Canine Learning Center, Inc.

                  Housebreaking by Leah Spitzer

Housebreaking problems begin when owners tell the pup what he CANNOT do, but forget to tell him what he CAN do!  The first time you correct for this ‘natural’ act, he will be horrified!  It will seem to him that you are asking him never to go to the bathroom again -- EVER!  It’s an impossible request.


There are really four things the puppy must understand in order to become trustworthy in this department:


1.     That it is okay to go potty outside.

2.     That it is not okay to go potty inside when you are watching him.

3.     That it is not okay to go potty inside when you are not watching him.

4.     That he must learn to control his bodily functions.


Items 1 and 2 will be the first things your puppy learns.  Items 3 and 4 are best taught with a crate.  See our Crate training article for more information on this.


1. It is okay to go potty outside

If you don’t show him that you are happy when he goes outside, he will think he can never, ever go to the bathroom again.  The best way to clear up this confusion is to communicate to your dog that going outside makes you happy.  You cannot throw him out in the back yard unsupervised.  You must go out with him to express your UTMOST JOY with the appropriate behavior.


So, go out with him.  Watch him carefully.  As he begins to circle and look for a place to potty, start repeating the words “Hurry Up”.  As he then starts to eliminate, start praising “GOOD Hurry Up!” and reward him with petting or a treat.  You are not only teaching him it is okay to potty outside; you are also attaching a command.  This command can become very useful when you are traveling!


Now comes the tricky part.  Puppies do not yet think in terms of pleasing their owners.  They do not have what I like to call “work ethic” at this age.  They think in terms of their needs.  They will do things that get them things they want, and avoid things that don’t get them what they want. 


You can accidentally train your puppy to hold his business until he goes inside.  Now, think about this carefully.  Here’s the scenario:


Fido is having a gooooood time exploring the yard.  Suddenly the urge comes upon him and he urinates.  Mom/Dad praises, and then scoops him inside.  “Hmmm," pup says, “if I urinate, I have to go inside.  I don’t want to go inside.  I want to play outside and explore.  So I will hold it as looooong as I can. 


You now have a puppy who will fool around outside and fool around outside and then, just as you give up and bring him inside, can’t hold it anymore.  Oops!  That’s called accidental training.  To avoid this, take your puppy out.  Let him play and explore.  Follow the procedure above for teaching him the command.  HOWEVER, once he potties, do NOT scoop him inside!  Let him explore a little more - potty a little more.  Let him be rewarded for eliminating outside by keeping him outside just a few more minutes.  It won’t take very long before your puppy is eliminating quickly so he can get his treat and explore.  It also doesn’t really take that much more time.  Just a few extra minutes can make all the difference in the message you send to your pup.


2. That it is not okay to go potty inside when you are watching him

When you are home, watch him carefully.  Any change in activity is a signal that he needs to go outside.  When he wakes up from a nap, stops playing and stands there, take him out.  Ten minutes after eating, take him out. 


If your puppy does have an accident in the house and you did not see it, just clean it up.  One for the dog.  Watch him more closely next time.  Correcting or punishing after-the-fact will not help him associate the deed with the punishment.  You must catch him in the act to be effective.  If you do catch him, say “no”, pick him up immediately and take him outside.  He will probably have a little left to do so, let him finish outside and praise him.  Even he did finish inside, praise him anyway.  Praise him for being outside.  Then go in and clean up the mess.  There are many products on the market that can help eliminate the odor left behind. 




Sometimes the owner will argue that the dog “knows better”.  I will often hear one of three complaints:


My dog knows better because he cowers when I come home.  He must know; he acts so guilty!”


If your dog is consistently having accidents (and he is not in a crate), you are probably coming home to a mess on a regular basis.  You are probably punishing him as soon as you come home.  Your pup does not relate the accident to the punishment.  Chances are it was hours ago.  What he does associate with the punishment is the action just preceding it—your homecoming.  In the dog’s mind, when you walk through the door, he will be punished.  He’s not sure why, he just knows it will happen.  So he cowers.  Crate training can eliminate this confusion.



My dog knows better.  Sometimes, when we are sitting in the family room, he will go all the way to our bedroom and do it there.  He has to know it’s wrong because he’s hiding it!”


Misinterpreted again.  Let’s go back to the wild for this answer.  The wolf pup is enclosed in a fairly small den for safety from predators.  Nature has instilled in him excellent survival instincts.  If he were to eliminate in the den or immediately in front of it, his scent would draw predators right to him.  Therefore, he instinctively goes as far away as possible to eliminate.


