Training Tips: Housebreaking

House breaking your dog or puppy actually falls into a few different categories with slightly different applications of training. There is the large breed puppy – which is the easiest to housebreak; the small breed puppy, the large breed adult dog, the small breed adult dog. The adult dog categories can also be broken down even further – with the question being asked if you are adopting an adult dog – is he from a kennel or has he lived outside, with a small breed adult – was it “paper trained” or trained on wee wee pads? All key factors.
With all those things to take into consideration, just remember that consistency is key – as in all training, but with housebreaking, do it right the first time and put the time in and you will have a housebroken dog forever. When I ask people – “is your dog housebroken” and they reply “yes, he’s like 85% housebroken…” then the real answer is actually NO – my dog is not housebroken. Lets get started with what I consider the easiest dogs to housebreak – the medium to large breed puppy..

Medium to large breed puppy

I would assume that most people get a puppy between the ages of 8 and 10 weeks. There are a few things you need in order to housebreak a dog, and this applies to all the different dog/puppy scenarios. You need a crate, either a plastic travel crate like Vari-Kennel or a wire crate, you can purchase them at any pet store. You also need a bottle of Nature’s Miracle – this is a urine neutralizer in case your pup should have an accident – use this to clean up the urine and it removes the scent, therefore preventing the dog from peeing in the same spot time and time again.

This training is also going to incorporate crate training – which I feel every dog should learn. Think of your puppy as a new born baby – you would never leave a 4 month old baby alone on the living room floor while you took a shower, so why on earth would you do the same with an 8 week old puppy? When you are physically incapable of watching that puppy (your are on the phone, in the shower, making dinner, eating dinner etc.,) then the puppy goes in the crate, much the same as you would put the baby in the crib or at an older age in the play pen.

There are two guaranteed times that a puppy will need to go outside to relieve himself and that is – immediately after waking up, and after eating. Some dogs you need to get outside quick, do not dally! They wake up – you run them outside! At this early stage I start to incorporate a word or phrase for the dog to learn as a cue for him to go to the bathroom…I say “take a break” or “hurry up”…as they get older, they know what it means and when you are in a new environment or traveling it comes in handy to speed the process along.

Another time to take your puppy outside is if they start to sniff around…they could be in the middle of playing and they drop their toy and start sniffing the edge of the couch or the perimeter of the living room…take them outside. When you take them outside, just stand there with them – silently, except the occasional “hurry up” or whatever your verbal cue is going to be. As soon as they have done their business – “good boy…” and return inside.

You also have to consider the option of having a doggy door versus no doggy door. At this early age I would not train them to go through a doggy door – all you are trying to instill in them is that when they need to go outside to do their thing – THIS is the door they should pass through to get there. Train the doggy door when they are older and after you are a 100% sure they are housebroken.


So make sure you recognize ANY signs from your dog that he is trying to tell you he needs to go out. You will be surprised how quickly some 8, 9 ,10 week old puppies pick this up and will go to the door, and look at you to let them out…Huge praise for this of course – open the door and go out with them. You can imagine how easy it is to miss that request to go out – it might be fleeting – they are not quite sure, I think this door has something to do with me going out, so I’ll walk over there and look at it, hmmm nothings happening, maybe I was wrong, maybe I’ll just pee over there…

Realize that it is a lot of work. But then also take into consideration that you may have your dog for 10 or 12 years…do you really want a dog that isn’t a 100% housebroken for that length of time?

Putting your dog in a crate is a good thing. And even though you have a huge desire to have your new puppy sleep on your bed with you at night – don’t! You can invite him on the bed or whatever once he is trained. But please instill some ground rules into your dog before you start creating bad habits that will be hell to break at a later date. Trust me on this. When you buy a dog crate for a medium to large breed puppy, buy the size that will eventually hold your adult dog. You can put in a dog bed if you like – only if you’re confident that your puppy will not eat the dog bed and all the stuffing! Otherwise a towel or blanket. You can also put a couple of special toys in there – something that he only gets when he goes in his crate. Do not open that crate door to let out your puppy if he is whining, crying, howling or making any other sound that is trying to get your attention…in fact not only should you not open the door, you should not speak to or acknowledge your puppy at all…even saying “shhhh” is a positive reward for the pup as he has now elicited some response from you. I have had pups that get this process pretty quickly and then pups that sound like their tail is shut in the car door and they are being dragged down the highway…don’t fall for it, be strong and it will be over sooner than you think. My French Bulldog would “take herself to bed” at around 12 weeks of age – her crate was on the landing outside my bedroom, and she would drag her tired little body upstairs and put herself in her crate and fall asleep…Your dog will eventually love his crate if you use it consistently…just remember when you open that door to let them out the pup must be quiet prior to doing so – if your dog is having a hissy fit and you find it hard to do – just try and wait for a quick 10 second period when he stops howling and open the door quickly.  Do not make a fuss of your puppy or new dog when he exits a crate.  Open the door and walk away.  If you must make a fuss, wait 5 minutes (after he has relieved himself) then have a party with your dog.

