The most common form of housebreaking is teaching your dog to hold it when he's in the house and wait until he goes outside to go potty - either on a walk, out in the yard, or on an enclosed patio or balcony. This type of training works for owners who are able to arrange their schedules to get home in time to be sure your dog has a reasonable number of opportunities to relieve himself outside during the course of the day, or those who are willing to recruit or hire someone to take him outside if they're not able to.
If you work away from home for long periods during the day or expect to do impromptu sleepovers away from home, you'll need to combine this training with doggy door training, or change tracks to paper training / litter box training. It isn't your dog's fault if he has an accident in the house when you haven't provided him with the opportunity to do the right thing, after all. For those of you who will be able to let your puppy out at regular intervals throughout the day, the following training may be all you need to get your puppy housebroken.
When you're training your dog to go potty outside, you must confine him when he's left alone, as outlined in Commandment #9 and supervise him when he's in the house, as outlined in Commandment #7, or you can do umbilical cord training with him when he's in the house. We need to be sure your dog isn't having accidents in the house so we can get him used to only relieving himself outdoors.
One of the most important things you can do to make your puppy's housebreaking less of a hassle is teaching him to go potty promptly on command, as outlined in Commandment #10. We want him to relieve himself quickly so playtime in the yard or a nice long walk can be his reward for getting down to business at the right time and in the right place.
The first step of teaching your dog to go potty only outside is deciding where his potty area will be. Will it be in your back yard, front yard, on the balcony? Or will you take him out for a walk and let him go out at the curb or on the little patch of grass down at the corner? Or maybe you'd like to train him to go potty in the yard sometimes and sometimes out on his walk. All of these options are possible, but you'll need to make a decision and be clear with your dog where you want him to go potty so he doesn't get confused.
Training Fido to Go Potty in Your Enclosed Yard
If you choose to have your dog go potty in your own yard, you may want to encourage him to go in the same area each time you take him out. Give this some thought before making your decision... you don't want to choose a spot close to the house since you're feeling too lazy to take him to the back corner of the yard only to realize once summer rolls around that you've trained him to leave big piles of poo right next to your barbeque pit or outdoor dining area. Yuck!
You'll find that in the beginning of training, it makes sense to go outside with your puppy on his leash, even though your yard is fenced. This will allow you to take him to the area of the yard you'd like him to use as his toilet, and it'll be easier for you to keep him on task and prevent him from running all over the place and getting distracted from the potty project. Another benefit to escorting your dog to his potty spot in the early part of your housebreaking program is that you'll get to witness whether he goes or not on each potty trip and you'll be there to tell him how fabulous he is when he does the right thing! You'll also ensure that your dog is comfortable pottying on a leash, which will come in handy later on for vet visits or weekend trips.
As your training progresses, you'll be able to just open the door and let him go out on his own. At first, it's a good idea to spy on him from the door or by looking out the window, so you can make sure he remembers why he's out there. When he's proven that you can count on him to potty when he goes outside, you can just open the door and let him out without worry.
If your dog will be spending time out in the yard without your supervision, please be sure that all fencing and gates are secure. Also check to be sure your dog can't get into the crawlspace under your house (a common doggie escape route!) if you have one. Once you're certain the yard is escape-proof and puppy-proofed, your puppy can run freely in the yard. Make sure you also keep an ID tag on your dog just in case he does escape. Also, consider micro-chipping him as a more permanent means of ID.
When your dog starts spending longer periods of time outside, owners often make the mistake of assuming he's empty when he comes back in. Remember, if your dog's been outside for 3 hours, it might have been 2 hours and 59 minutes since he last went potty! If he's been snoozing out there and wakes up when you call him to come inside, he may be the housebreaking equivalent of a ticking time bomb. Unless he's totally reliable about not having accidents in the house and good about letting you know if he needs to go outside, walk him out to his potty area and give him one last chance to empty out before bringing him inside. If he doesn't go potty when you give him that chance, be sure to keep an eye on him when he comes inside, just in case.
