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House Training 101

House Training 101

No dog knows instinctively not to eliminate in the house.  They just aren't wired that way.  Also, when they eliminate it isn't really offensive to them.  They love to smell where other dogs have gone and keep in mind how they greet each other.  That is why rubbing their nose where they have gone isn't really effective.  Yes the dog acts afraid, and yes they act like they have done something wrong, but that is only because they know you are angry.  Not necessarily because they know WHY you are angry or connect the punishment with what you want. 

There are three things you must have to housebreak your dog.  Consistency, supervision and patience.  Just remember, some are tougher than others, there are pitfalls along the way, but if you are consistent and keep at it, your pup will get it.

How Long Can I Expect My Dog To "Hold It"?

A rule of thumb is you take their age in months and add one to it and that is how many hours the average pup can go without eliminating.  This is just an average, some dogs go longer, some not as long.  But if you have an 8 week old pup, that is 2 months old, add 1 to it for a total of 3 hours.

Supervise, Supervise, Supervise

I cannot say enough how important it is to supervise your pup. Unless you catch them in the act of peeing or pooping, there is not much you can do about it.  They aren't going to connect that even a few minutes after they have had an accident.  That just isn't the way dogs think or operate.  You have to correct them IMMEDIATELY or they just don't get it.  You can block access to other rooms by closing the door, you can crate them when you are busy cooking dinner or doing other things where you can't watch them, and you can attach their leash to your belt or wrist to keep them with you.  But supervision is probably the MOST important part of housebreaking.


Sometimes people get upset when the dog pees or poops on the floor and think a punishment is necessary. is how to punish for housebreaking accidents. 

Take a nice sturdy section of the paper, roll it up tightly.  Grasp it firmly in your hand.  Now...go to the mirror...slap yourself in the forehead with it and say repeatedly "I WASN'T WATCHING MY DOG!  I LET HIM POTTY IN THE HOUSE"  Repeat as necessary.

Feel better?  Seriously though, housebreaking is best accomplished using positive reinforcement methods which means giving treats and praise for doing the "right" thing and ignoring the "wrong" thing.  The concept is the dog of course will strive to do right because they like the rewards.

Cleaning Up, Starting Over

When your puppy goes in the house, it is really important to clean the area well, with an enzymatic cleaner made for that purpose.  There are several brands on the market, and you can get them from some grocery stores and most pet stores.  When a dog smells where they have gone before (and in particular scent hounds, like bassets & beagles, can smell especially well, remember it is what they were born to do) they want to go there again to freshen up the smell.  That is how they mark their areas to other dogs.  It is just their nature to want to do so.  The idea is to take away ALL of the smell of previous accidents so your pup will not get confused and want to re-mark that area.  That is the first step, clean up any and all areas your pup has had an accident in.

Crate Training

Crate training can really be a wonderful tool to help you housebreak your dog.  There are times though when you cannot use a crate for housebreaking.  For example, I work full time and when I brought home my Max, he was only 6 weeks old.  I work full time and cannot come home at lunch to give a potty break.  I could not realistically expect him to hold his urine that long in a crate.  So I confined him to the kitchen and used puppy pads until he was old enough to go all day.  I just cleaned the mess for a few months.  When home, I really had to be extremely consistent because being allowed to go in the house during the day was confusing for him.  Overall we made it, he was 100% reliable by 6 months...but there were a LOT of messes in between.

Click HERE to learn to crate train your dog.

The Schedule

Dogs thrive on routine.  They like to eat at the same times every day, go out to potty at the same time, etc.  Putting your pup on a schedule of potty breaks can really help with accidents, once he or she gets the idea that they are going out at specific times.  To start out, I usually take a dog outside every hour and after meals.  Also if I see them start sniffing around and looking like they may be trying to find a spot, I throw in an extra trip outside.  Try to say the same thing every time you are putting them out, I use "Who needs to go OUTSIDE?" because when I correct for an accident I say "OUTSIDE!" as I am running them out the door.

The Motivation

When I refer to treats on this page, I am not talking your average milkbone.  Milkbones or dog biscuits are great for a little snack, but not so great for training.  You want a tiny treat that is really good to motivate your dog into doing commands and things they may not really want to do.  You also don't want to fill them up too fast or add a lot of calories to their basic diet.  My dogs like hot dogs sliced thin and microwaved about 60 seconds until they are kind of crispy.  But you can use tiny bits of cheese, whatever your dog REALLY likes!

The Nitty Gritty

When you take your pup outside, say the same thing.  Eventually they will learn to potty on command.  I use "Hurry UP!" but you can use whatever you like, just make sure it is the same thing.  When they go potty, if they go, say "GOOD Hurry UP!" and give a treat.  If they don't go, carry them back inside, put them in their crate for maybe 10-20 minutes and try again.  Repeat the process until they go.  Whatever you do, don't let them out of your sight if they have not pottied.


It would be nice to think that if you do the above, your dog will never have another accident.  But that just isn't so.  You will get distracted, maybe someone will call on the phone or a particularly good show will come on TV, or you will just get busy.  If you see them potty in the house, grab them up immediately and say "OUTSIDE!" and take them out.  If they finish up outside, praise and treat like it was their idea in the first place.  If you don't catch them going, well, clean up the mess with an enzymatic cleaner.  It is perfectly OK to give them dirty looks but that is about all you can do.  Resolve to watch them better next time.

Getting Distracted

Well like the Cyndi Lauper song, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, puppies are like that too.  Sometimes they go outside and start to play and forget all about their business.  So try taking your dog out on a leash.  Say "Hurry UP!" or whatever you are going to use to let them know you want them to potty.  Don't let them off leash until they go.  Once they go outside, you can unleash them after their treat and say "GO PLAY!" 

Night Time

The crate is a wonderful thing to use overnight.  You need to put your puppy close to you so if they have to go during the night (and they probably will) you will hear them and can take them outside.  Night time potty trips should be strictly business, carry or take them out on a lead, let them do their business, give a treat and a short praise and then right back to the crate.  No playtime.  It is sleeping time, not playtime.  You want the dog to grasp that!

In Closing

You are traveling down a road most dog owners have traveled down.  Just remember, with patience, consistency, and supervision, even the most stubborn dog can learn this.  You and your pup can do this.  It will take some work, and there will be some frustration, and some steps back, but you can look forward to a lifetime with your best friend.  Because at the end of the day, no one in the whole world loves you like your Momma and your dog.