House Training Your Dog


House training can be one of the most frustrating or one of the easiest behaviors to teach your dog. If there is one word that sums up the success or failure of a project like this, it’s consistency or lack of consistency. Everybody in the house hold must be made aware of the dog’s schedule, boundaries, and rules. If you begin to feel guilty or sad because the puppy isn’t allowed full run of the house or needs to be put in a crate, remember who pays for the food, the roof over his head, and the bed where he sleeps, YOU!!! Your puppy needs to earn the right to have access to the whole house.

Step 1: Have a small area that will be your dog’s sleeping and resting area. Example – small bathroom or crate. If you use a crate (RECOMMENDED) then be sure it’s only large enough for the puppy to stand up, circle, and lie down (bigger crates can be partitioned off). Dogs don’t like to eliminate where they sleep.

Step 2: Have a schedule. Puppies under 14 weeks cannot hold urine well, they need to go often. Puppies always need to go out first thing in the morning, after meals, after any playtime no matter how short, right after waking up from a nap, before settling down for the night and shortly after having a drink of water.

Step 3: Food and water must be controlled. Control what goes in, and you control what comes out. Choose a quality concentrated dog food. There is more nutrition per cup, allowing you to feed less food for the same nutritional value. Super nutrition for your dog means less goes in and less comes out and less cleanup for you!! Measure the amount of food you give your dog (don’t guess) and divide it into the appropriate number of feedings. Place the food down for 10 to 15 minutes then pick up what is not eaten until the next feeding time. No treats or snacks between meals until house training is successful. Present water during feedings and after period of hard play. Do not allow free access to water until puppy is house trained.

Puppy should NOT have water 1 hour before bedtime. This allows plenty of time for any water in the system to be eliminated before bedtime

Step 4: Decide where you do want your puppy to Go. Pick one spot in the yard that will be for your doggie to use as his bathroom. It should be out of the way but handy to the house. Remember to keep his bathroom picked up. Try to pick an area of the yard that has one or two natural boundaries (corner of the yard, behind the house etc.). Even if your yard is fenced, take your dog out on leash anyway, then you can habituate them to a particular spot. It makes it easier to find the stuff with the pooper scooper instead of your shoe!

Step 5: Pick a special word or phrase to associate with your dog’s potty action. This will help your dog recognize when you want him to go even if he may not feel like it at the time (this is called teaching your dog to eliminate on command). Some popular words and phrases are: Hustle, do it! And Go Potty. Whatever words you choose, the dog will strongly associate it with elimination so choose carefully.

Procedure: When it’s time for puppy to “use his bathroom” follow this procedure.

  1. Leash your pup
  2. Take pup to “his area”
  3. Stand in one spot and wait for pup to start to “go”.
  4. As pup starts to squat or lift leg, repeat your key word several times.


If pup won’t “go”, then bring pup back into the house and confine in his crate for 15 minutes. Then try again. Give pup 3 minutes. If pup hasn’t “gone” in 3 minutes then bring him back to the house and crate him for another 15 minutes. Pup is not allowed free access to the house unless it has “gone” outside.

  1. Stop using the key word before pup finishes, pup should associate word with starting to go, not finishing.
  2. Bring pup back into the house for some playtime.
  3. After playtime, confine pup till next potty break.

Note: During the training period pup should not get free run of the whole house (even during playtime) until pup is totally house trained. Your pup’s first playtime area should have an easy to clean surface (like the kitchen). If pup can keep this area clean for 7 days while training, then pup will be allowed into a second room. If pup keeps these two rooms clean for 7 days while training, then pup will be allowed into a third room etc. If this can’t be arranged this way then attach your pup to you with a 6 foot leash around your waist. This way pup can be with you and you can keep an eye on him (it also really helps bond the pup with you quickly).

CORRECTIONS: When your pup makes a mistake, be VERY CAREFUL how you correct him. We recommend biting your tongue (painful to you but not damaging to the tender puppy)!!!! Doing the wrong thing will undo all of your hard work. Rubbing your pups nose in it will only teach the pup to fear you or that you want him to eat his own excrement. If you scold your pup he will learn not to do his “business” in front of you. With real young puppies it’s really your fault if they make a mistake, so chastise yourself, but take the pup out to his area. Then pay more attention next time and/or seek advice from your trainer.

