House training your dog is one of the most important foundational behaviors you can teach him. Dogs that are not house trained tend to spend more time outside and less time with their human families.
Going “potty” is a self-rewarding behavior because it feels good to relieve oneself. Each time your dog goes potty in the right place, he’s rewarded by the good feeling the act produces and it’s a positive training session. When he has a successful completion in the wrong place it still feels good – you may as well have given him a treat for the wrong behavior! The trick to house training a dog of any age is to set him up to have lots of positive training sessions going potty where you want him to, and to do your best to not let him eliminate in the wrong place. You must stick to your house training protocol consistently until your dog has been accident-free for at least two months, then you can start to relax the guidelines a bit. Remember that inclement weather, changes in environment, health problems and stress can cause any dog to backslide on his house training.
ANTICIPATING YOUR DOG’S NEEDS:
There are certain times when your dog will usually have to go potty, and if he is fed at regular times he will tend towards a more predictable schedule. Avoid leaving food down all the time. If you don’t know what time the food went into your dog, it’s harder to know when the food might come out of your dog. These predictable times are:
When he wakes up from sleeping (even if it’s a short nap)
Fifteen minutes or so after eating a meal (for some dogs, especially smaller ones, it can be even sooner)
After mental or physical activity and becoming excited
Make sure to take your dog to the place where you want him to eliminate at these times, and as often as you can in between. Remember, it’s your goal to give him as many opportunities as possible to go in the correct place. A printed tracking sheet kept where all members of your household can easily access it can be extremely helpful for predicting when your dog may need to go potty. Below is a free tracking sheet (with “U” meaning urination and “BM” meaning bowel movement) which you can right-click, save and print to use for your dog each week:
Once you are able to predict when your dog has to go potty, it’s easy to teach him to go on cue. When you’re pretty sure he has to go (such as first thing in the morning), take him to his elimination area and walk in a small circle, looking at the ground (not at your dog). Calmly repeat the cue you’ve chosen over and over. When he starts to eliminate, smile and quietly praise your pup: “Gooooood potty”. Don’t use an excited, high-pitched tone of voice because you don’t want to distract him from the task at hand.
Adult dogs can “hold it” much longer than puppies, although many puppies can hold it sleeping through the night (six or seven hours) as early as eight weeks of age. Pick up your dog’s water one or two hours before bedtime. Take him out for a walk or romp in the yard, then give him ten minutes of quiet time in his potty area to make sure he has a chance to completely empty himself so he can sleep through the night.
As a general rule, puppies can hold it during the day for as many hours as they are months old. For example, when awake, a three-month-old puppy can typically hold it for a maximum of three hours. (If your young pup is excited, playing or even just actively frolicking about, he may not be able to hold it this long.) At around four months, puppies begin to develop sphincter control and start to gain the ability to hold it longer. It’s important to provide a young puppy with even more opportunities to go in the place you want him to – take him outside every hour if possible. Give him lots and lots and lots of chances to do the right thing so he can be rewarded over an over again!
SUPERVISION AND CONFINEMENT:
Dogs that are raised in appropriate environments as puppies have a natural instinct not to foul the place where they sleep. Puppies sold in pet stores or raised in kennels with only one surface available for both sleeping and eliminating may be more take longer to house train.
When house training a dog, he must be left in only one of three possible situations:
In an area where he is allowed to go potty
In an area that is small enough to encourage him to “hold it”
150% SUPERVISED by a human
The area where your dog is allowed to potty should be the place where you want him to go for the rest of his life, such as a safe and secure yard. The size of the smaller area that will teach him to hold it will vary depending on the size of the dog. Some dogs will need a very small area (like a crate), while others will be O.K. in a small room or pen. Alternatively, small dogs or dogs that must be left for long periods of time inside may be kept in a pen or small room with chemically treated “potty pads” available for them. It’s smart to purchase the plastic frames available for these pads, so your dog will be less apt to use them as toys. If you’re using pads, it’s also a good idea to offer your dog only two surfaces to choose from at first – the pad and a sleeping surface or open crate. This, along with the chemical pheromones the pads come treated with, will encourage him to use them as his toilet.
The most important part of your house training program is that you must supervise your dog when he is not confined or in an area where he is allowed to go potty. This means you are actively aware at all times of what your dog is doing, when he last ate, and when he last peed and pooped. It doesn’t mean just keeping your puppy in the room with you while you’re busy working on your computer. Particularly with a small dog, you may want to use the “umbilical cord” method – keeping him with you on leash at all times. Your goal is to never allow a successful elimination in the wrong place. If you’re supervising your dog correctly, you can catch him “mid-stream” when he starts to have an accident. When this happens, interrupt him by picking him up or making a distracting noise (not by yelling, “NO!” or other “correction”) and immediately rush him out to the designated potty area. Calmly use your potty cue/watching the ground/walking in circles routine until he finishes his business. This may take up to ten minutes or more, especially if he was startled by your interruption. Smile and praise him quietly for finishing in the right spot.
THINGS TO REMEMBER:
NEVER, EVER punish your dog for having an accident after the fact. This will not take away the enjoyment he felt while eliminating and will often just teach a dog to be sneakier. If he has an accident, it’s your fault for not following your training program.
Clean up accidents quickly and thoroughly with white vinegar or a commercially available enzyme product like Nature’s Miracle. Avoid products with ammonia in them (remember to test for color fastness first). Don’t let your dog see you cleaning up – it’s better not to draw attention to it. Make him think it magically disappeared.
Always pay attention to your dog’s indications that he may have to go. Don’t wait for a frustrated bark or other behavior you don’t want to encourage. Let him outside when he’s circling, sniffing, sitting near or even looking at the door.
Sometimes dogs, especially young puppies, may have to go more than once. This most often occurs in first thing in the morning or when they have held it for an especially long time.
The predictable potty time humans tend to miss most often is after the dog has been mentally or physically active. Make sure to give your dog a chance to go after he’s been excited, or when he’s had a fun play or training session.
It’s important to spend supervised time with your dog in all the rooms of your home. Some dogs will tend to have accidents in rooms that are not frequented by their humans, thinking of these places as remote to the living/sleeping areas. Your final house training goal will be to teach him not to potty in any indoor areas. If your dog has gone two months without an accident, you can gradually start to give him more freedom. After he’s pooped and peed and you know he’s empty, you can relax your supervision for short periods of time. Slowly start to extend these unsupervised times. If he has an accident, back up to your last training stage and start your program again at that level. Take your time with this all-important training, and you will have a canine companion you can trust in your home for many years to come!
If you’re struggling to house train your puppy or older dog, please feel free to give us a call at 818-832-9906.