House Training Your Puppy

Question: My puppy still goes to the bathroom in our house. We’ve tried a lot of different things, but how can we get her to stop and go outside? – Amber

The fact is, short of a medical condition, if your dog is going to the bathroom in the house, he’s not fully housetrained. He’s not sure enough of the rules, and/ or doesn’t have a strong enough reward history with eliminating outside to do so exclusively. The BEST way to fix this is to go back to basics.

Proper, efficient housetraining involves two main components:

1. Teaching Your Dog not to Eliminate in the House

In order to do this, you must supervise or contain your pup at all times. ”Accidents” are innately reinforcing for your pup because he feels better, physically, immediately after eliminating. No correction after the fact will negate that reinforcement. And remember, reinforcement makes a behavior more likely to occur again. So the best way to avoid your pup teaching himself to eliminate in the house is to eliminate his opportunities to have accidents. Gradually increase the length of and area in which your pup is given supervised play times. Allow him to earn more freedom by demonstrating his understanding of the rules of the house.

The supervise-and-contain scheme requires some management. Crate training is one great management tool; your pup can sleep or hang out in a crate for a few hours at a time when you are unable to supervise him at all. If you are doing things around the house and your attention will be divided, you can try putting up a baby gate to keep your pup in one room with you; or keeping a leash on your pup in the house, and attaching one end to yourself.

If your dog has already made a habit of going to the bathroom in the house, you’ll need to clean the areas where this has occurred very thoroughly, and keep in mind that when your dog sniffs these spots in the future, they will probably be a tempting place to go to the bathroom. Be sure not to use a cleaner with ammonia, as there is ammonia in urine and hence, it actually makes for an enticing pee spot. Use a high-quality cleaner made specifically for removing pet-related stains and odor.

2. Teaching Your Dog Where He Should Eliminate

While keeping your pup from developing the habit of going to the bathroom in the house, teach him that it’s extra rewarding to do so outside.

First, put your pup on a schedule. This will make it easier for you to anticipate when he’ll need to go to the bathroom. Feed your pup at set times during the day, removing any leftover food after 20 minutes or so. Then, keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • Until the age of 8 or 9 weeks, your pup has little ability to control his bladder at all. But as a very general rule, you should expect your pup to be able to “hold it” for the number of hours equal to his age in months plus one. So, an 8-week old pup should be able to hold it for 3 hours. A 12 week-old pup should be able to hold it for 4 hours.
  • Your pup will also need to go out:

-About 10 minutes after drinking water

-About 15-20 minutes after eating

-Immediately upon waking up in the morning or from a nap

-Immediately upon coming out of his crate

-After play time or a vigorous bone-chewing session

When you do take your pup outside, always have him on a leash, so that you can supervise, see whether or not he eliminates, and be there to reward him when he does. Take him to a particular area and let him sniff around a bit. If he does not eliminate within 5-10 minutes, bring him inside and put him in his crate for 10-15 minutes, then try again.

When your pup does eliminate outside, throw him a party. Give treats, praise, and the opportunity to play a bit, with you, in the yard. Once your pup starts eliminating regularly and relatively quickly outside, you can introduce a “cue”; a phrase like, “Go potty!” After a while, he will come to associate this phrase with the action and then the reward. Then you’ll be able to use the phrase in the future, to encourage your dog to eliminate.

If you catch your pup in the act of eliminating in the house, simply take him outside to finish. This way, he gets both the innate physical reinforcement of eliminating and the treats and play you give him for eliminating outside. If you see after the fact that your pup has had an accident, however, the damage is already done. After (literally) a second or two, your dog does not associate the pee or poop on the floor with anything he’s done, though he can come to associate its mere presence with your anger if you punish him at that point. So do everything you can to eliminate opportunities for accidents!

Supervising your pup as well as it takes to housetrain him properly may take some re-working of schedules. But take heart; if you follow this plan carefully and consistently, your pup (provided he’s old enough to be physically capable) can be fully housetrained in just a couple of weeks.


Guest Contributor–Danielle Grand has spent the last decade working to parlay her affinity for animals into a dog training career. While earning her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, she was involved in an experimental study on canine cognition. She has also obtained her dog training certification from Animal Behavior College and attended numerous dog training seminars conducted by respected behaviorists. At home in New York’s capital region, she works closely with colleagues and mentors to expand her expertise; she hopes to help forge strong, happy relationships between many dogs and their humans.


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