So…your dog is fine in his crate – he has his toys to chew on – you put him in there whenever you can’t watch him and you take him outside for a potty break upon releasing him from the crate.

The other important factor with housebreaking is putting your dog on a feeding and watering schedule. If you have a bowl of food and water down for him 24/7 then you will have a dog that is constantly needing to go to the bathroom – this is an especially important factor at night. I am assuming you are feeding your puppy twice a day. In the morning you release your puppy from his crate, walk him outside and give him the chance to eliminate. You come back inside, and feed your pup breakfast, also placing down alongside a fresh bowl of water. After they have eaten, you take them back outside and give them yet another opportunity to potty. One thing to remember, if you go to work all day, you need to rethink the whole puppy thing – you cannot leave a puppy in a crate all day and you also cannot leave a puppy outside in your back garden all day. They need supervision at all times – so figure out how and what you are going to do before you get the puppy.

As you approach the afternoon, ideally you should feed your pup his dinner no later than 4pm. This will give him plenty of time to digest the food and go outside several times before he sleeps. His water should be removed no later than 6pm – some of you will balk at this and say its not fair for him to have no water for that long. Remember, you are housebreaking your puppy, this will not be forever, when you potty train your children you don’t let them drink a big glass of water before bedtime do you (I hope not!)…You are training your puppy to “hold it” through the night…and that’s just not fair if he has a full bladder. What you can do if you feel strongly that your pup needs some refreshment after 6pm, say because he has been playing hard and is panting…give him an ice cube…That way you prevent the gulping down of a huge bowl of water that will inevitably want to come out at around 1:00 am.

The medium to large breed puppy will housebreak pretty quickly if you stick to these guidelines – they are more mature than an 8 to 10 week old Maltese and have a better sense of what is expected of them.

The last thing to mention here is correcting your pup when he has had an accident. You cannot correct your pup for peeing on the carpet UNLESS you physically catch him IN the act!! Please remember this….God knows, you will convince your self that upon entering a room and seeing that he has had an accident, he knows he has been bad because he looks like he has done something naughty….Let me just say for the record that this is bullshit. Even if your pup just walked away from peeing on the rug, he has no idea why you are now yelling at him…in fact what you are seeing is him reacting to your body language and your tone of voice – thereby making him look “guilty”…ears back, body low to the ground etc. So…if you catch him actually peeing, what you want to do is make him stop, and making him stop will mean surprising him (yelling at him may just cause him to pee more) so pick up that magazine, or car keys and throw them on the ground close to where your pup is eliminating – he will react to the noise and stop – the noise did not come from you, all he will think is “something bad happened the last time I tried this peeing lark on the Persian rug…” Once he stops, take him outside to finish what he started. And please…rubbing his nose in it is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard of – so please don’t.


Small breed puppy 

Housebreaking your small breed puppy requires a little more patience and a little more vigilance. I hear more people say of their small dogs that they are “housebroken except when…fill in the blank“. You need to get this right the first time – because trying to housebreak a young or adult small breed dog is very , very hard. However, I am here to say, it can be done.

You need to apply all of the training from above – with the large breed puppy…The crate training, watering and feeding schedule, correcting…everything. But you have to give your small breed puppy more opportunities to go outside to eliminate – creating good habits is so much better than trying to break bad ones. You may think its overkill to walk your pup outside every 30 minutes so they can pee…but what you are doing is trying to instill in their tiny little brains that the ONLY place they should pee/poop is outside.

Dogs are supposed to have that little chip inside their brain that says “I don’t poop where I sleep”…A large breed puppy has a better sense of inside/outside. A small breed puppy will look at your house and see this huge vast expanse of real estate and in their mind they think “well…I sleep over in that corner, so peeing in the hallway is far enough away…”. Your job is try and never let that option kick in…so taking them outside every 30 minutes will help them understand the process.