Your house is gigantic to a little puppy!  The room that you and your puppy spend the most time in will be the first one he will identify as his den.  In order to go away from his den, he will try to go as far away as possible, usually to the other end of the house.  This problem can be solved by blocking off smaller areas of the house with baby gates and gradually increasing the size of his area until he begins to identify the entire house as his den. 


 “My dog is doing it to spite me!  He will hold it and hold it outside and make me really mad, then he will come inside and do it right at my feet!”


To be a little redundant, if this is happening, you have given him the wrong message (see #1 above).  If you have already gotten into this pattern, there are a few things you can do to break the cycle.  First, make sure your puppy is on a feeding schedule.  This will help you know exactly when your puppy will have his urges.  Next, take him outside.  Command, “hurry up” and try to keep him in just one area of the yard.  This will discourage the playtime.  If he relieves himself, party party party!  Give him a treat.  Jump up and down.  Then STAY OUTSIDE AND PLAY.


If he doesn’t potty in five minutes, then bring him inside (carry him if possible) and place him back in his crate.  Wait fifteen minutes and repeat the procedure above.  It won’t take more than two or three repetitions for about 1 week before the puppy is retrained.


Be patient.  Most dogs are not reliable until they are 8 or even 10 months of age, but I have known it to go longer.


Remember, professionals are available if you need help.


Ó Reprint only with permission of author

Crate Training  by Leah Spitzer

3.  That it is not okay to go potty inside when you are not watching him.

4.  That he must learn to control his bodily functions. 

Their ancestor, the wolf, used the den for raising their young.  The den and its surrounding area were kept clean to keep predators from locating the pups.  As the pups gained mobility, they instinctively went as far away from the den as possible to eliminate.


Crates work because dogs are naturally clean animals.  The crate works as a substitute den.  Your pup may eliminate in his den or crate at first, but he will quickly learn that he must sit in it until you get home.  He will learn to hold it.  Crate training is truly the ultimate in humane baby-sitting.



 Select a crate that your puppy will grow into.  Get your pup used to his crate.  Place newspapers in the bottom and add a few safe, washable toys.  Hold off on the blankets until he is out of the chewing phase.  Always remove his collar when he is in his crate.  Collars and tags can catch on the crate and frighten or injure him. 

Try to arrange to be home for a few days (i.e., a weekend).  Keep him in his crate for short periods of time at first.  Feed him in his crate.  It will help him think of his crate as home.  If he falls asleep outside the crate, gently pick him up and place him inside.


Your puppy may whine or bark in his crate.  This is NOT because he is in the crate, but because he is separated from you.  It is perfectly acceptable to move his crate to where you are, but DO NOT let him out while he is crying.  Do not let him learn that barking could get him attention!  Ignore him when he’s barking.  Let him out when he is quiet for at least 30 seconds.


Very young pups


I do not expect very young puppies (under 11 weeks of age) to hold it for more than 2-3 hours.  If you can arrange to come home at lunchtime to let your puppy out, you have the ideal situation.  If not, block off an area in the kitchen and arrange a propped open crate at one end and newspapers at the other end.  At feeding time, place his food bowl inside the crate.  Keep a few toys and a towel or blanket in the crate.  This method will teach your puppy two things: that his crate is his home, and that he needs to eliminate away from his den/crate. 


At night, your pup is crated.  When he is making through the night on his own, begin crating him during the day.  The newspapers come up and the dog is fed, walked and crated.  Leave safe, indestructible toys, but no water.  If the pup messes while you are out, take him outside and praise him anyway.  Clean him and the crate and try again.  If he has not messed in his crate, come in, PICK HIM UP AND CARRY HIM OUTSIDE.  Place him on the ground and command, “hurry up”.  Since he has been holding it, he will go quickly.  Praise him!  So far, you have not had to punish him.  The joys of crate training.

Trusting your puppy outside of the crate

There will come a time when you can trust your dog loose in your house.  I usually test my dogs at night first.  To decide when to test, I watch for signs.  Is he housebroken?  Has he stopped chewing, getting in the garbage and causing mayhem when I am home?  If I am still policing, it’s not time.  About 3-4 months without any policing, I will try him at night.  After several weeks of good behavior, I will then test him for short periods of time.  Take a quick trip to the store.  Next, try a half a day, then finally all day.  If he has a set back, send him back to his crate for several weeks and try again.  He’s not misbehaving.  He’s just not ready.

 Housebreaking and crate training can take time.  Be patient.  Each dog is different.  I have known some dogs that were reliable at 5 months and some that couldn’t be trusted for almost a year.

 So take your time and if you need help, call us.

 ÓReprint only with permission of author

Up ] Next ] Home ] List of Articles ]