always either closely supervised by you or in his playpen, there will literally never be a housebreaking accident in the house. Ever. 
  • To keep offer a safe spot. We recommend a pen with a door (more ahead) to allow easy access. This can be an area where your Shih Tzu goes voluntarily if things become too chaotic or a comfortable spot to place your dog if there are lots of visitors, if you are vacuuming, etc. 
How to set it up:
1. Choose a room such as the living room or kitchen so that your Shih Tzu does not feel isolated.

2. Within the playpen, have a bed, water, food (when you are not home), and pee pads.

3. Since the pen is a defined space, there will be room for a bed, toys, and bowls. The other area should be for the pee pads. 

Dogs very rarely will soil their own belongings, so any pee or poo will end up on the pads 99% of the time.

Tip: If your Shih Tzu plays with, moves around, or tries to chew up the pads, keep them in place with a shallow canine litter box (using no clay). 
The potty training supervision method (harness & 6-foot non-adjustable leash) and containment method (indoor playpen & shallow litter box for holding pee pads) are below.
If you do not see the images, try a refresh. And on mobile, you may need to turn the screen horizontal to see all 4 items. 

#3 House Training Step-by-Step Instructions

brindle-shih-tzu-on-owners-lap
Jenson, photo courtesy of Claire Clark
1 - Choose 1 designated bathroom area:
If you just let your Shih Tzu pee and poo anywhere outside, this will limit your success. 

Choose one area (about 10 to 15 square feet) that will serve as the designated bathroom area. This should be a spot that will be easy for you to take your Shih Tzu out no matter the weather or season. 

Do not have this be close to any family areas such as where you barbecue and do not have this be a spot where you and your Shih Tzu play. 
2 - Always supervise:
Do not allow your Shih Tzu to go out unsupervised. If so, you will be completely missing one of the most important aspects, which is immediate praise and reward. 

In addition there is a huge array of outside dangers to small dogs. 
3- Take your Shih Tzu out at certain times:
  • First thing in the morning
  • 20 minutes after a meal
  • Every so-many hours. This is 2 hours for a 2-month old, 3 hours for a 3-month old, etc.
  • Any time that your Shih Tzu makes a motion to pee or poo. Since you will have your puppy tethered to you (see point #2 - Supervision & Containment), you should be able to scoop him right up and head directly to the designated bathroom area. 
  • If you've been gone, as soon as you arrive back home. 
  • Last thing before sleep
Note: When you head outside, it is vital to bring along the right treats for immediate reward. These should be near the exit door so that you can easily grab them on your way out. Details are ahead; (point 6).
4 - Choose a phrase & use it:
You will want your Shih Tzu to associate going to the bathroom with a word or phrase. So, first you will need to choose one and should be something that you are comfortable saying out in public and in front of guests.
'Pitty-potty' or just 'bathroom' are commonly used. 

As you head out, say this; for example, "Let's go pitty-potty', and repeat this as you reach the area, "Okay, now it's time to pitty-potty". 
5 - The 'deed':
Stand in the middle of the of the designed potty area, and allow your Shih Tzu to sniff around and choose just the 'right spot'. 

Allow for 10 to 15 minutes, because it can take some time for a puppy to relax his/her bladder or bowel muscles.

Make this a very serious time. 

There should be no playing. With your Shih Tzu on leash and harness, you can safely pull him to you or redirect him so that he does not dig, try to nibble at grass, etc. 
small shih tzu puppy
Charlie, at 9 weeks old,
photo courtesy of David Johnson
6 - Give immediate praise and reward:
Both praise and reward work hand-in-hand when housebreaking, and are a vital part of quickly teaching a puppy what is expected. 

Your words of praise will reinforce which action deserved the extra-good treat.

Praise:

You will want to use your chosen potty word/phrase for this and say, for example, "Good pitty-potty! Great, girl!". 
The Treat:
You will not want your Shih Tzu to mistakenly think that just another snack is being handed out.

The potty training reward must be 1) something that is not given at any other time during the day 2) something that your puppy finds to be extra delicious and 3) a small enough size - reward is not something that a dog should have to sit down and get comfortable to chew on; it should provide an immediate rush of flavor and satiety, signaling a job well done.

Tips: Keep the treats in a small zipped sandwich bag (to prevent distraction via scent), and keep these right near the exit door so you can easily grab and pocket them on your way out.

The moment that your Shih Tzu is done peeing or pooing, give praise while palming the treat.

