Housetraining your dog is one of the most important foundational behaviors you can teach him. Dogs that are not housetrained 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 housetraining 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 never let him eliminate in the wrong place. Following the suggestions below will help you to achieve this. You must stick to the program 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 housetraining.


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 “free feeding”, or 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.

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 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 tone of voice; 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 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 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 for it.


Dogs that are raised in correct environments as puppies have an instinct not to foul the place where they sleep. This is referred to as the “denning instinct”, and can be helpful when teaching a dog to hold it. (Puppies sold in pet stores or from kennels with only one surface available for both sleeping and eliminating might have had this instinct squashed and may be more difficult to housetrain.)

When housetraining 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 kick in the denning instinct so he will 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 and how strong his denning instinct is. 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 “wee-wee 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 housetraining 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 are supervising your dog correctly, you can catch him “mid-stream”. When this happens, startle him with a loud 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 severely startled by your interruption. Smile and praise him quietly for finishing in the right spot.


  • 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 only 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 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.

  • Pay attention at all times 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 in a session. 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 rooms of the house, one at a time. Some dogs will tend to have accidents in rooms that are not frequented by their human pack, thinking of these places as remote to the living/sleeping areas. Your final housetraining goal will be to teach him that all parts of the house are included in the “den” that he shouldn’t eliminate in. When 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 the time you give him. 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!