House-Training Your Dog

House-training: it’s simple in concept but not always so easy to execute. After all, you are trying to teach your dog to delay the self-rewarding behavior of eliminating until given the opportunity to do so in the place that you prefer. If you have a puppy, you are also faced with the confines of biological development.

How often does a dog need to eliminate?

The number will vary from individual to individual but a puppy between 7 and 12 weeks of age will likely relieve himself ten times a day. Approximately seven times daily is normal for 3- and 4-month-old pups. Muscle strength is greater at 5 months; at this point it should be easier for the pup to hold it and you can gradually reduce the number of potty breaks over the next few months.  Adult dogs generally eliminate about four times per day.

Other conditions can affect this, as well. Activity stimulates elimination so a dog who is active will need to relieve himself more often. Medications and medical conditions, such as urinary tract infections, can also increase the need to eliminate. Small dogs have proportionately smaller bladders than large dogs do and, as such, will urinate more frequently.

How do I do it?

House-training needs to begin the moment your dog arrives home. You should already have a schedule established for meals, exercise, potty breaks, and resting. Regardless of the dog’s age, he should go out first thing when he wakes up and right before any prolonged rest/sleep period. Young pups need to go out shortly after their meals, too. Finally, take out as often as needed for the dog’s age and ability.

The area where most people fall short in house-training is preventing accidents. The more often your dog goes indoors, the more habitual that will become. Your dog must be supervised or confined at all times. Whenever it appears your dog wants to eliminate, take him outside. Common indications include whining, pacing, circling, and suddenly wandering away from an activity. Any time your dog can’t be supervised he should be in a crate or small space. This includes times when someone is home but not able to fully focus on the dog, such as while cooking.

Take your dog outside on leash, even if in an enclosed yard. This should help keep the dog from becoming too distracted. Give him 5 to 10 minutes to eliminate. If he doesn’t, go back inside and either confine him or keep him with you. Take him out again when he shows signs of needing to eliminate or in about 5 – 20 minutes (young pup – teenager/adult dog), whichever occurs first. Continue this until he relieves himself.

Here’s the easy part of house-training: rewards! Puppies under about 14 weeks are usually still so dependent that lavish praise and hugs are enough, though treats can still be given. Once they start to become a bit more independent, however, praise doesn’t suffice. Treats, play time, and long walks are all ways to reward your dog. Use whatever he loves the most. This is a behavior you want your dog to repeat throughout his life – spring for the chicken bits unless your dog is crazy about biscuits. Treats need to be given as the dog is finishing. Giving treats indoors rewards the dog for coming inside, not for eliminating.

What if my dog has an accident?

Accidents are bound to happen, even with the most diligent owner. If you see your dog beginning to eliminate in the wrong spot, make a noise that is just loud enough to startle your dog but not scare him. Quickly get him outside to finish eliminating. You might be frustrated with your dog but don’t forget to reward him if he does continue outside. If you don’t catch your dog in the act, simply clean up with an enzymatic cleaner. Do not punish your dog in any way! Your dog will not get the message that you are trying to teach him, but he could learn to be afraid of you or to hide his waste from you. Remember that “accidents” are your failing, not your dog’s.

What about paper training?

You might decide that teaching your dog to eliminate on puppy pads or newspaper or in a litter box is best for you and your dog. The concept is the same, regardless of where you want your dog to relieve himself. Take him to the appropriate spot, reward when he goes there, and supervise and confine to prevent accidents.

Most dogs are reliably house-trained by one year of age, though small breeds can take a little longer. If you are running into difficulties training your dog, please contact our Behavior Helpline or a qualified behaviorist for assistance.


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