House Training your Puppy or Adult Dog
by Jackie Nelson
Whether you have a new puppy, rescued adult, or problems with
marking, the basics of house training can solve all of
these problems. Housetraining is the process of creating desired habits
for urinating and defecating. These desired habits typically include the
timing of the event and the location. Creating a new habit means
preventing the old habit from occurring while making the new habit more
rewarding. Before we get down to the basics, the concept of what is
rewarding in regards to urination and defecation must be visited.
When an animal urinates or defecates it is
inherently rewarding - it feels good to relieve the urge to go. This is
called a self-rewarding behavior. The animal gets rewarded every time
they go regardless of your presence or desire. The more times an animal
is rewarded for a behavior, the more likely they are to repeat it. So if
a dog has been marking in the house for 3 years, it is harder to
challenge that reward history than with a dog that has marked once. A
dog that lived in a cage for years has a harder reward history to
challenge than a new puppy raised in clean conditions. With the more
challenging reward histories, the basic plans may need tweaking to the
individual dog and circumstance. Remember to visit the
Dog Chat discussion board
for more help.
In order to prevent the dog from repeating the self-rewarding
potty behavior we do not want, confinement is the key. What
confinement entails depends upon the dog and your circumstances.
A crate that is just large enough for the dog to comfortable lay
down, stand up, and turn around is one of the most common
methods. Confinement can be a small room, an exercise pine, or a
room with a surface the dog will not potty on (like a kitchen
with a hard floor). Chose what is best for you and your dog. So
long as the dog will not urinate or defecate in the area, the
choice of confinement is appropriate. Many dogs are specific to
a surface. They may urinate on bedding even in a small crate.
For these dogs removing the bedding or using non-absorbent
bedding may be necessary.
Confinement also continues when the dog has free time. Your
dog must be 100% ACTIVELY supervised when out. This means you
are looking at your dog, not reading a magazine or watching
television. Many people find it helpful to leash their dog to
them with a 6 foot leash. This prevents the dog from wandering
off and keeps the dog within eyesight. Once your dog has a solid
history of the potty habits you desire, freedom can slowly be
added. In the meantime, confinement and supervision are
essential to preventing the dog from repeating the
self-rewarding potty behaviors you do not desire.
Dogs thrive on consistency. When they know what to expect and
when to expect it they feel secure. Dogs that have learned to
urinate and defecate on a schedule learn to hold their bladder
and bowels in between potty breaks. To create consistency in
housetraining a strict schedule is very important. Write out
your schedule and post it in a convenient place like the
refrigerator door. Making a schedule you can check off as you go
along can be helpful. Using a timer to keep yourself on schedule
is also a great method. A schedule should look something like
this (depending on your dog and your schedule)
6:00 am Wake up, potty break
6:10 am Eat breakfast in crate
6:20 am Potty break, play until owner leaves for work
7:00 am In crate while owner goes to work
12:00 pm Potty and play break
12:30 pm Back in crate
5:00 pm Potty and play break, hang out with owner
6:30 pm Eat followed by potty break
Until bedtime play/crate depending on what owner needs to do
around the house, potty before bed
Playing puppies may need to go out up to every 15 minutes.
Keep this in mind. Never hesitate to add a potty break if your
dog appears to need to go out.
To avoid dogs that go outside and play when they should have
a potty break, take your dog out to the same place each time. Do
not play with your dog. Set a timer for 2 minutes. If you know
your dog needs to go and has not, back in the crate for 15
minutes and try again. Repeat until success. This creates a dog
that goes quickly at potty time.
The more consistent you are, the better your dog will know
what to expect and fall in with going potty at appropriate times
in appropriate places.
So just how do we make our version of potty training more
rewarding than what the dog was doing on their own? By adding a
valued reward. Value depends on the individual dog. Most dogs
value a tasty bite of food. Many dogs value play with a toy
(fetch, tug). Other dogs love to be picked up and pet. Use a
reward that your dog likes, not one you think they should like.
Whatever you select, be sure this reward (type of food, specific
toy) is only used for going potty in the right place. Reward
your dog immediately after they go and quietly praise the dog
while they go. Use your potty cue “Hurry, go potty” as the dog
starts to go and “Good boy, hurry, go potty” while the dog goes.
Be quiet and perky. Don’t be so excited verbally that you
distract the dog from going. Immediately give your reward when
the dog finishes going. With a solid reward history for the
right behavior, your dog will want to potty in the right spot
Tips and Tricks
Take your dog out on leash so they cannot wander off and be
If you are using newspapers or wee-wee pads take your dog in a leash
or cover a small penned area with papers so the dog cannot wander off.
Use the same principles to train a dog to newspapers or wee-wee pads.
Just go to the place you have the papers instead of outside
Do not leave the dog with unlimited access to the potty area (papers
in their pen, dog door access). Teaching the dog to hold their bladder
and bowels requires then to not be able to go any time they wish.
Have reasonable expectations. A puppy can hold their bladder for
their age in months plus one until they reach 8 hours. So a 2 month old
puppy should not be left crated for more than 3 hours.
You may need to set an alarm at night to take a new puppy out. Slowly
set the alarm later and later until you have a pup sleeping through the
night. Avoiding the pup waking you up will encourage them to sleep until
Before adding any freedom, have AT LEAST 3 weeks of perfect pottying.
Add freedom in small increments with 3 weeks of good behavior in one
area before increasing the size.
If your dog has an accident you gave too much freedom or did not take
them out when needed. Instead of blaming the dog, reflect on your plan
and what you could do to prevent this from happening in the future.
If your dog has an accident in front of you stay calm. Calmly say “Oh
dear” and put the dog in their confined area while you clean up the
Punishing a dog for urinating or defecating in front of you can make
the dog hesitant to go in front of you. This can create problems when
you take your dog and want them to go in front of you. It also creates
dogs that run off and hide to potty out of your sight in the house. Keep
your cool and focus on what you can do to prevent accidents.
Dogs with long histories of poor potty habits will take longer to
change. Stick with it and prevent accidents. Change will come.
All members of the household and regular caretakers such as pet
sitters should follow the same training plan. This includes using the
same schedule, cues, and rewards. Consistency is essential. The dog will
have a better understanding if all caretakers provide the same picture.