Housetraining basics

Dogs will instinctively eliminate away from the areas where they sleep or eat. This instinct, however, will not stop a dog from going in the house. There can be many reasons for this:

  • A medical issue or certain medications may cause a dog to lose control.
  • Puppies (and some adult dogs) lack the control and/or training to go outside.
  • Dogs, especially unneutered males, mark their territory with urine.
  • Some dogs, especially young puppies and females, will urinate when they get excited or anxious.

But if your dog or pup is going in the house simply because he doesn’t know any better, it’s time for some training.

The basics

Start by picking an area where you want him to go. For most dogs, this should be outside in a fenced yard; yet some condo or apartment dwellers may not have that luxury and choose instead to paper and/or place train their dog. Next, you’ll need to work on getting your dog to this special spot when he has to go.

Housetraining requires time, patience, and consistency to work. Some puppies may not be fully housetrained until they are 8-12 months of age. One of the first lessons is that, while your pooch is in training, he should not have the run of the house. You must keep him somewhat confined, either in a certain room, or if needed, a dog crate (keep crating to a minimum until your dog learns to hold it.)

Remember that a puppy can only go so long before they have to “go.” A general rule is that a puppy can only hold it as long as he is old–in other words, a three-month old pup can only go three hours without a trip to the doggy potty. For adult dogs adopted from shelters, a refresher course on housetraining is always a good idea.

Steps to take:

  • Put your dog on a regular meal schedule. Remove any food that he doesn’t finish.
  • When dogs are learning, keep a sharp eye on them. It takes awhile for a dog to learn how to signal you that he needs to go, so watch for the signs. If he suddenly leaves the room, sniffs the floor, turns in a circle–whatever sort of signal he’s come up with–take him outside immediately.
  • If watching your dog is hard or impossible, you should confine him. Put him in a small room with the door closed or space separated by a child gate. Another option is to use a crate. All of these options should only be used for short periods of time. Remember, a puppy generally lacks the ability to hold it for that long. You could also tie a short (about four feet) leash to your belt which ensures the dog is always with you. As you train him, you can also increase his freedom to roam, but watch out for those tell-tale signs.
  • When you take your dog outside, be sure to reward and praise him when he eliminates. Taking him to the same place each time may help encourage him to go. Some dogs will eliminate quickly, both outside and on walks; others may need a bit of exercise first.
  • Make a schedule for potty times and stick to it. Your young pup will need to be taken out at least once an hour and always after eating, playing, and napping. You will probably have to take your puppy out several times during the night, too. Always take your pooch out first thing in the morning and just before you retire for the night. If you are going to leave him alone and confined for a while, take him out and encourage him to relieve himself first. Grown dogs will probably need at least four opportunities a day to eliminate.
  • If you catch your dog in the act of urinating or defecating, make a loud noise (such as “STOP!”) and immediately put him outside. The idea is to shock him into stopping. Carry him outdoors if he is small enough or grab his collar and escort him out. When he finishes outside, reward and praise him. If you were too late to punish him, don’t make a fuss or put him outside; it’s too late for him to make the connection.
  • An enzymatic cleanser should be used to clean the spot. These cleaners help to eliminate the odor that attracts your dog back to the spot again.

Don’ts:

  • Don’t push and rub your dog’s nose in the spot. This old wives’ tale doesn’t work.
  • Don’t yell at your dog unless you have caught him mid-act. The yell is meant to scare him into stopping, not verbally punish him for the accident.
  • Don’t smack him with a newspaper, or throw him outside. Punishment doesn’t work!
  • Don’t confine your dog in a crate if he has eliminated there previously. Dogs don’t like to be where they have gone potty and you will simply stress him out.
  • If your dog is an outside dog, don’t bring him back in right after he goes. Leaving him out awhile may help him learn to hold it.
  • Don’t use ammonia cleaners on stains. Urine contains ammonia and may act as an attractant for your dog.

Most of all use patience. Your puppy isn’t punishing you, nor is he necessarily a slow learner if he has accidents. You may simply have missed his signs that it was time to go.

Paper training and your pup

After many studies, it has been shown that training your dog to go on paper while also expecting him to go outside is confusing and can make housetraining much more difficult. If you want your dog to go outside and hold it inside, then you must consistently be there to take him out when he needs to go.

However, there are some cases where your dog just can’t go outside. If you have mobility issues, or live in an apartment or condo, there may not be an outside for you to use. In these cases, paper training is the same as training him to go outside. The area where you want him to go should be well defined. Don’t put papers down in one area, and then change them to another. Be sure there is plenty of room for him to go and change papers frequently. If there isn’t room left on the paper, he’ll likely go as close to it as possible, but on your nice floor.

If you have a patio or balcony, using a boxed chunk of grass sod as a potty spot is a good idea and will get him used to going when on walks. You can buy these in some pet stores ready to use or you can make one yourself with materials from your local garden store.

Source: Adapted from the ASPCA