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Housebreaking 101

by John M. Rubin
Getting Started

Where will the puppy sleep at night? Dogs are, by nature, den animals so a proper-sized crate can be a very good choice. The first couple of days are always the toughest. Change for any dog, especially young pups, is always an adjustment. Where will the puppy stay during the day when you are not home? If you have a secure backyard, front yard or an area where your dog is safe to be alone, this is an easy one. I advise owners that puppy pads and newspaper are never the best choice. This only encourages your dog to go to the bathroom inside. Where will your puppy be when you are home? Balance is key.

I recommend you alternate between having your dog with you on leash (attached to you), or tethered in close proximity to you inside for short periods, or confined to the crate and only for a reasonable period of time. Consistent potty breaks are crucial.

The Feeding Schedule

First thing in the morning, open the crate, put the leash on your pup and walk or carry your pup outside to the area where you will want it to consistently relieve itself. Praise your puppy or dog for a job well done. Feed your dog or pup it's first meal of the day, and be sure you supervise the feeding. Once finished, back outside to go potty again. Feed your pet, and cut water off, at least 2 to 3 hours prior to bedtime. This will allow your pup to digest it’s meal and more comfortably hold it’s bladder and bowels until the morning.

The Den

Dogs do not come into the home automatically knowing where they should and shouldn't go to the bathroom. Puppies eliminate more often than older dogs because they have less control of their bodily functions. Teaching your puppy or dog to hold its bladder and bowels requires you to understand its natural instincts. Dogs are den animals and training them to go potty inside is counterintuitive and goes against their nature.

The “Den” is the area the dog is allowed to be in when in the house. Dogs by nature are very fastidious and they do not want to eliminate in the den. This is the primary reason that dogs that have been pad or paper-trained are hard to housebreak.

Teaching your dog how to let you know when it must go outside can be challenging. Since many young dogs have not yet taught you their signals that they need to go out, close supervision is necessary. Since dogs are drawn to potty in areas they do not perceive as the den— the dining room, living room, or areas we might not use on a daily basis— these rooms are often mistaken by your pup as emergency indoor bathrooms.

Supervised visits and feedings in these rooms can help teach your dog these areas are also part of the “den.” Never correct your dog for accidents. Old fashioned “nose-rubbing” techniques will only confuse your dog as going potty is a normal function. Dogs simply do not have the ability to equate your correction with “where” they go potty. If you punish your dog during or after the accident you may soon find your dog has determined you do not like when it goes potty and might therefore never relieve itself in front of you again. This can be a serious problem for owners who must walk their dogs for bathroom duty.

The Crate

Crate training is thought to be the simplest and most effective way to housebreak your puppy. However, it does not teach your puppy where the bathroom is, or where the den is. It simply confines your dog in order to help teach your dog to hold it’s bowels and bladder. We eventually want your pup to perceive your entire house as it did the crate.

Remember; dogs do not like to potty where they eat, sleep and lay down. Dog crates should only be big enough for your puppy or dog to stand up, turn around, and lay down. If you put your pup in a crate that is too large, it will most likely relieve itself in one corner and lie down in the other.

Never leave your young pup in the crate longer than a few hours at a time. Older dogs can remain a little longer but be sure not to overdo it. Keeping a dog crated too long can be very uncomfortable and may make your dog dislike the crate, or cause a urinary tract infection.

Supervision and Prevention
During the Day

Supervision and prevention are the keys to successful housebreaking. I cannot emphasize this enough. Setting your dog up for success is fundamental to housebreaking your dog. If our dog goes to the bathroom in the house it is our fault. The more our puppy goes outside, the more conditioned they become to go potty outside. Prevention is the key.

If we have no mistakes inside, then our puppy is learning to only go to the bathroom outside. With housebreaking you must be extremely consistent. Always supervise your puppy and allow it the opportunity to go to the bathroom.

Frequent potty breaks throughout the day will be necessary. Free access to water is a must which means your pup will need to relieve itself often. Restricting water actually works against you because once your dog finally has access to water, it will tend to drink excessively and consequently need to relieve itself with unnatural frequency. It can also cause health issues.

