“I can’t get this puppy to stop peeing everywhere!” I hear this nearly everyday.

Housebreaking a Puppy


There are some very simple rules that you must remember when attempting to housebreak your new puppy:

Puppies need to relieve themselves often but most commonly do it after given periods.

  • after they wake up,
  • after they eat or drink (approximately 5-10 minutes later)
  • after a period of play and they are “winding down”

Most puppies prefer to “go” away from their eating and sleeping areas. Use this knowledge to set up a schedule to aid you in housebreaking.

Use a crate as your number one training tool!

Always take your puppy out first thing in the morning, 5 minutes after he eats, and when he starts “winding down”.

When taking him out of the crate, coax him to follow you outside to relieve himself. (It is better to coax him than carry him because, this helps him to learn to run to the door when he needs to go out).

Choose a command such as “go potty, or hurry up, or go bathroom”. Ignore him until he does go. Do NOT talk to him, pet him, or even acknowledge him until he goes. Turn your back on him and step away from him if he starts jumping on your leg for attention. But, when he does go, praise him lavishing for going. Give the command each time he goes out to the bathroom — at this stage he’s not really minding your command, but you’re associating the act with the words, which will come in handy in the future.

Don’t give him full run of the house. Close doors or use baby gates to keep him where you can see him at all times.

If you work and cannot come home for lunch, get a friend or neighbor to take him out about midday if possible. If that’s not possible, set your puppy up in a safe area like the kitchen (not in his crate — you do not want him to get accustomed to peeing where he is sleeping), and realize you’ll be cleaning up a mess when you get home. Don’t punish your puppy for the mess, because he can’t help himself.

Feed your puppy at dinnertime, take him out, out and let him play. But, do not leave food out for him after dinner. Try to feed him about 6:00-7:00 p.m. so that the food has a chance to traverse the GI tract before you go to bed. That way, he won’t have to keep getting you up during the night. Also, offer him a little water a couple of hours before bedtime, but do not leave water in his crate with him. If he does have to get up in the middle of the night, you can offer him so then but don’t leave it out.

Take a last trip out right before bedtime. Give your command, and after your puppy does what you want, praise him like the dickens. Then bring him inside and put him in his crate for the night. For the first month or so, you may also have to add a “wee-hours” outing to the schedule. If he wakes up and fusses at 3 a.m., take him out.

If you’re patient, positive and consistent, your puppy will start getting the idea right away, even if his body won’t allow him to be “perfect” for a few months yet. (Don’t punish for “mistakes” — just clean them up thoroughly.) If he doesn’t seem to understand what you want, feel free to give me a call and I will be glad to help with work though the problem with you. If we can’t get you back on track, then I will be happy to refer you to a behaviorist to figure out what the problem is.

Housebreaking the Adult Dog

There’s no such thing as a “partially” house-trained dog. He either is or he isn’t.

If your dog is only “sometimes” reliable, you have a dog that is not truly housebroken. You may have a dog who doesn’t actually understand fully what’s required of him. Was he ever completely taught “The Rules”? You have to go back to square one and teach him properly. No shortcuts here.

Before you start training, though, you must be sure that what you have really is a behavior problem and not a physical problem. This is especially true with a dog who has been housebroken in the past but has only recently started “going” in the house. If he has a physical problem, you will find housebreaking unrewarding and he will find it frustrating and scary, especially if he is also struggling with an illness. You need to check with your veterinarian first for a complete checkup including a urinalysis, a fecal, and possibly bloodwork and/or consultation. (Some dogs may also suffer from separation anxiety when their owners leave — make sure that this is not the case with your pet!)

If you’ve ruled out medical problems, house-training an adult dog uses the same principles as house-training a puppy, except you have to be even more diligent because you need to do some un-training, too. You’ll need to teach your dog what’s right before you can correct him for what’s wrong. To do this, spend a couple of weeks ensuring that he has nothing but successes by never giving him the opportunity to make a mistake.

Leash him to you in the house so you can monitor his every move during his training period. You can also lock him in the room that you are in with a door or puppy gate. If he starts to mess, tell him “no,” take him outside, and give him his command for going (I use “go potty” or “hurry up” with my dogs; Southeastern Guide Dogs uses “get busy”). Then praise him for doing right, so he starts to understand what you want.
Put him in a crate whenever he’s not on leash with you. It’s fine during training to leave him in a crate for four or five hours at a stretch — assuming, of course, that he’s getting his regular daily exercise.

If you continue to have problems, check with your local veterinarian for a referral to a veterinary behaviorist. One-on-one assistance can usually pinpoint the problems in your training regimen and get you both on the right track.

Other important tips:

Don’t shove your puppy’s nose in any messes he might make. Old ideas are not always the best! If you catch your dog in the act, a stern “no” will suffice, followed by an immediate trip outside.

Learn about crate training — it is not cruel. It is in fact the easiest way to housebreak.

bullet When the dog is confined, he can’t sneak off to another room to relieve himself
bullet He learns to develop bowel and bladder control — few dogs are willing to mess where they sleep.
Always use the same location for bathroom breaks. Don’t pet him or talk to him until he goes.

Never let a whining puppy or dog out of his crate until he quits whining. Otherwise, you will have just successfully taught your canine friend that he will be rewarded for the noise. And, next time he will whine even more insistently.

If you still having accidents in the house, and you aren’t catching him, you’re not keeping close enough tabs on him. Go back to the crate and leash, and start over.

I find that people never seem shy about punishing their dogs, but too often forget to praise them — they take it for granted the dog should do the right thing. Never, ever forget the praise!

If you’ve been consistent, your dog likely will get a good idea of what’s expected of him within a couple of weeks, and you can start to give him a little freedom. Don’t let him have the run of the house yet. Keep his area small and let him earn the house, room by room, as he proves his understanding of the house rules.

Eventually, your pet will be spending more of his time loose in the house under your supervision, and he will start asking to go outside. You must always remember to reward this behavior with either praise and treats.

The lessons pay off for life, too: A dog who is used to being comfortably confined will be less stressed by being caged at the veterinarian hospital if sick and also will have more options for housing when you go a vacation.