More dogs are given away every year due to housebreaking problems than any other behavior problem.
Housebreaking a dog is fairly easy if you follow a few simple steps. Whenever I get a new dog, or when I advise my clients on issues pertaining to housebreaking, I generally follow five simple rules:
Housebreaking A Dog — Rule 1: Anytime your dog is in the house with you, he needs to be watched like a hawk. What this means is that, regardless of what I may be doing, I need to keep one eye on the dog and one eye on whatever else I may be paying attention to. If you can’t keep one eye on your dog at all times, then you must confine him. Confining your dog means putting him in a crate or in a kennel run or some type of enclosure where he cannot make a mistake– which in this case is urinating or defecating in the house– without getting a correction.
In sum, you must never let the dog have free reign of the house until the dog is 100% proofed, and until that time, you must never take your eye off your dog if he isn’t confined in a crate or an enclosure.
Housebreaking A Dog — Rule 2: If and when your dog has an accident– because you were keeping one eye on the dog and one eye on whatever else you were doing– you will always be in a position to give the dog a sharp correction upon error. This means that your dog will be developing a negative association with the action of defecating or urinating in the house. One of the reasons dogs defecate and urinate in the house is that they feel comfortable doing so.
It is much more pleasant to urinate or defecate on the carpet or on the couch or on the bed (where it is nice and soft) than it is to go outside (where it may be cold) and ‘take care of business’ on the grass or on the dirt. So, you need to make it more comfortable for your dog to eliminate outside, and much more uncomfortable to defecate or urinate inside. In fact, it should be extremely uncomfortable!
Anytime the dog has an accident or decides to defecate or urinate in the house, he needs to receive a strong correction. And the correction must be motivational. And it must be immediate. And it must be a correction that the dog knows he will get every time he tries to do his “business” in the house.
Housebreaking A Dog — Rule 3: The third key to housebreaking is to establish a place outside– a specific spot–where the dog will go to eliminate. In conjunction with this, I also teach a command so that the dog learns to do the behavior of defecating or urinating on command. The command I use is “get busy”.
When you see that your dog has a need to eliminate, immediately rush him outside to your specific predetermined spot. Once you get to that spot, you need to walk the dog back and forth and constantly repeat the command. I repeat, “Get busy, get busy, get busy”, as I walk back and forth. Now, once the dog begins to either urinate or defecate I continue repeating the command “get busy, get busy, get busy”. This forms a close association with the behavior and the command, and so the two become linked.
As soon as the dog finishes “taking care of business,” I immediately lavish praise. This is very important because, what goes on in the dog’s mind is that the dog learns, “Hey, I get something very positive,” your praise, “When I eliminate outside.” Secondly, he gets something very negative when he decides to eliminate inside. So, we have something very consistent going on.
Another benefit to taking your dog out to one specific spot is that dogs become creatures of habit. Thus, your dog develops the habit of going to that one spot, and as long as that specific spot is outside (or in your predetermined area) that is where he will want to go to the bathroom. Many times, dogs that have a housebreaking problem will return to the same spot to go to the bathroom. Unfortunately, this spot is usually in the living room, on the bed, or in some area where we don’t want it to be.
By establishing a specific spot in the yard, we condition the dog to want to go to that spot, and so he will only really feel comfortable eliminating in that specific spot. Another advantage to associating a command with the action of elimination is that you are able to take your dog over to the curb, or behind a building, or outside of a shop (if you happen to be in the shop) and realize that your dog is telling you that he has to go to the bathroom… you can take him outside to a place where you feel it is okay for him to eliminate. And once you are in that spot you tell him, “Okay, now it is fine for you to go to the bathroom right here.”
Housebreaking A Dog — Rule 4: The fourth key to successfully housebreaking your dog is to buy and use an odor neutralizer or an odor eliminator. There are products you can buy on the market for this. The one I use is called, Nature’s Miracle. It is a type of enzyme which breaks down urine and fecal residue and completely eliminates the odor.
It can be used on your carpet and will usually lift a stain, as well, so in a sense, serves a double purpose. But more importantly, it lifts the urine smell from your furniture. This is necessary because, if you don’t lift the urine smell, your dog will smell the scent he has left previously and want to go back because that’s his “familiar place.” By using the odor neutralizer, you are able to lift and get rid of that elimination spot which was chosen by your dog. And of course, you are now in a position to substitute his new elimination spot outside.
In the past, many dog trainers would suggest that you make your own odor neutralizer by mixing one part ammonia to four parts water. This doesn’t work very well, for one simple reason: there is ammonia in your dog’s urine! By using ammonia as a cleaning agent, there is the distinct possibility that your dog will be attracted to that spot, smell the ammonia, and re-mark his spot. So you won’t really be achieving your goal of eliminating the odor or neutralizing the scent.
If you’re into homemade remedies, or you’re on a tight budget, you might try: One part white vinegar to four parts water. I have been told this concoction works very effectively. Personally though, I prefer the store-bought formulas, because I have no desire to make my living room smell like a Cobb salad, just to save a few buck!
Housebreaking A Dog — Rule 5: The fifth and final rule for successfully housebreaking your dog is to set up a feeding and watering schedule which is very rigorous and consistent. You want to make sure that your dog gets fed and watered at the same time every day. When you do this, you’ll notice that your dog will start needing to go out and eliminate at the same times every day.
For some dogs, this will be immediately after they eat or drink. For other dogs, it may take a while. I had a Rottweiler puppy who would have to eliminate almost 23 minutes– to the second– after he had eaten. I was able to read the dog so well that I could tell exactly when he had to go out, and because I was feeding him consistently at the same times of day, I knew when to expect him to go. This way, I was always ready and prepared to be outside with the dog when nature called. If you don’t feed your dog on a consistent schedule, you will be perpetually playing a guessing game.
As for watering, I do not recommend free access to water until the dog is completely housebroken, and that means 100%. If you give your dog free access to water when in the house, you will never develop any consistency in terms of knowing when he has to urinate. If you follow these five steps religiously, you will be well on your way to having a completely housebroken dog.
On average, I find that the speed in which it takes to housebreak a new dog or a puppy that is over 12 weeks is between 10 to 14 days. It can be faster or it can take longer depending on how religiously the owner follows these five rules, as well as other factors such as your dog’s age, breed, and temperament. But with practice, consistency, proper timing and motivation, housebreaking can be accomplished fast and easily.