CLEANUP: Try not to let your puppy see you cleaning up its accidents. The easiest way to clean up is to use white vinegar mixed with water, 50/50 (some people use it straight). Vinegar neutralizes the odor so pup cannot smell the old place again. DO NOT USE AMMONIA!! Ammonia is a component of urine, using ammonia will encourage the pup to use the spot again! Blot urine with paper towels, pour or spray the area with the 50/50 vinegar/water solution. The solution must reach to the depth the urine did. Blot up excess vinegar solution. Use vinegar after cleaning up excrement as well. For diarrhea and vomit there’s nothing quite as good as an old spoon reserved for that purpose. Follow with vinegar solution. If you feel the stain will be persistent, use an enzyme based product like Odor-Mute or Nature’s Miracle, they eat the stain. Don’t use detergents or soaps first or the enzymes won’t work.

Katherine Smith. CPDT, CDBC, CGC Evaluator

From All Dog PlaySkool




Many of you have said that you have housetraining issues with your dogs. In addition to the excellent House Training handout from All Dog Playskool, here are some additional suggestions and information.

About Puppies

Puppies do not have control over their elimination functions. Their organs and brain circuits have not yet developed to have such sensory control. Puppies under the age of 4 months can be compared to 6 week old human infants. When puppies reach the age of approximately 4 months, they start to experience urges or signals that elimination is about to take place. Note I say the puppies experience urges, not that they can control the functions yet. The RNA which is responsible for memory does not complete in the puppy until approximately six months of age. It is during this four to six month period where housetraining can be learned.

Ensure your puppy is given the opportunity to relieve himself outdoors. This means very strict management and limiting the pups access to areas inside. There are times when you can predict your pup’s having to go potty. Upon wakening, after eating, after an exercise or training session, and many, many times in-between. The more opportunities your pup has to appropriately eliminate outdoors (or where you want your pup to potty) the easier it will be for the pup to learn when his organs have developed and his capacity for memory is established. What happens between the four and six month period is something like this:

Puppy has been taken outside and praised for pottying often. Puppies learn through repetition. The more times the puppy relieves himself outside and is rewarded for it, the more likely that behavior will be repeated. Puppy is now four months old and can feel when he has to go. His people take him outside to potty. He learns to make the association between feeling the urge and going outside. At about six months, after lots and lots of successful practice of going potty outside, the puppy is developmentally capable of now signaling to his people that he has the urge to go and starts to move in the direction of the door to go outside to potty. This behavior now is possible (the signaling to go outside to potty) because his people have given him lots of repetitions of going outside to potty when he feels the urge. The sequence becomes: puppy feels the urge, puppy moves towards the door because the door leads to outside where puppy has been pottying.

Four month old puppies are not house trained. Well, maybe a few are, but most require the full developmental sequence to evolve before true, reliable housetraining evolves.


Three minute rule. Leash puppy and take him outside when you know he needs to eliminate. Don’t talk to him or pet him, let him concentrate on his business. If puppy has not gone potty in the 3 minutes take him back inside. Put him in his crate, tie his leash to your waist or do whatever it takes to ensure strict management of the pup so he does not have the opportunity to practice eliminating inside. Keep him crated for 20 more minutes and then take him back outside. If he does not potty in three minutes, back inside he goes into his crate or tethered to you. Keep doing this until your puppy does his business outside. Praise your puppy when he eliminates. After puppy has done his business, play a game with him or let him walk around and sniff and explore. We want the puppy to learn that swift potty activity means fun and play, and not the other way around. We don’t want the puppy to learn that swift potty activity means the end of access to outdoors and fu n and games! When you have not had any accidents in a week’s time, you have successfully taught your puppy house training.

Important note about punishment. If we make a big deal and raise our voices or otherwise communicate displeasure when our pup has an accident, we think we’re telling our pup don’t go potty there. What we actually teach our pup when we are reactive after a potty accident is, “I sure better not potty in front of him!” and thus you have a pup who will not potty in front of you and will find secluded places to do his business such as the dining or guest rooms.

Putting Potty on Verbal Cue:

After your pup is successfully reliable in his housetraining you can start working on putting the potty behavior on a verbal cue. As you will be learning throughout our training sessions, anytime we want to add a new (verbal) cue to a behavior the desired behavior must already be an established one. We add the new cue (verbal) first, and then give the known cue and reward the behavior. With potty behavior, elimination is the behavior so the sequence is as follows:

Watch your dog carefully. When you see your dog assume the position and is getting ready to eliminate, softly say your verbal potty cue the second before the pup starts eliminating. As the pup is eliminating, praise him quietly. After the pup has done his job, engage in a great romp or game of fetch or let him sniff and explore. Have a party after the puppy has done his business.


Katherine Smith

Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, (International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants), Professional Member APDT, (Association of Pet Dog Trainers), AKC Canine Good Citizenship Evaluator, Animal Behavioral College Mentor