So you are having difficulty housebreaking your dog? Fear not, for you are certainly not alone!
As a dog trainer, one of the most frequent inquiries I receive is for clients struggling with dogs having accidents in their homes, especially from new owners. But what us the best way to housebreak your dog?
Because housebreaking is such a common issue, there is a wide variety of information giving suggestions on what you should do to fix it. Unfortunately, some of that information comes from archaic practices in dog training that can actually be detrimental to your dog’s progress and can potentially damage the bond between you and your pup.
Introduction To House Breaking Your Dog
Our goal is to sift through that information for you, so you can begin seeing success without all the potentially destructive trial and error.
In this article, I will cover the best approaches and most common mistakes and misconceptions. The methods used to housebreak dogs generall fall into three categories
- “The Good” – the things you should be doing,
- “The Bad” – the things you should not be doing, and
- “The Ugly” – the things that could seriously impact your dog’s behavior in a negative fashion.
OK, so lets get started with the good and begin work to get your pup's housebreaking off on the right paw.
The Good - House Breaking Your Dog The Right Way
Since the primary goal of housebreaking is to ensure to prevent all accidents inside, the most practical way to do this is, quite simply, to make sure that your dogs relieve themselves outside. But how can you do this?
The following tips will encourage your dog to potty outside, and hence reduce the risk of them having accidents inside.
Reinforce behavior that you like!
While housebreaking your pup, always accompany your dog outside. Then, when they go to the bathroom, be sure to praise them and give a few yummy treats or praise.
Simply by showing your dog that good things happen when they go to the bathroom outside, you drastically increase the likelihood that they will go to the bathroom when you bring them out next time.
However, do not interrupt or distract your pup while they are going to the bathroom, but wait until they are finishing up before you begin praising.
Keep your dog confined while unsupervised
No pet owner can pay attention to their dog 24/7, and no trainer expects you to be able to. The trick is to make sure they cannot nip off easily.
So if you have to leave your puppy unsupervised it is best to do so in a confined area like a crate, playpen, gated off kitchen or laundry room.
By confining your pet to a small enough area their natural instinct not to soil the place they sleep will kick in, and they will be less likely to have an accident - simple really!
Do be aware, when you first confine them, some whining is normal, but if they begin whining again at any point they may need to be taken outside to go potty.
Always supervise your pup
When your dog is outside of their confinement area they should always be kept supervised or within your view.
Most puppies sneak off to other rooms to have accidents. So if your pup tries to wander off, it is a good sign they might need you to take them outside!
If you cannot keep an eye on your dog, make sure they cannot sneak off. Put them on a leash attached to you, put up a gate or place them in their confinement area.
Know when your dog is most likely to have to “go”!
There are a few common times when a puppy is likely to need to relieve themselves:
- waking up from sleep
- after rigorous play
- and about 20 minutes after drinking.
So, if your pup has just woken up in the morning, or if they are just waking up from taking a nap, make sure to get them outside to go potty!
Likewise, when your puppy gets that burst of energy and zooms around the house for ten minutes (AKA zoomies) the second they slow down they will probably need to be taken outside.
Finally, if your dog gulps down a bowl of water it will typically take 20 minutes for them to digest it. This is so predictable that when I see them do this, I often set a timer on my phone or oven, and take them outside when the timer goes off.
20 minutes should be about the right amount of time, but if they have an accident before your timer goes off check how much time is left and adjust accordingly. Likewise, if they have an accident after you bring them back inside you may need to set your timer for slightly longer than 20 minutes.
Give meals at specific times
While the time takes for water to go through a puppy's system is relatively predictable, different puppies digest food at different rates. However, this rate is typically constant for each dog.
So, if you feed your pup at the same time every day, they should need to poop at about the same time every day as well. Again, figure out your pup’s time and set an alarm!
The Bad - Mistakes to avoid when Housebreaking your dog
One of the most common, and most counter-productive, mistakes in housebreaking is the use of potty pads/wee wee pads/puppy pads.
Virtually all new puppy owners go on a shopping trip in preparation for (or if they are a little lazy… when they pick up) their new family member. More often than not the shopping list for that trip almost always includes puppy pads.
I am not denouncing purchasing puppy pads by any means, and there are always cases where a dog uses them consistently or needs them because of incontinence, but if your goal is to have your dog go to the bathroom outside they are not a good choice.
The only way for your dog to be 100% housebroken is to keep your dog from peeing and pooping in the house, and in most cases a dog can be left unsupervised after they have gone a month without a single accident inside.
Why Are Potty Pads Bad?
Potty pads, by their nature, encourage your dog to go to the bathroom on them, and the vast majority also have pheromones to encourage this.
Even the most intelligent dog is going to find it hard to figure out that it is OK to go inside when wearing a pad, but not otherwise. So even if they are wearing a pad, letting your dog go in the house is directly conflicting with your goal of preventing accidents in the house. In fact every time your dog goes to the bathroom inside they are more likely to do so again.
Thus by encouraging your dog to go to the bathroom in their potty pads, you are only confusing them and blurring the lines of what is acceptable in terms of where they can potty.
Dogs are quite intelligent, but to expect your dog to understand that it is okay for them to pee on a paper square on the floor but not on the rug in the bathroom is entirely unrealistic.
You need to provide clear and concise feedback to our dogs. Let your pup know that you love when they go to the bathroom outside, with plenty of "good dog" and even treats until they get the hang of it.
Anytime they are somewhere you do not want them going to the bathroom make sure they are aware that you do not want them to go there and take them outside as often as possible.
Unfortunately, many dog owners attempt to give feedback in the form of punishment, bringing us to our final category.
The Ugly - Mistakes That Could Cause Issues
So using potty pads with your dog may cause some minor setbacks, but you will not cause any truly detrimental or irreversible damage to your pet’s behavior by letting them use pee pads for a week or two.
However, there is another very common misconception that can. The “rub their nose in it” mentality is outdated, cruel, can cause behavioral issues in the long run, and possibly the most stupid part… it doesn’t even work!
Even if you catch a dog during the act of going to the bathroom in the house, punishing them for that behavior will not result in the dog consciously considering where to go to the bathroom next time.
Housebreaking in dogs is not a deliberate thought process, dogs simply “go” where they have always gone. If they can’t get to the spot they are used to using, they will whine or will hold it until they cannot hold it anymore.
Punishing a dog for that puddle on the floor will only teach him two things, that when you are agitated you yell or hit, and that a puddle of pee on the floor makes you agitated.
Your dog can’t understand that when they need to go to the bathroom the result of that action is a puddle of pee, but when they see the puddle they will look “guilty” because you have reacted poorly to that particular thing in the past.
As a dog owner it is important for you to understand what works when teaching your dog, in any situation. Dogs need clear and specific feedback from us to learn anything that we expect them to know, and it is important to make sure the feedback you are giving isn’t causing further confusion.
Be patient with your puppy and help them learn what you want them to know, instead of expecting them to know it already and being angry when they don’t. Keep your pup under close supervision, ensure they are properly confined to smaller areas to prevent accidents, and reward them for potty outside. That formula, when executed with some hard work and persistence, will result in a fully housebroken dog.
- 1 Introduction To House Breaking Your Dog
- 2 The Good - House Breaking Your Dog The Right Way
- 3 The Bad - Mistakes to avoid when Housebreaking your dog
- 4 The Ugly - Mistakes That Could Cause Issues
- 5 Summary