Housebreaking a dog is very simple, but not necessarily easy. It takes patience and diligence on the part of the owner. I always stress to owners that it’s better to be super vigilant in following through on every step of the protocol and put forth a lot of effort initially, in order to get their dog housebroken sooner rather than later. I would rather work very hard for a couple weeks and have a fully housebroken dog, then to slack off and have a dog that is still having accidents in the home 6 months down the road. One of America’s foremost business experts, Jim Rohn, is famous for saying, “There are two types of pain you will go through in life, the pain of discipline and the pain of regret. Discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.” I prefer you to be disciplined and follow all the steps and have a housebroken dog, then to regret it for months.
Check Overall Health: It is critical to make sure the puppy or older dog is in good overall health. It would be unfair and ineffective to try and implement a housebreaking protocol when there is an underlying medical issue. It is important to have your Veterinarian do a thorough medical checkup (physical exam, blood work, stool and urine sample, etc.). Once we have ruled out any medical issues, we can move on with the process.
Side note: If your dog is housebroken, and has not had an accident in the home for years and all of a sudden, it starts having accidents; this can be a sign of a medical or territorial issue. The first thing I would do in that situation is take the dog to a veterinarian to rule out a medical cause, and only after that begin addressing housebreaking from a training point of view.
Set Feeding Routine:
Establish a set feeding routine, NO free feeding. Most adult dogs are fed twice per day, one a.m. and one p.m. feeding. Puppies typically eat more frequently (3 times per day). Consult with your Vet to see how often they should eat. Predictable feeding usually leads to predictable bowl movements.
The housebreaking triad consists of three things: Predictable Schedule, Crating, and Direct Supervision.
1. Predictable Schedule: Now you will establish, maintain, and systematically progress a set routine for letting your dog out to go to the bathroom. To start, you will be letting your dog out every hour. Only after 3 consecutive days of no accidents in the home, will increase the interval of time in which you let your dog outside by 15mins. If your dog has an accident on the 2nd day, do not increase the interval of time. We MUST build on habits of success. If your dog gets in the routine of having accidents in the home, that will become habitual. Systematic forward progression is our goal, so we can build on patterns of success.
Keep an actual chart in order to record exact feeding times, times of accidents in the home (distinguish if it was pee or poop), and mark the times the dog was let outside and if they went to the bathroom during this time (again, mark if it was pee or poop). Having a clear and detailed schedule makes any future issues significantly easier to solve. Keep a new schedule each day.
2. Crating: I believe that all dogs should be properly crate trained. Not only is this a good household management tool and a way to keep the dog safe at night or when you are not home, but it is a very important component to housebreaking.
The dog or puppy should be in its crate at night, when you are not home, and when you do not have direct eye contact on the dog. The goal with crating is for the dog to be less apt to have an accident where it is residing and sleeping. We are trying to utilize the dog’s natural instinct to not soil where it’s staying. This will help prevent accidents and enable us to gradually increase the time intervals between bathroom trips outside. It is important that the crate not be so large that the dog (this is especially true for puppies) can move to one side of the crate, go to the bathroom, and then lay on the other side of the crate. That would undermine the whole purpose of the crate. If the crate is too big, then consider using the partition that the manufacturer typically supplies with the crate (make sure the dog has appropriate space to stand up, move around and stretch, but not an excessive amount of room). Learn how I Crate Train with this article.
3. Direct Supervision: The last and arguably most important part of our housebreaking triad is to have your dog within eyesight of you when they are out of the crate. This is critical! That way you can provide your dog much needed supervised freedom, so they can learn to “hold it” while out of the crate. Your supervision will help prevent accidents and allow you to immediately run your puppy outside if you see they are about to have an accident.
Direct eye contact means you can visually see the dog. That does not mean the dog is in the next room and you are quickly going to the kitchen, as that is a prime opportunity for an accident to occur. You must be able to see the dog at all times in order to scoop the dog up and bring them outside.
