Three steps to a housetrained dog

It’s crucial to start housetraining as soon as possible–ideally, the day your new dog or puppy comes home. The habits your pup forms now can set the precedent for weeks, months, or even years to come, so a little effort now saves lots of time and frustration later on. Once you’ve set up your home with the proper supplies, you can get started.

Housetraining is quite simple, but the program you follow will vary depending on your situation.

The “you’ve got a yard or a dog old enough to go outside” program

Then you’re ready to start. Here are the three steps to fail-proof housetraining:

1. Keep your dog in her crate, with a few stuffed chewtoys to keep her entertained, when you’re not playing with her or watching her closely. This is also where she’ll sleep. A crated pup will “hold it” to avoid soiling her sleeping area.

2. Release your puppy or dog from the crate every hour and quickly run her–on leash if necessary–to a toilet area outside. It’s best to use the same area each time so pick a spot that’s convenient for poop-scooping. Tell her to eliminate, using a phrase that you don’t use in normal conversation, such as “Go pee or poop!” or “Do your business!” Give her about three minutes to go, standing still and letting her circle, which is normal dog behavior, before eliminating. Most puppies will pee at each bathroom break, and poop every two to three breaks.

3. Praise her enthusiastically immediately after she pees or poops and reward her with freeze-dried liver treats. It’s a good idea to stash some treats in a screw-top jar near the toilet area so you’ll have them close at hand. Offer one treat for going anywhere outside, two treats for going within five yards of the exact area you want the dog to use, three treats for within two yards, and five treats for a bull’s eye.

After she’s gone, take her back inside for a play or training session for a half hour or so. If your dog’s old enough to safely venture into the outside world (three months of age at the earliest), take her for a post-poop walk as an additional reward.

The “you’ve got a pup and no yard” program

Then you’ll need to teach your pup to use an indoor toilet until she’s got enough immunity to doggy diseases to go outside (three months of age at the earliest). Then you can start the three-step housetraining routine described above. In the meantime:

1. Keep her in her “puppy playroom” with her doggy toilet, when you’re not able to keep a close eye on her. If you want your city pup to always use an indoor toilet, it makes things easier in the long run if the playroom is in the same spot where you want her eventual indoor toilet to be.

2. If your pup circles, sniffs, or shows other signs that she’s about to eliminate, call and entice her to the doggy toilet.

3. When she uses her toilet, praise her profusely and reward her with treats. If she starts to eliminate outside the toilet area, shout her name to distract her and then try to urge her toward the right spot.

To relocate the indoor toilet, move it gradually–one or two feet a day–to the new site, and go back to rewarding the dog every time she eliminates in the correct spot. And right from the beginning, lay down a doggy toilet in the final toilet area. When you’re home, try to lure your pup to that area and reward her for eliminating there.

Once your pup is old enough to walk around outside, you can start the three-step housetraining program described above.

Frequently asked questions

Why not just put the dog outside and let him eliminate by himself?

The whole point of the housetraining routine is so you’ll be there to offer praise and rewards when he goes in the right spot–the key to successful housetraining. Also, if you see your dog eliminate, you know he’s empty; then you can let him explore the house (under supervision) for a while before returning him to his crate.

Why command the dog to eliminate? He knows he wants to go!

By instructing your dog to eliminate before he goes and rewarding him afterward, you’ll teach your pup to go on command. Eliminating on cue is a boon when you’re traveling with your dog or short on time. Ask your dog to “Do your business,” “Go pee and poop,” or some other cue that you don’t often use in normal conversation.

Why give the puppy three minutes to eliminate? Isn’t one minute enough if he needs to go?

Usually, a young pup will pee within 30 seconds of being released from his crate, but it may take one or two minutes for him to poop.

What if the dog doesn’t eliminate when I take him outside?

Your dog will be more likely to eliminate if you stand still and let him circle around you on leash. But if he doesn’t go within three minutes, no biggie! Simply pop the pup back in his crate and try again in half an hour. Repeat the process over and over until he does eliminate.

Why praise the dog? Isn’t relief sufficient reward?

Exuberant praise and lavish rewards are the keys to successful housetraining. This is no time for understated thank you’s; tell your dog that he has done a most wonderful and glorious thing!

So as soon as your dog has done his business, drop to your knees (be careful where) and profusely pet, praise, and reward him, offering food treats, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. If you really show your appreciation, your dog will be eager to do the right thing in the right place.

Why offer treats? Isn’t praise enough of a reward?

In a word, no! Many owners–especially men–don’t praise their dogs with enough enthusiasm to really get the point across. Consequently, it’s a good idea to give the dog a food treat or two (or three) for his effort.

Your dog will conclude, “Wow! My owner’s great. Every time I pee or poop outside, he gives me a treat. I never get yummy treats when I do it on the couch. I can’t wait for my owner to come home so I can go outside and cash in my urine and feces for food treats!”