If you believe that your puppy needs to poo after peeing, or vice-versa, retreat back a few steps and allow for this. Then if it happens, give praise and reward again. 
Recommendations for great training treats are below. Most Shih Tzu find these to be super-yummy, they are the perfect size, these are all-natural (no fillers, coloring, chemical preservatives, or artificial flavors), and are made in the USA. 

#4 Reacting to House Training Accidents

How you react to an accident, both in what you say and what you do, will have a big effect on housebreaking.

Do keep in mind that if you are using the recommended tethering and playpen methods, it is unlikely that your Shih Tzu will be able to pee and poo all over the house. And if you are using those methods, your puppy will be sleeping in his bed, and will not be peeing or pooing in your bed. 

So, the first thing to do is reassess how closely these rules are being followed.
This said:

If you catch your Shih Tzu in the act, make a loud noise. You can clap your hands; some dogs respond to this and some do not. And this can be used in conjunction with a firm 'No!'.

Alternatively, you may wish to use a behavior-correcting device. This is a good option if your Shih Tzu has heard 'No' thousands of times and tends to ignore it. 

These are small devices that let out a particular short hissing noise that is proven to stop animals in their tracks. It's quite harmless and is just a great way to have a dog take immediate pause. These are also very useful to correct excessive barking, jumping up at people, and other behavioral issues. 
If you'd like to try this, a good one is The Company of Animals Pet Corrector
As soon as your Shih Tzu freezes, scoop him/her up, say the chosen housebreaking words (pitty-potty, etc.) grab the treats, and briskly head directly to the bathroom area. 

Even if your puppy dribbles on the way there or just half of the pee or poo ends up outside, give both praise and reward. 
If you come across an accident, 

Do not bother trying to reprimand your Shih Tzu. Puppies have short memories, and after all, if this happened, your Shih Tzu was either not in his playpen or was not right next to you with your eyes on him. 

Also, it is vitally important to properly clean it. 

If you simply clean urine or feces with soap and water, you will be leaving behind very strong scents. You may not even see where it was, and you may not smell anything... But, enzymes in urine and feces are not removed via soap.

These lingering scents will be picked up by your Shih Tzu and will send a very strong and convincing message that that area is the bathroom area. 
Therefore, you will want to clean housebreaking accidents with an effective enzyme cleanser. If you are looking for a good one, Nature's Miracle Urine Destroyer Stain & Residue Eliminator works very well. 
a shih tzu hiding under chair
Rusty, photo courtesy of Max

Sudden Onset of Housebreaking Accidents

If a previously housebroken dog suddenly starts having accidents in the house, this may be due to one of the following factors:

1. Stress. 

Any type of change in environment can cause a Shih Tzu to feel overwhelmed. This can be the loss or addition of a household member (human or animal), a move to a new house, or even an increase in commotion and noise. 

2. Age related issues.

It's normal for senior dogs to have some level of incontinence. Though, this should not be just dismissed as such, since there can be underlying health issues (see next).

A senior dog with incontinence may need to wear doggie diapers or a belly band. 
3. Health issues.
A range of health conditions and diseases can cause a dog to lose bladder and bowel control. This includes but is not limited to urinary tract infection, kidney issues, and hip or back problems. 

Pooing Too Early in the Morning

One of the biggest housebreaking issues that we are asked about is what to do if a Shih Tzu is having bowel movements very early in the morning. Owners are often exhausted trying to wake up before the sun rises to bring their pup out. 

And in some cases, the puppy may play with or try to eat the feces, which brings about a whole new set of issues.

In many cases, adjusting the Shih Tzu's dinnertime can help. It takes 5 to 6 hours for food to be digested. And eating triggers the bowel muscles to expel what is inside. 

So, typically what a dog will eliminate after dinner is his lunch. And what comes out in the middle of the night or early in the morning is his dinner.

For this reason, you can go one of two ways. 

You can make dinner be about 2 hours earlier. Then, give a small snack at what would have been dinnertime. If so, the snack will trigger the need to push out a bowel movement (which will be the remains of the early dinner) during the last bathroom trip of the day.

The other option is to give dinner about 2 hours later than normal. If so, give a small snack at what used to be dinnertime. This way, the pup will tend to have a bowel movement about 2 hours later in the morning than he previously did. 

While these methods may disrupt your plans of having your evening meal at the same time as your Shih Tzu, these changes are just temporary. As your pup matures, his bowel muscles will become stronger and his sleeping schedule will better mimic yours. 

More Information

Did you find this article helpful? If so, you'll really love the AllShihTzu Book. It is the most comprehensive Shih Tzu care book that exists. And, it's available in both hard copy & eBook formats. 
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