Housebreaking 101

Since many of you brought new fur-monsters home for the holidays, I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite housebreaking tips.

The essentials:

  • Your Time & Attention
  • A good quality Dog Crate / Crate Training
  • An Enzyme based cleaner for carpets
  • Consistency as in a solid, regular feeding, sleeping & exercise schedule.
  • Baby gates (not a neccessity, but helpful in many cases.)
  • Praise!
Adventure Dog Max 4 month old Beagle

Max a 4 month old beagle puppy

If you are like most American’s, you’ve got your hands full. Between your job, the kids and your puppy, there simply doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to handle everything. Don’t give up.  You’ve got a bad case of the puppy blues. If you follow some of my suggestions, develop some daily routines and provide your dog with adequate exercise and mental stimulation; I am confident that we can make some headway into the soiling issue. At the age of  12 weeks, your dog should be able to hold it for up to 4 hours… some can go all night without an accident at this age.

Toy breeds can also be notoriously difficult to housebreak. Breeders, especially those of the puppy mill variety, rarely provide enough room for puppies to learn proper elimination etiquette from the beginning. The limited size of their whelping boxes, does not allow sufficient room for mama to teach them that there should be a designation between feeding, sleeping and potty areas.

Keep in mind that while you’re trying to train your dog, your dog is also trying to train you. They rely upon puppy-like gestures, cuteness and a vast array of other incredibly manipulative strategies to get their way. Seriously, at this stage in the game it can seem like a battle of wills. I can guarantee that if you take it seriously, develop consistent daily routines and creatively manage your puppy’s environment, (especially when you can’t give her 100% of your attention,) you’ll be way ahead of the game.

As far as housebreaking goes, it’s not something that is easy to address in group classes or in one-on-one sessions. We have had some success housebreaking puppies during our board and train programs. That has more to do with the puppies witnessing all of the boarding and daycare dogs eliminating outside, than our intervention. Puppies like to imitate the adult dogs, so often this is helpful. We also praise the young dogs for going “potty outside.”  This helps to reinforce a good, desired behavior.  We also crate train puppies as part of the board and train package, since it’s never too early to teach your dog that a dog crate is a special, safe place.

Housebreaking  is something that you need to be able to manage at home and something that you can master if you keep to a feeding schedule, use night-time crating and limit your dogs’ access  to areas in the house that have easy-to-clean flooring. This is especially critical when you don’t have the resources to give the puppy your full attention at all times.

Proper communication is key when developing new behaviors. There is a very big difference between what is considered “acceptable” human behavior and what is “Normal” dog behavior. As dog owners, we have to be very aware of this. Your dog doesn’t come into your home knowing what we want him or her to do. The best method for teaching your dog wanted behaviors is praise. Praise her when she does something you want her to do again.  While you’re in this housebreaking regimen, I suggest taking your puppy outside on leash and developing a designated dog potty spot. Wait until she begins to eliminate and say “Go Potty.”  When she completes the act, tell her “Good Potty.”

Crate training can also be highly effective. We recommend that you crate train your dog as well as implement a combination of other strategies, (i.e. implementing the combination of dog crates, baby gates & enzyme based cleaners.) It is critical that you completely and quickly clean up any accidents using an enzyme based cleaner or else your dog will continue to mark in the same locations due to scent markers. Also, don’t let your puppy see you clean up the mess, most of us act a bit disgusted when we perform such tasks… it’s only natural. You do not want your puppy to feel like they’re the reason we are disgusted or unhappy.

Keep a consistent feeding schedule. (There must be virtually no variations in this schedule.) You must also develop keen observational skills. Each and every dog gives some kind of warning that they need to eliminate. However, we humans as a species, tend to have so many other things going on in our heads that we’re not very observant so we tend to miss these subtle signs.

Some dogs breathe heavily when they have to “go.” Some dogs sniff around as if they’re experiencing the living room for the 1st time. Some immediately become disobedient as all they can think about is going potty.  I tell my clients to look for a behavior that is out of the “Norm.”  When they show an unusual behavior like spinning in circles, it is time to leash them up and get them to the acceptable potty spot, fast.