Training Fido to Go Potty in a Dog Run
If you have a narrow side yard along your house, you can easily put a gate at one end to create a dog run. There are also freestanding chain-link dog runs that are great for people with unfenced yards or fenced yards where they do not want their landscaping to "go to the dogs." Freestanding dog runs are available online or at building supply stores and fencing supply stores. A dog run is easier to puppy-proof and easier to keep clean - no more hunting all over the yard for poo. Also, your part of the yard stays clean and there's no need to worry about escapes or destruction.
If you choose to use a dog run, follow the instructions outlined above in Training Fido to Go Potty in Your Enclosed Yard. It's especially important that you go into the run with your dog in the beginning, so he doesn't worry about where you are and he can concentrate on doing his thing. Once he's comfortable with that, you can go out with him, put him in the run and close the gate until he goes potty. Then take him out for playtime, as outlined above.
Once your dog is trained, you may want to give him a doggy door that goes straight into his closed run. Alternatively, let him go outside into your fenced yard and keep an eye on him, making sure that he chooses to enter the open dog run any time he needs to go, until you're sure he won't potty in the rest of the yard. The dog run is also a handy place to leave your puppy when you're not directly supervising him. He'll be in an area where he can't get into trouble or make potty training mistakes, so you can relax and leave him outside to be a dog.
Teaching Fido to Go Potty in an Unfenced Yard
If you choose to have your potty area in an unfenced yard, for your dog's safety, he'll need to be kept on a leash at all times unless he's reliably trained to respond to obedience commands off leash (which he probably isn't if he isn't even housebroken yet!). Follow the same methods outlined above for a fenced yard, but continue taking him out on the leash instead of eventually progressing to letting him go out in the yard alone. Since you won't be able to let him run around off his leash in the yard as a reward for going potty, you'll need to run and play with him on leash or take him out for a nice walk after he finishes up.
Another option for those with unfenced yards is to have a chain or tie-out to keep your dog close to home when you're not outside with him. Start the on-leash part of his training as outlined above.
SAFETY NOTE: Be sure to choose a potty area where you'll be able to safely chain your dog. Your chain must not be in an area where your dog can hang himself or get tangled and choke. Be sure that when your dog's chained, he can't climb over a fence or fall down stairs or over a steep embankment. Be sure there are no trees, posts or pieces of outdoor furniture he can get tangled up in. Your dog's outdoor chain must never be attached to a choke collar or a pinch collar. Check to see that his collar isn't so loose that he might be able to slip out of it and run away. Even if you follow all of these safety rules, your dog should never be left unattended on his chain for a long period of time. Check on him frequently. You might even want to set a timer to remind you to check on him if you're busy doing something else and might forget he's out there.
Put your dog out on the chain only after he's reliable about going potty outside when he's on leash with you, and be sure to remember to spy on him the first few times you put him out alone to make sure he's going potty, not just out there sunbathing!
Training Fido to Go Potty on Your Balcony or Patio
If you live in a condo or apartment, you might want to teach your dog to go potty on your balcony or patio. Even a very small outdoor area can work well as a potty spot for your dog, and you'll be able to housebreak him without having to take him out for a walk every time. This is especially convenient for people who have long work hours or live several floors up and have a long way to go before they can get their dog out to the street to potty.
If you don't want your dog to go potty all over the balcony or patio, consider paper training, litterbox training or training him using a tray with sod (grass) in it. This will teach him to go in one specific spot instead of all over the place.
SAFETY NOTE: Be sure your outdoor area is escape-proof. Dogs can squeeze through smaller spaces than you think, including under fences and in between bars or wood panels. If you live on an upper floor, don't think that your dog won't jump or fall. You must make sure your dog can't get over, under, through or around your fencing! Not doing this can lead to serious injury or death or the loss of your dog.