Your pup should spend some time in the crate frequently and for short periods of time throughout the day. Naptime should be crate time. Crate-time can also be when you are in the shower, preparing dinner, paying bills or performing any activity where you cannot directly supervise your pup. If you leave your pup for any time while you are away during the day, water must be provided.

Supervision is vital to quickly teaching your puppy or dog where the bathroom is. When inside and not confined, have your puppy or dog on a leash that is attached to you so it cannot sneak away to go potty. The leash could also be attached to a heavy piece of furniture close to where you will be sitting.

During the Night

No water should be in the crate at night. You will need to determine what time you will put your pup to bed for the evening. Feed and then cut water off to your pup about two to three hours prior to bedtime. And, as always, allow your pup to relieve itself throughout the evening and then just before bedtime.

I always advise owners to keep their very young pups crated at night in the same room where they themselves sleep. Pups can also be tethered in your bedroom if they are uncomfortable in the crate. Your pup will feel more secure if they can smell, see, and hear you.

Bonding is critical for your pup at this stage. It also makes nighttime potty duty a lot easier. Very small or young pups will most likely not be able to make it through the night and will need to be taken out at some time during the night. Past the age of 3 months your pup should be able to hold its bladder and bowels the entire night.

If you just took your pup out and it did relieve itself, don’t mistake crying and whining as your pups need to go potty. If you condition your pup to whine and cry for attention by always responding, your pup will be conditioning you.

Balance is Key

Puppies under the age of 12 weeks are especially vulnerable to anxiety. But, dogs must learn to be comfortable when left alone. Leaving them alone for short periods as well as not allowing them the cry and whine for long periods is the balance that must be achieved in order for your pup to mature into a confident and stable companion. They must learn to sleep through the night but young pups will need to go potty once or twice throughout the night.

When pups whine at this age it is best to just get up and take them out. Limit your interaction with them and try not to engage them too much. Give them enough time to go potty, praise them for doing it and put them back to bed. They will settle down if you do not over-stimulate them. Nurturing and bonding during the first 4 to 6 weeks is critical to your pups psychological health.

Housebreaking is top priority to us. Finding the balance is the key to success. Seek the advice of a trainer or behaviorist if your housebreaking efforts have not been successful. Housebreaking and Health The time it takes to housebreak your pup greatly depends upon your consistency but, every dog is different.

Pet store pups almost always need to be re-programmed. Some pups do not take to the crate; a small bathroom, laundry room or exercise pen might have to do. Health issues can also be a factor. So, if your dog is frequently urinating or “leaking”, a trip to the vet is recommended. Many young pups can and do develop urinary tract infections. This is why access to water at all times during the day is so very important.

If your dog is not 100% accident free for at least 4 weeks, then your dog is not housebroken. If your dog is not housebroken after 6 weeks, then something in your routine is not allowing for proper supervision and prevention, or, there might be a health issue. Keys to Housebreaking Success Keep your dog on leash, attached to you or tethered to something secure, and supervised, ... Exposure to the all of the places that your puppy will eventually be allowed access to once it is housebroken is imperative.

When you cannot supervise, keep your puppy confined in the crate … Preventing accidents is key to conditioning your dog to ONLY go to the bathroom outside. During the day, the maximum amount of time your dog should ever be expected to hold it’s bladder and bowels is about 4 hours. The evening is different as their metabolism slows significantly. Provide an area for your puppy, preferably outside, where it is free to go to the bathroom and where it is safe and secure ... Providing a place where your dog cannot fail is important for long-term success. A secure balcony is always far better than keeping your dog in the kitchen, bathroom, etc., unless absolutely necessary.

Tips for Success

Dogs are usually consistent when finding places in your home to go to the bathroom—behind furniture, rarely used rooms, or out of the way places. At the next feeding time, feed your dog on any spots where an accident occurred. This also helps to establish that room, and that spot, as the den and not the bathroom.


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