How to housebreak a dog
The key to housebreaking your dog is to make it as easy as possible for him to succeed. If you schedule all of his activities and look for behavior that signals he needs to go out, you minimize the chance that an accident will occur and your dog will grow more confident as a result.
Maintaining a consistent schedule when housebreaking your dog helps to reduce the possibility of accidents and makes it easier for him to learn what you expect of him. It’s more effective to take your dog outside every two hours and after every meal than it is to try and guess when he needs to go out. As the housebreaking process moves forward you’ll learn how long your dog can hold it and the behavior he shows to tell you he needs to go out. Schedule all of his daily activities including meals, walks, and trips to the bathroom.
When to take your dog outside
During the initial phases of housebreaking, your dog should be taken outside every morning, after each meal, every two to three hours during the day, and again before bed. Take your dog out at the same time every day.
Learning how to housebreak a dog isn’t entirely up to your pet. You need to pay attention to him between bathroom breaks and watch for signs he has to go out. Signals could include scratching at the door, sniffing the ground or door, whining, or pacing. Once you recognize these signals, you can extend the period between trips outside.
What to do while outside
Designate a particular area for elimination and use only that area. Walk the same route to this spot each time you go out and keep your dog on a leash. Don’t let him out on his own. Remember, consistency and well-timed praise are key if you want your dog to learn quickly.
Once you’re outside and it looks as though your dog is ready to eliminate, softly say a command such as “do it” or “hurry up”. Continue to repeat the command until your dog actually begins to go. At that point, quietly change from the command to gentle praise until he’s finished. When your dog is done, give him plenty of praise and head back to the house using the same path you took outside.
If you apply this method consistently while housebreaking your dog, he’ll learn to eliminate on your command, which can be useful on rainy or cold days.
What to do about accidents
Accidents are bound to happen, but do not punish your dog! Disciplining him after he has already made the mess will only confuse him and complicate the housebreaking process. Your dog will learn faster if you reward good behavior rather than punish bad behavior.
If you see him going in the house
Make a loud noise by clapping your hands, stomping on the floor, or throwing a shake can (an empty pop can with pennies inside). You want to interrupt the behavior as quickly as possible. Then take your dog outside as described above and praise him when he’s done.
If you find the mess after he’s already done
Clean it up and think about where YOU went wrong in housebreaking your dog. Did you misinterpret the signals he gave to go outside? Did you break the schedule or give him too much water before bed? Were you vigilant enough while he was in the house? Figure out where you failed your dog and you’ll help him to succeed in the future.
Clean the area immediately with an odor neutralizer or other product designed specifically for pet messes. Don’t rely on standard chemical cleaners or those with ammonia. They can’t completely eliminate an odor, which means your dog may be inclined to return to the spot.
If you keep a schedule and have a keen interest in your dog’s behavior, learning how to housebreak your dog can be fairly easy and you can keep the number of accidents to a minimum. Read our dog house training tips for more advice on how to make the housebreaking process go as smoothly as possible.
Another option is to attach a long leash to your puppy and the other end to you. Now everywhere you go, he goes, too. Remember to bring your dog to the potty zone every few hours, or when he starts acting as if he has to eliminate.
To help make the paper training process go even more smoothly, avoid these common pitfalls:
- Changing brands of food or giving table scraps. Sudden diet changes can give your dog an upset stomach or diarrhea.
- Physical punishment. Never rub your dog's nose in his mess, hit him with your hand or rolled-up newspaper. This is not an effective way of training and, in fact, may lead to aggressive behavior later on, says Anderson.
- Free feeding. Leaving out a bowl full of kibble all day makes it difficult to predict when your dog needs to eliminate.
- Dual housetraining. Training for both indoor and outdoor elimination is too confusing for dogs, says California trainer Pitts, who advises clients to pick one or the other and stick with it.
After about a week, if your pup or adult small dog hasn't gotten the hang of where to go, consult with your veterinarian. An underlying medical problem, such as internal parasites or a bladder infection, might be to blame. Some drugs also cause diarrhea or increased urination. If your dog is currently taking medication, ask your vet if these are possible side effects.