I had a 3lb toy poodle. I lived in a two story, 1600 square foot home and not only that but going out the back door to the garden, initially leads to a deck which leads to 12 steps that go down a path to where the grass is…This is a large trek for such a small dog. I made a game out of it, at first she was so tiny she couldn’t negotiate the steps, so I would carry her to the grass. Once she got big enough to make the steps, I would run down with her, she would pee and then we would run back up together, I would give her a small treat upon returning…This came in extremely handy in bad weather, even in rain and snow, she knew her goal was to get down those stairs, do her thing and get back up as soon as possible. In her head there was no other option for going potty, because I never gave her the opportunity to have an accident in the house.

When crate training make sure her crate is small – but big enough for her to stand ,turn around and lay down comfortably. For the first 2-3 weeks you may have to break your pup during the night as they are just too small to hold it for that long. You will learn the difference between an unruly pup begging to be let out of his crate because he wants to play and a cry in the middle of the night because they have to go potty. Be careful with this though. You are essentially creating a habit, and that is the puppy cries at 2:00 am – you wake up (wait for the crying to stop momentarily) and take the puppy out for a potty break. At some point you are going to have to ignore that 2:00 am cry and let him make it through the night for the first time.

Adult large breed dog

You can teach an old dog new tricks. The more info you have about your dog and his background the better. However, lets assume that you got your dog from the shelter, he has been there for 3 weeks and in that time he has come to learn that if he needs to pee or poop, all he has to do is take three steps to his left and go! Same rules apply as above…crate training is without a doubt imperative. Water and feeding schedule…plenty of supervision. Your new dog probably comes with a slew of bad habits (not housebroken, escape artist, chewer, barks, steals food, digs holes). Assuming he has them all is the best way to start your new relationship.

Treat your adult dog like an 8 week old puppy. Crate him when you cannot supervise and give him plenty of supervised potty breaks. Putting him outside for an hour, is not really teaching him anything about housebreaking. Regularly escorting him outside for the opportunity to eliminate and then re-entering the home is teaching him where you want him to potty.

I just recently got a two year old English Bulldog. I got him from a breeder – usually breeders use crates, so I did not have to deal with that battle. However, anytime I couldn’t pay full attention to him he went in the crate. He slept in the crate at night. The first time I let him sleep outside of his crate was three months after I got him. From constant supervision I knew he was not a chewer, I knew that he was housebroken – having witnessed hundreds of visits outside via the doggy door…So on a day when I knew that he was exceptionally tired (and less likely to get up to no good) I went to bed, made no fuss and let him sleep wherever. The first couple of nights I did wake up a couple of times and creep out to the living room to make sure he was okay…

Adult small breed dog

Getting an adult small breed dog more times than not means they are not housebroken. In most cases that might just be the reason they were dropped off at the pound.

Again…all the above applies, crate, feed and watering schedule, supervision. You may have the added disadvantage of your small breed dog being “paper trained”…At first, you might think “huh…cool, that may come in handy…”, but realistically its a nightmare. A lot of times they mistake a rug or a dog bed or a doormat as that place that they should pee, because visually it is an object separate from the floor, just like the newspaper or the wee wee pads. So in lieu of the newspaper they find the next best thing…usually the bathroom rug!

As you can imagine, this is one of the hardest dogs to housebreak and all I can say is…if you thought that the above housebreaking techniques involved hard work and consistency, then you haven’t seen anything yet. The not so beautiful thing is, you may also find your self owning a small dog that will go the bathroom in their crate – which defies all logic I know. Also remember that the cute teacup chihuahua that weighs 2lbs that you fell in love with, also comes with a reduced amount of intelligence! From bad breeding and inbreeding to get these dogs this size, you have to compromise somewhere and its usually the brain…That chip that tells a dog to not go potty where they sleep is missing.

Huge, huge praise when they do go potty outside and maybe a treat…Always SUPERVISE and crate!

If you work and leave your house for hours a day – DO NOT leave your new puppy or dog in a crate, but at the same time do not leave it loose in the house or in the backyard.  These are all things that you should consider BEFORE you get a dog.  Its like having a baby, a certain amount of time needs to be dedicated to raising it – plan before you buy!

All of these techniques have worked for me – other trainers may implement different training, which is fine…I can only speak from my experiences. Good luck. Email me with any questions.