Housebreaking Your Dog

Training your dog to go to the “bathroom” in the proper place is key to keeping your home and property sanitary.  Canines of any age can learn with appropriate, consistent training.

The goal of housebreaking is for your dog to learn to eliminate in the spot(s) you deem appropriate.  An additional benefit to this training is to be able to have your dog eliminate on command when you may not have the time for a full-fledged dog walk or other outside activity.

Dogs learn best through positive reinforcement training.  It is important to understand and feel comfortable with this concept because canines, like people, repeat behaviors that are rewarded.

Very often, people experience difficulty in housebreaking their dog because they do not understand some of the most basic components of canine behavior.

Denning Animals
Dogs are genetic descendants of wolves, a denning animal.  This type of animal is one whose young are born in a den and raised there during the first few weeks of their lives.  Denning animals are inclined to seek out small, enclosed spaces for rest and/or recovery.  It is this tendency that allows us to successfully crate train dogs.

Denning animals prefer not to eliminate in the den because they do not like to live in their waste.  Confinement in a crate capitalizes on, but does not create, this tendency in a domestic canine.  Dogs will eliminate in their crate if they are left inside for too long.  But when used appropriately, crating can greatly reduce the time required to housetrain your dog.

Once your dog is housetrained, you may slowly open up the remainder of the house to your dog.  First, open up a small area around the crate…then a room…then, perhaps the whole floor.  Your dog needs to expand his view of “his den” slowly.

Access to Water and Food
During housetraining your dog should be fed on a schedule and in the same spot using the same bowl.

Allow your dog 15-20 minutes to finish eating.  After that time period, pick up the bowl.  Do not feed again until the next scheduled feeding and only feed the suggested amount.  This will help your dog regulate his intake.

A dog should not be given free access to food during the potty training period.  As with water, you must control the input in order to regulate the output.

Potty Training

  1. Put your dog on a leash and take her to the potty spot.  It is extremely important to keep your dog on a leash while going potty.  If you send your dog out to potty and you are not with your dog, you cannot reward your dog.  If you do not maintain leash control of your dog, you cannot insure that the dog is not receiving rewards inadvertently without going potty first.  If you have sent the dog out off leash to potty and then you bring the dog back in the house, some dogs will wait to eliminate because it means the end of outside fun.
  2. Tell your dog “go potty” and stand still.  You don’t want to reward your dog with a walk BEFORE the dog goes potty.  If you take the dog for a walk, some dogs wait to eliminate because it means the end of the walk. 
  3. Wait 5 minutes. 
  4. If the dog does not potty, bring the dog inside and put the dog into her crate for 10-15 minutes.
  5. Start the process back at the first step.  Do not proceed to the next step until the dog has gone potty.
  6. Once the dog goes potty, say “yes” and treat the dog.  Now you can play ball or go for a walk.

Clean Up
If you do not see your dog going potty in an inappropriate location (such as on the carpet), then you cannot blame the dog.  All you can do is clean up the mistake.  The dog cannot associate something done a while ago with your being upset now.

In order to properly clean up and avoid future use of the spot by your dog:

  1. If you use a household cleanser to clean up the spot first, make certain that the cleanser does not contain ammonia.  The ammonia smell will remain and the dog will use that scent to mark the spot.
  2. After cleaning with normal household cleansers, use a product like Nature’s Miracle as an additional measure to eliminate smells which your dog can still sense even after cleaning.  These products contain enzymes, which work to attack the smells associated with bodily waste.

If you see your dog going potty, of course, you will want to stop him.  But you have to be careful how this is done:

  1. Interrupt the inappropriate behavior in a way that does NOT scare your dog.  Saying “eh” loudly is usually enough to temporarily stop the elimination.  If you scare your dog, two things will happen.  First, he will not be able to finish eliminating appropriately outside because he’s too nervous.  Second, instead of learning not to eliminate in the house, he will learn not to eliminate in front of you.  This creates a dog that will hold it until you aren’t looking and then proceed to eliminate behind the couch or a similar “hidden” area.
  2. If possible, pick your dog up, put on the leash that you keep by the door, and take your dog outside.
  3. Calmly tell your dog to “go potty”.
  4. Praise your dog when he completes the process.

Older dogs
If you have an older dog that was previously housetrained and has begun to have issues, have your dog examined by a veterinarian.  Your veterinarian is the only person that can diagnose and treat medical conditions that cause housetraining problems.  Medical conditions cannot be “corrected” with training.  You will also want to behave with compassion and understanding during this process.  Remember that a dog suffering from an illness cannot and should not be “blamed” for inappropriate elimination.

If you have followed all of the steps above and are still having difficulty:

  1. Keep a journal of the times you give your dog access to food and water and of your dog’s potty times.  This will help you set up an appropriate potty schedule.
  2. If you aren’t home enough to make sure your dog has the opportunities to potty, consider hiring a pet sitter to assist you until your dog is housetrained.
  3. Tether your dog to you so that you can be sure not to miss the subtle signs that he has to potty.
  4. Hang bells by the door to the potty spot and ring them each time you take your dog outside.  Over time, your dog will learn to ring the bell when he wants to go outside.
  5. If your dog continues to eliminate inappropriately in a few spots in the house, either the spots have been marked and need to be properly cleaned or the dog has developed a habit of using those spots.  Once the area has been properly cleaned, feed the dog in that spot for one week.  Dogs do not like to eliminate in their dining room.
  6. If the dog is submissively urinating, this is a behavioral situation that is different than housetraining and needs to be dealt with as such.  First, determine the situation(s) under which the dog is urinating.  Then reduce the stress and/or excitement for the dog in those situations.  For example, if the dog urinates when you come home, ignore the dog when you come home.  Don’t look at the dog.  Don’t speak to the dog.  Don’t pet the dog.  These things will increase the level of excitement.  Instead, sit down and let the dog approach you.  Slowly begin to stroke the dog.  This will help keep that excitement level low.
  7. Paper training is a different event to the dog than going potty outside.  If you want to train for both situations, you must train them independently of one another.
  8. Dogs have a gastro-colic reflex that causes them to eliminate shortly after eating.
  9. On average, a dog will need to potty within 20 minutes of eating, playing or waking up.  This will, however, vary with the size of the dog’s bladder.

If your dog is still a puppy, do not expect your puppy to be able to control his bladder longer than he is physically capable.  If you take a puppy’s age in months and add 1 that is the approximate number of hours a puppy can go without eliminating during the day.  For example, if your puppy is 12 weeks old, then she is 3 months.  So, 3 plus 1 is 4.  That means that you should not expect your puppy to control her bladder for more than 4 waking hours.  This will, of course, vary by the size of the dog (and therefore, the size of the dog’s bladder).  Dogs will be able to hold it longer during sleeping hours than during waking hours (typically day time). Consider feeding your dog a premium brand of dog food as they are designed to reduce the quantities of waste. If you control the input, you can regulate the output.  Your dog should be offered water numerous times throughout the day particularly after meals and after play.  Allow a thirsty dog the opportunity to drink sufficient quantities of water, but never give free access during housetraining.  This should be reserved for dogs that are successfully housetrained.

Housebreaking Your Dog

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Copyright 2013 Connecticut Humane Society