To train your dog to use your balcony or patio to relieve himself, take him out each time you think he might need to go. In the beginning, you'll need to step outside with him since, if he's closed outside on his own, he'll likely spend all his time scratching on the door worrying about how he can get back inside with you. When you go outside with him, be sure to close the door so he doesn't jet back inside without you. Wait a few minutes to see if he'll go potty. If he does, fuss over him and play on the balcony or take him back inside to play with him for a few minutes as a reward for being a good dog. If he doesn't go within a few minutes, take him back inside, supervise him closely so he doesn't have an accident, and try again later.
If you find that your dog is having too much fun running around out on the balcony to get down to business, take him out on his leash so you can keep him in one area until he goes potty. After he goes, let him off the leash to have a good time as a reward for a job well done.
Once your dog is going potty promptly and reliably when you take him out, you can start opening the door to let him go out on his own. At first, stand right inside the door with the door open while he goes out. When he's doing well with that, you can start closing the door while he's outside, as long as he doesn't spend all his time trying to get back inside instead of going potty. You may also want to consider a doggy door so that your dog can let himself out without your help.
Training Fido to Go Potty When You Take Him for a Walk
If you don't have a yard, balcony or other outdoor area for your puppy and you want him to learn to go potty outside, he'll need to learn to relieve himself when you take him out for a walk. This is also the method of choice for owners who don't want your dog learning to go potty in the yard because they're concerned that his urine will turn the grass brown or they're worried about having piles of poo in the yard where their kids run and play.
If you choose this method, the number one rule is... don't forget to take bags out on the walk with you so you can pick up your puppy's poo! This may seem like a silly thing to mention first, but it won't seem so silly when you're being yelled at by a neighbor for not picking up or you're getting a ticket if you live in an area with a mandatory pickup ordinance! If your dog will be taking care of business off your property, picking up EVERY time is the civilized thing to do, so keep those bags handy!
When it comes to poo pickup, just about any kind of plastic bag will work fine. Many people use plastic grocery bags - or you can buy poo bags from the pet store... some of them are even scented, which can make the trip from your dog's favorite poo spot to the garbage can a bit more pleasant.
Keep in mind that your dog may surprise you with more than one poo on a single walk, so take some extra bags along just in case.
Here's the trick to a clean poo pickup... turn the bag inside out, place your hand inside and grab the poo. Fold the sides of the bag up around the poo, turning it right side out, and tie the bag tightly. That wasn't so bad, was it?
SAFETY NOTE: Be sure to have your dog on a leash at all times when you take him off your property, unless he's reliably trained to respond to off-leash commands. Even if he seems like he's going to stay close to you, he can easily become startled or distracted and run away from you, which can lead to him disappearing or being hit by a car.
When teaching your dog to go potty on a walk, choose an area close to your home as his potty area. Try to find an area with as few distractions as possible, because we need your puppy to be able to relax and stay on task, which is difficult in an area with too much action. Walk him outside and directly to that spot. Wait for about 2 minutes, either standing still or walking back and forth in a small area if your dog seems to need to move around a bit to get the ball rolling. If your dog goes potty, take him for a nice walk as a reward. If he doesn't, go back inside, supervise him closely to be sure he doesn't have an accident, and try again later, as detailed in Commandment #7.
We want your dog to go potty prior to his walk for a few reasons. There will be times in life when you don't have the time or inclination to take your dog for a big walk, like when you're rushing to get to work or it's cold and rainy outside. Also, we don't want your puppy to learn that the longer he holds it, the longer his walk will be. If he thinks his nice, fun walks always end abruptly when he finally goes potty, he'll hold it as long as he possibly can, which will lead to a housebreaking standoff. No fun. If your dog believes he has to relieve himself soon after getting to his potty area in order to take a walk, he'll be motivated to get the job done in a hurry, which will make housebreaking him a whole lot easier.
If your dog has gone potty in his spot and you're out on his walk, it's fine if you want to give him a few more pit stops to see if he wants to potty some more. Some dogs will need to go potty after they exercise, so allow your puppy a quick trip to his potty spot right before going back inside, as well.
Training Fido to Go Potty on Your Least Favorite Neighbor's Front Lawn
Just kidding. We know it can be tempting sometimes, but don't do it!
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