House Training 101

Written by Candee Teitel on . Posted in Training Information

House training a dog is primarily a management issue. Food and water taken in must be eliminated. The sooner you are able to determine how frequently your dog needs to go out, the closer you will be to having a dog that understands the importance of relieving himself outdoors.

The very best way to train a dog to do anything, including eliminating, is to reward the appropriate behavior the moment it happens. In this case, the appropriate behavior is eliminating outdoors.

This means that you will need to know when this behavior is most likely to occur, so that you can be prepared to reward your dog as often as possible. The more rewards you can give your dog in the shortest period of time, the more quickly it will make the association between eliminating outside and being rewarded, as opposed to defecating on the oriental carpet and being punished.

It is your responsibility to make certain that your dog has the opportunity to get it right. This means you will need to set up a schedule and make sure you stick to it, even if it means setting a timer to remind yourself to take your dog out.

Your reward for this initial inconvenience is that you will soon have fewer and fewer ‘accidents’ to clean up.

If you are training a young pup or an adult dog, first determine by close observation about how long the dog can go without having an accident. An 8 week old toy breed may need to be taken out every 30 min or so to start with because its bladder is quite small. Remember: It is better to take the dog out too often than not often enough.

When you take your dog out, put him on a leash so that you can be sure to be near him when he eliminates and praise him while it is happening! If he is too young to walk on a leash, carry him to the exact spot where you want him to eliminate. Keep going to the same spot each time and try to pick an area that is as boring as possible, and remain standing in that one spot. Praise your dog lavishly and reward him with treats and play time or walk time once the mission has been accomplished.

Some people take their dog on a walk for the purpose of getting them to eliminate outside. Then, once their dog has done its business, the walk is over and they come right back home. This can actually teach the dog that the longer he waits to eliminate, the longer he can enjoy being out on a walk.

People often tell me that their dog spends lots of time outdoors, only to rush inside to urinate or defecate. This is because there were so many exciting things to do outside and dogs (like people) prefer to spend their time doing exciting things. When the dog comes back indoors, there is not as much excitement, his bowels have been stimulated by walking or playing, and now he has time to relieve himself when nothing more interesting is going on.

Fortunately, it is not difficult to fix this problem – it just requires move vigilant management on your part. When you take your dog outside, make sure he is on a leash so you will know whether he has relieved himself. (Some dogs need a little more physical activity before they feel the urge.) If you have already brought your dog into the house and you know he still needs to relieve himself, watch him carefully! You already know from past experience that he’ll go to the bathroom about 10 min after you let him in, so be ready to take him back out at the first sign that he is about to eliminate. Then make sure to praise him when he does it outside! If you don’t spend the time watching him, you would spend the time later cleaning up what he was bound to deposit. This method of vigilant watching gives your dog yet another chance to earn a reward for depositing his excrement outside. Soon he will try to tell you that he needs to go outside. Pick a word or phrase to use when you want your dog to eliminate (let’s go pee). You will appreciate it when it is pouring down rain or the temperatures are subzero, and you have taught your dog to eliminate on cue.

Most dogs will appreciate being let out:

  1. 1. First thing in the morning
  2. After a nap, no matter how short
  3. After eating
  4. After drinking
  5. In the middle of excitement
  6. Last thing at night
  7. In the middle of the night, sometimes

You will have to adhere to the training schedule quite closely until your dog is capable of letting you know when he needs to go out.

Make sure you do not let your dog “sneak” away to eliminate in another room. If this happens more than twice, it means that you have failed to maintain the necessary vigilance to catch him in the act and you have failed to give your dog the opportunity to eliminate outside and “get it right”. Each time you fail to set the dog up for a reward, you set your training back. In the beginning, you will need to treat the dog as you would a toddler. Someone should always be watching him, particularly if he is known to “sneak” away. Make certain that the dog is confined if you are unable to supervise.

Learn the signs that your dog is about to relieve himself. Typical behavior includes sniffing the ground repeatedly in a small area before squatting, as well as determination and focus on finding the “right” spot. The moment you see this, quickly help him out the door, and start teaching him what the word “outside” means. Don’t yell at the dog, you don’t want him to hide from you! You are just looking for the opportunity to show him where you want him to eliminate.

It is essential to use a crate to house train your dog. The crate must be large enough for your dog to be comfortable, but not so large that he can go to the back of the crate to eliminate and then sleep in the front. Dogs are den animals and den animals enjoy a soft warm secluded place where they can get away or have a nap, but dogs are also clean animals by nature and do not want to soil the area where they live. During house training the crate needs to be close enough to where you are sleeping so that if the dog whimpers to go out, or even just wakes up, you can get him out before he is forced to eliminate where he sleeps. Put him back in the crate with no fanfare when he is finished and let him go back to sleep.

When you are going to leave your dog alone for a longer period of time than he can wait to eliminate, you must provide for him. I have found that connecting your puppy’s open crate to an x-pen gives him options while you are gone. I use a towel at the side farthest from the nice comfortable crate so there is a clear differentiation of space. Towels are very absorbent, and you can just throw them in the wash when you walk in the door. Put food and water dishes, another pad to lie on, and some toys and a food puzzle in the x-pen area. Configuring your dog’s space in this way makes cleanup easy and the dog’s crate stays warm and clean and wonderful.

Some dogs are easier to house train than others. As mentioned above, the toy breeds are the most difficult because they have the smallest bladders, and will have to be taken out more often when they are young puppies.. Unfortunately, pet store dogs are among the most difficult to house train because they often have spent most of their lives in a cage and have already learned to soil the place that they live in: they simply had no other choice. It is much easier to teach a dog what you want it to do (eliminate outdoors) rather than to try to change a behavior that has already developed the habit of soiling his or your space.

House Training is something that you personally must do with your dog. Many people want to send their dogs away and have them returned fully house trained. In those cases he will be trained to understand the trainer (who is not you) and the layout of her house. Your dog must learn how to tell you that he needs to go out; he has to learn which door you use to take him out and he has to learn what time to expect things to happen on your schedule. Only you can do that for him. Help him learn the rules. If he eliminates indoors, he is not bad, just incorrect, as are you, for not giving your dog the opportunity to go outside when it was time.

Remember the leash so that you can witness the act and praise while it is happening! Then, put a name to the event and ask for it. Give the dog special wonderful treats for eliminating in a timely fashion. You will come to appreciate a dog that will eliminate on cue when it is pouring down rain or it’s freezing outside!

Older dogs that have spent time in a shelter environment or were never house dogs to begin with can be taught the same way. Simply determine how often the dog needs to go out, be certain to give him the opportunity and throw a party when it happens!

Ian Dunbar offers wonderful advice in a free booklet available online “Before You Get Your Puppy” which covers house training, crate training, chewing, and important milestones for you to use to properly socialize your dog. It is a handy addition to any library.