Now you might be thinking, “I can’t watch my dog every minute I am home, I have a life and things to do”. I completely understand and totally agree. In that case, if you can’t have at least one eye on your dog the entire time they are out of the crate, then you need to put the dog back in the crate for that time. If you need to cook dinner, take a shower, get ready for work, and you can’t have the dog directly with you and within eyesight, then you need to put the dog in the crate. Dogs can be very opportunistic. I have had clients who let their dog off leash in the same room as them, and they think they are doing a good job watching the dog, but the dog walks behind the sofa or behind a table and quickly has an accident. Not only is this reinforcing the undesired behavior (having an accident in the home), but we are not able to stop it and lost the opportunity to praise them for when we brought them outside and they went.
To help assist with this, I recommend all of my clients leave a short leash on the dog when they are out of the crate and have visual eye contact on them (NEVER when they are left unsupervised or when they are in their crate). This makes it a lot easier to quickly grab the leash and direct the dog outside when they are in the middle of having an accident. Many owners find it hard and waste of time when it comes to picking the dog up, putting the leash on and trying to stop an accident so you can bring them outside. Preemptively having the leash on is a huge help. Just make sure the dog does not chew on or eat the leash, if they do, then you need to either correct that behavior, not allow them to wear the leash in the house, or spray the leash with a taste deterrent such as bitter apple or white vinegar.
– Dogs are more apt to have an accident when stimulated. Stimulation can be in the form of play, a walk outside, or a guest entering through the front door for a visit. These are prime opportunities for your dog to have an unexpected accident, so make sure to be especially aware during these times. Either let the dog outside right before or after these times, so you can better avoid an accident.
– Importance of Timing: Timing is VERY critical to housebreaking. We cannot correct or tell a dog “No” after the accident has already occurred. That means, if the dog has an accident when you are at work or in the other room, and you come back, it is too late to correct the dog for that. You simply need to stay quiet, and clean up the mess. If you are outside with the dog and they go the bathroom in the desired location, you need to immediately reward with verbal praise, petting, and a treat. You can’t wait until you get in the house to do so, as that is too far after the desired act of going to the bathroom to reward.
– Please Note: When your dog does have an accident anywhere in the home (and your dog will have accidents, it is inevitable and to be expected), make sure to thoroughly clean the surface with appropriate cleaner. Use an appropriate cleaner depending on the type of surface. I like to use BioDeodorizer spray for nonporous surfaces. It is essential that the area where the accident occurred (both pee and poop need to be cleaned) is cleaned so the dog does not smell itself there and think that is a place to go to the bathroom. It is helpful to bring the dog to the same spot where they have gone to the bathroom outside, so they smell their scent on that same tree, bush, or patch of grass, but you do not want your dog to smell their accidents in the home.
– “How should I correct my dog when he has an accident in the house?”
We never correct a puppy for having an accident in the home. Rather, we use a housebreaking protocol that prevents accidents and clearly teaches the puppy where and when to go to the bathroom.
Accidents inevitably do occur, and when they do, it is because the owner made a mistake…not the puppy. It’s critical to never correct a puppy for accidents, as it can lead to some very problematic issues. It’s best to be proactive and utilize a clear, simple, and progressive
– “My dog was housebroken, but now he is having accidents in the house again. What can I do?”
Take your dog to the Veterinarian for a thorough medical exam if he was fully housebroken and accident-free for more than a few months, but now all of a sudden having accidents. It is not normal for a housebroken dog to begin having accidents in the home, this is a telltale sign of an underlying medical cause. That is a medical issue, not a training issue. We cannot train a dog to be accident free when it is medical based. Not only is it unfair to try and do so, but also be completely ineffective. If your dog is examined by the Vet and determined to not have any underlying health factor, then simply begin the housebreaking protocol as outlined in this book.
– “I took my dog out at the scheduled interval, but she did not go to the bathroom, what should I do?”
This is a very common issue. Dogs (especially puppies) become easily distracted when they are outside and forget to go to the bathroom, resulting in accidents when they get back inside. In order to mitigate this, make sure it is “all business” when you take them to go to the bathroom, not play time.
Take your dog outside on a leash (don’t play or run them around), make yourself and the whole process boring. Bring them to the same area to the bathroom (smelling themselves should encourage them to go again), and provide about 15 minutes to go to the bathroom, then return inside.
If they did not go to the bathroom outside, then there is a higher chance of an accident when they are back inside. To prevent this from happening, we need to be even more vigilant with our direct eye contact/supervision and/or utilize the crate until it’s time for them to go back outside again.
-“How do I teach my dog to go to the bathroom on command?”