If your dog normally wants to be right under your feet and all of a sudden starts hiding in other rooms, it’s a sign that they’ve been punished for eliminating in the house. They’ve simply started to hide it from us because our reaction to a wet spot or a steaming pile is unpleasant.

One other thing you’ll need to do is to praise the puppy when she does go potty outside or on a potty pad. Praise is probably the most overlooked aspect of housetraining a dog, but it is of paramount importance. The reason we use reward based training in dogs is that it really works. If we reward the behaviors that we like or behaviors that are “good” in our minds, we are associating a positive result with the desired behavior. Every time we reward a good behavior, we are increasing the likely-hood that your dog will repeat the wanted behavior.

Are you with me so far? Here’s a simple list of Doggy Do’s and Don’ts.

Potty Training Do’s and Don’ts:

Do Not Rub Your Dog’s Nose in it.                                                                                                                                  This serves no purpose for the dog.

Do Not Punish your dog unless they’ve been caught in the act.

If you’ve caught your dog in the act say, “NO!” (Loud enough to startle them, hopefully stopping the flow,) then quickly get them outside or to an appropriate elimination spot to finish the job. When they complete the job, tell them “Good Potty” or “Good Potty OUTSIDE” 

Do not get in the habit of carrying your dog outside to go potty.

This may sound ridiculous to people with large breeds, but often owners do not want their puppy to have an accident in the house, so they carry them outside. Your dog is learning that it goes potty outside ONLY WHEN CARRIED THERE… We are also missing out on teaching the dog one of the simplest markers they can show us that they have to go, walking to and or waiting by the door!

Do not let your dog witness the clean up.

Your dog will note that you find this task unpleasant. We don’t want them to think that the frustration is because of them.

Do not allow yourself to become angry about the whole thing.

Your dog will begin to hide her messes to avoid your weird reaction to his/her biological functions. Or worse, may make your puppy afraid of you.


  • One of your best training tools for housebreaking is the dog crate.
  • If your dog is crate trained properly, she will learn that not only is it comfortable, but it’s the one place in your home that is totally hers and totally safe. (No one can accidentally step on her and she can rest undisturbed.)
  • Most dogs will not eliminate where they sleep and eat, (this may not be the case with rescue’s that have been abused, neglect can seriously damage their instinctive behaviors,) however in most cases, the crate is a very valuable tool.
  • Another thing that is of critical importance is timing. If you feed your dog at regularly scheduled intervals, you can plan it so that you can get her outside when she needs to go. The dog should be taken outside (or to her approved potty spot,) immediately upon awakening, and again about 30 minutes after each meal. (I’m assuming that you’re still feeding 3 times a day due to the age of the puppy,) and again at night before bedtime.
  • Properly clean up all accidents. Dogs will continue to mess where they’ve already gone unless you use an enzyme based cleaner to get rid of all traces of potty odor.  Some name brands are:   PureAyre or Natures Miracle.
  • If using training pads, put a little potty on the pad, as a puppy will be more likely to go in a spot that already smells of urine or feces. (You can also use this method to help establish an outdoor potty spot.)

I hope this has helped de-mystify some of the questions you may have about housebreaking your new puppy.

If your puppy continues to have issues after following these tips, you may need medical help. (Urinary tract infections are not common in dogs, but they do happen.)  A really anxious puppy may have issues with submissive urination. (A behavioral problem that presents in adult dogs too.) Keep in mind that In nature, there is no larger sign of respect than urinating a tiny bit. It’s a puppy’s way of saying, “I’m little, don’t hurt me.”  In a human world, it’s unwanted, and for today, outside the scope of this article, however it’s something all new dog owners should be aware of. If your dog is dribbling a little bit every time you come through the door, it may be submissive urination.. so don’t punish or it WILL get worse.

Until next time


The Alpha Dogs’ wife.


About adventuredogs

I'm the "Alpha Dog's" wife... Life Partner and Co-owner of Adventure Dog Ranch, The Vacation Destination for Dogs! A place where canines socialize, exercise and have fun. You don't have to feel guilty when you take a vacation, your dog can have his very own vacation with us!
This entry was posted in Adventure Dog Ranch, Canine Impulse Control, Canine Training, dog behavior, Dog Behavior, Dog Training, Dogs, Obedience, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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