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Housetraining Dogs

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The most important activity dog owners must teach their dog is to potty outside.  Dogs which are not taught this skill may be relegated to the backyard, basement, and even killed.

Housetraining a dog is simple, but takes work, much as cleaning a house is simple if done correctly, but takes some time and effort, so people often slip and it is done incorrectly.

There are proven, basic, scientific methods to teaching dog to potty outdoors.  There is also a lot of bad advice which needs to be ignored.

Two special cases:

  1. If your dog has never had an indoor potty problem and suddenly does, check for a medical cause.
  2. If your dog is normally well behaved and normally goes potty outside, but has the occasional accident, it is important to catch him in the act of pottying indoors, so you can teach him it is wrong.  Read number 8 in the chart below.

There are a lot of "dog trainers" but few true scientific experts on dog behavior.  Dr Nicholas Dodman is one.  We have several copies of two of his canine behavioral books available to lend.  Local libraries often carry them.

When cleaning dog potty, we recommend an enzymatic cleaner.  This should theoretically eliminate the odor, not simply cover it up.  Nature's Miracle is generally the least expensive, and appears to work as well as any other.

From the book The Well Adjusted Dog, by Dr. Nicholas Dodman (p. 186)

How to Retrain a House-Soiling Dog When Medical Matters Are Not Involved

  1. Take him out on a leash at regular intervals, always to the same location - morning, noon, evening, and night PLUS anytime he transitions from one activity to another (e.g., sleeping to waking).
  2. Walk him back and forth for fifteen minutes, verbally encouraging him to remain focused on the job at hand. Do not allow him to become distracted by surrounding events.
  3. Praise and reward him immediately for a successful mission outside. Treats given at this time should be high value, like freeze-dried liver or thin slices of hot dog, so that they are well worth waiting to go outside for.
  4. If no success, bring him back inside and confine him for fifteen minutes (either on short leash or in an enclosure) to prevent any accidents. Another method is to tie the dog to your belt on a shortish lead while you busy yourself for fifteen minutes. This is sometimes called "umbilical cord training."
  5. Take him back outside fifteen minutes later and try again.
  6. Repeat this cycle until you meet with success - leave nothing to chance!
  7. When your mission outside meets with success, praise him, reward him, and allow him some degree of freedom when he returns inside the house (e.g., perhaps restrict him to a downstairs area where you can loosely observe him).
  8. If you catch him urinating in the house, DO NOT PUNISH HIM. Instead, create a loud noise as a distraction and then quickly escort him outside on leash to finish the work.
  9. PROPER CLEAN-UP of the previously soiled area is imperative. Trying to mask odors is hopeless. You must eliminate odors completely.
  10. Stick with it.  All dogs can be properly housetrained - even older ones who were never properly housetrained in the first place.


Housesoiling is a spatial problem.  Your puppy has been allowed to eliminate in the wrong place.

Housesoiling quickly becomes a bad habit because dogs develop strong location, substrate, and olfactory preferences for their improvised indoor toilet areas.

To housetrain your dog:

  • first, prevent any more mistakes;
  • second, teach your dog where you would like him to eliminate.

Prevent Mistakes

Mistakes are a disaster since they set a bad precedent and create bad habits, which can be hard to break. Consequently, you must prevent mistakes at all costs.

Whenever you are not at home, leave your dog in a long-term confinement area, such as a single room indoors with easy-to-clean floors (bathroom, kitchen, or utility room)—this will be your dog’s playroom.

Provide your dog with fresh water, a number of stuffed chew toys for entertainment, a comfortable bed in one corner, and a doggy toilet in the corner diagonally opposite from his bed. Your dog will naturally want to eliminate as far as possible from his bed, and so will soon develop the good habit of using his toilet. And remember, good habits are just as hard to break as bad habits.

For a doggy toilet, use sheets of newspaper sprinkled with soil, or a litter box filled with a roll of turf, or a concrete paving slab. Thus your dog will develop olfactory and substrate preferences for eliminating on soil, grass, or concrete - whatever material is outside your home, where the dog will normally potty.

The purpose of long-term confinement is to confine your dog’s natural behaviors (including urinating and defecating) to an area that is protected (thus preventing any mistakes around the house when you are not there), and to help your dog quickly develop a strong preference for eliminating on soil, grass, or concrete.

Teach Your Dog to Eliminate in the Right Place

When you are at home, confine your dog to a short-term confinement area with a number of chew toys for entertainment. A portable dog crate makes an ideal doggy den. Alternatively, keep your dog on a short leash fastened to an eye-hook in the base board near her bed, or attach the leash to your belt. This way your dog may settle down beside you while you read, work at the computer, or watch television.

Every hour on the hour, say "Let’s go pee and poop" (or some other appropriate toilet instruction), and hurry your dog (on leash) to her toilet (in your yard, or at curbside outside the front door of your house or apartment building). Stand still with your dog on leash and repeat the instruction to eliminate.

Give your dog three minutes to empty herself.

When your dog eliminates, praise her enthusiastically and offer three freeze-dried liver treats. Most puppies will urinate within two minutes on each trip to a toilet area, and defecate within three minutes on every other trip. Once your dog realizes that she can cash in her urine  and  feces  for  tasty  treats, she  will  want  to eliminate in her toilet area. Soiling the house just does not have comparable fringe benefits. Moreover, after a dozen or so repetitions, you will have taught your dog to eliminate on command.

If your dog does not eliminate during the allotted three-minute toilet break, put her back inside her crate for another hour.

The purpose of short-term close confinement is to prevent any mistakes around the house when you are home (but cannot devote undivided attention to your dog) and to predict when your dog needs to eliminate.

Temporarily (for no more than an hour at a time) confining a puppy to a small space (e.g., a dog crate) inhibits elimination, since the dog does not want to soil her sleeping area. Consequently, your dog will want to go immediately upon release from confinement— especially since hurrying to the toilet area will jiggle her bladder and bowels.

Since you choose when to release your dog, you may choose when your puppy eliminates, and since you can predict when your dog needs to eliminate, you may be there to show her where to go, to reward your dog for going, and to inspect and immediately clean up after your dog.

Never confine a puppy or an unhousetrained adult dog to a crate for longer than an hour. A dog confined too long will be forced to soil her crate, making her extremely difficult to housetrain.

Once your pup is old enough to go on walks, make sure she eliminates (in the yard, or in front of your house) before each walk. If your dog does not go within three minutes, put her back in her crate and try again an hour later.

However, if your dog does go, praise and reward her as usual and then say “Let’s go for a walk.” With a no-feces/no-walk policy, you will soon have a very speedy defecator. Moreover, elimination close to home facilitates clean-up and disposal; you will not have to stroll the neighborhood weighed down with a bag of doggie doo.

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