Housebreaking a dog is one of the most important parts of being able to live with one. These are some simple but effective methods of housebreaking a puppy or adult dog that are also humane and reasonable. Like the HSUS (Humane Society of the United States) stresses, routine, supervision and confinement, positive reinforcement, and planning ahead are your best weapons.

How Housetraining Works

a woman playing with a small dog

1. Natural Instinct Not to Soil

Dogs have a natural instinct not to soil where they eat or sleep. However, they do not naturally extend this area to something as large as your house. In order to teach them to view the entire house as a non-potty area, it is necessary to remove opportunities for doing the wrong thing. Also, you need to provide opportunities to be rewarded for doing the right thing.

2. Reinforcement

When housebreaking a puppy, reinforcement often takes the form of your happiness and praise. Young puppies are wired to do what makes their elders happy. Therefore, a lot of happy praise when the puppy does the right thing will usually work. Older dogs may require different reinforcement, simply because they are less inclined to view your opinion as the center of their world.

For all ages, food rewards work well, but play sessions, affection, and providing or withholding access to something your dog wants are all useful tools. For example, leaving on a walk might be contingent on the dog first pottying in the proper spot.

3. Cleanup

No one likes cleaning up, but it is an essential part of housebreaking. Dogs use their noses to find out where to potty, so it is important to remove all traces of their accident from the area. Housebreaking a dog is made considerably easier by products that contain enzyme cleaners that can truly remove all smell from the spot.

How Long Does It Take to Housebreak a Dog?

a cute little puppy

1. Fully House-Trained Versus Well-Managed

It takes a lot longer for a dog to be fully house-trained if you provide opportunities for error. Because of this, a well-managed puppy or adult dog may appear to be house-trained well before they would be trustworthy if you got off schedule. If you follow a defined schedule, it may take as little as two weeks for your dog to have one or fewer accidents a week.

Puppies physically cannot hold their bladder or bowels until they are several months old, and a commonly used rule of thumb is that you never ask a puppy to hold it for more hours than they are months old. So, if your puppy is two months old, he or she needs to go out at least every two hours. The AKC (American Kennel Club) says that an absolute maximum of nine to twelve hours may be reasonable for some adult dogs.

2. Timing of Outings

Most dogs, especially puppies, need to potty shortly after eating, drinking, playing, or waking up. Housebreaking a dog is more successful if you take your dog out at all of these times to the designated area. When he or she does their business, show them how happy you are!

Often, the potty spot is more exciting than where the dog usually is. Housebreaking a dog that thinks that if they potty, they will immediately be put back somewhere boring is difficult at best. Reward your dog’s proper behavior with some time spent doing something fun and interesting, but remember always to supervise.

3. What to Do if You Witness an Accident

If you catch your dog in the act, the best thing to do is calmly interrupt without scaring them and then immediately go to the potty spot. If you interrupted them successfully, they will finish outside, and you can offer lots of praise. Most accidents happen because the dog is not being closely supervised, it is over-excited, or the schedule was thrown off for some reason.

Never get mad at your dog for having an accident. If you don’t witness it, they won’t understand why you are mad. If you do witness it, they may become scared of pottying in front of you, even outside. This may cause them to hold it until you aren’t watching when they might be in the house.

4. Puppy Pads Versus Outdoors

Potty pads or paper training is used when taking the dog outside often enough is difficult or impossible. Housebreaking a dog can sometimes be more complicated with puppy pads. This happens because the dog learns that it may be okay to potty in the house, but there might not be a choice for busy people. Potty pads are best used in conjunction with confinement

Methods of Confinement

a large Golden Retriever dog in a dog house

#1. Crates

Most crate-trained dogs think of their crates as dens. A properly sized crate is a great tool for potty training a dog. This is due to the fact that they will not want to soil it. The proper size is important, though. After all, you do not want your dog to be able to piddle on one side and sleep on the other. Special housebreaking puppy crates, with a section for a potty pad and a section for a bed, are available.

#2. Exercise Pens and Closed Rooms

Exercise pens are wire fences that enclose a small area to confine your dog. If your exercise pen has a bed, toys, food and water dishes, and a potty pad, chances are your dog will choose to go on the pad. Their reward, in this case, is keeping their own space clean, which most dogs want to do. A small room that has been puppy-proofed can perform the same role.

Putting It All Together

Housebreaking a dog is all about consistency, confinement, and setting them up for success. Housebreaking a dog that is allowed to make too many mistakes can be difficult because the dog will not be sure what it is supposed to do or whether the hassle is worth it. Unless they have a medical problem, however, all dogs can be house-trained with time and patience.

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