House Training Basics

It’s common for dogs to have difficulties with house training as they transition to a new home. Some may have never received previous training, while others may only have accidents while they settle into a new environment. The good news is, through a combination of management, confinement, supervision and rewards for eliminating in the desired area, many dogs can learn to form good bathroom habits.

Supervise

  • Keep your pup in your sight to prevent them from peeing or pooping in an undesired location when you’re not looking. Close doors or use gates to keep them in the same room as you.
  • Interrupt any pre-elimination behavior (sniffing, circling, walking with stiff back legs) by clapping your hands or by saying “uh oh” in a calm voice. Then, take them outside quickly!
  • Keep your pup in a crate or gated in a room any time you’re not able to directly supervise. Provide a stuffed food toy, like a Kong®, to keep them busy.

Confine

  • Limit your dog to a small area when you cannot watch them.
  • Use a crate for short periods of time (up to four hours for an adult dog). See more information on how to introduce your dog to a crate
  • When you need to leave your dog for more than four hours, set them up in a small area. For smaller dogs, you can use an exercise pen. For medium and large dogs, we recommend using a sturdy baby gate to keep them confined to one room (ideally one where it will be easy to clean up any accidents, such as a kitchen or bathroom). The area should include a crate with a bed, food dispensing toys and a water bowl, as well as a place to eliminate (like wee-wee pads, fake grass or a dog litter box).
  • At night, you can use a crate in your bedroom. Dogs are social animals and being alone can cause stress and anxiety. Proximity to their crate also allows you to hear your dog cry if they need to go to the bathroom.

Offer Frequent Potty Breaks

  • Bring your dog to their elimination area every couple of hours, immediately after meals, after the dog wakes up, and after drinking water. Increase this frequency if your dog still has accidents.
  • Give them at least five minutes to eliminate. If they don’t, confine for 15 minutes then try taking them to their elimination area again.
  • Act boring when waiting for your dog to potty. If you try to encourage them with your voice, they may get distracted. Be patient! It may take a couple of tries before they get the hang of it.

Reward!

  • When your dog goes potty in the desired location, give them super yummy treats (pea-size pieces of meat, jerky, cheese or freeze-dried liver treats). Be generous with treats, especially when first working with your dog on house training.
    • It may be helpful to have an especially yummy treat that is given only when your dog eliminates in the right spot.

Tip: Keep a log of when your dog pees or poops. A log will help you identify a potty pattern, which in turn will help you identify times where you may need to add a walk (frequent accidents), or where you can schedule relief walks further apart (no accidents).

Common mistakes
    1. Waiting too long. With a new dog, start by taking them outside every two to three hours, or more often if the dog is extremely active indoors or has frequent accidents. Once housetrained, healthy adult dogs can be expected to hold it for no more than eight or nine hours. If you will be away for longer, consider hiring a dog walker.
    2. Punishing an accident you didn’t see. Your dog won’t connect the punishment to the accident if the punishment occurs long after the accident. If you find a “mistake” after the fact, instead of punishing, clean it using an enzymatic-based cleaner.
    3. Punishing an accident you did see. Punishing your dog for peeing or pooping in an undesired location is likely to make them afraid to eliminate in front of you. A dog that is too fearful to eliminate in front of you is much harder to house train! If you catch your dog in the act, interrupt with a quick hand clap or “uh oh!” Then immediately take them outside.
    4. Not using yummy enough treats for eliminating outside. House training can be hard! Use delicious treats like small pieces of hotdog, string cheese or dried liver instead of a dry dog biscuit. This increases your dog’s motivation to eliminate where you want them to!
    5. Returning inside immediately after they potty. The dog will likely learn that the fun walk is over as soon as they pee or poop, and so will hold it to make the walk longer. Praise and treat your dog for eliminating outside. Then go for a walk as an additional reward!

Still have questions?

Contact our Behavior Specialists at [email protected] or (212) 876-7700 x4191.

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