When I was a kid, my parents hit our dog with a rolled-up newspaper and rubbed his nose in his accidents to housebreak him. Should I be doing that?
In a word, NO! The old “rub his nose in it” technique is stressful and unpleasant for you and your dog, and it’s not a good way to housebreak him. There are more effective techniques that’ll get you the housetraining results you want without using those old-school punishments.
The most important elements of housebreaking are scheduling, confinement and vigilance on the part of the owner. When owners follow a few basic rules, they can get a reliably housebroken dog with little or no correction. If your dog does have an accident and you catch him in the act, you can correct him with a sharp “NO” and get him to his potty area to do the right thing. Resist the temptation to use overly harsh correction or to drag him over to an old accident to correct him, since that may worsen his housebreaking problems instead of fixing them.
You can’t. That’s why you need to make sure you catch him by supervising, by spying, by any means necessary. If your dog is having accidents and you’re not catching him, you’re not supervising him closely enough. This is a big problem for two reasons… you can’t effectively correct your dog after the fact, and having accidents in the house will end up being a good experience for him. Dogs associate correction with what they’re doing at the moment, so dragging your dog over to a pile or puddle you’ve found is unfair and will confuse your dog. When housebreaking your dog, you should only correct him when you catch him in the act.
The reason accidents you don’t witness and correct are so damaging to your housebreaking program is that going potty in the house can be a very rewarding experience for your dog that he’ll want to repeat in the future. Think about it… he’s uncomfortable because his bladder or bowels are full, and he empties out on your carpet and feels relief. If going inside feels just as good as going outside, what’s your dog’s motivation to wait to go out?
If your dog has an accident in the house and you don’t catch him, don’t correct him after the fact. Clean it up, forget about it and don’t let it happen again. Your dog’s housetraining is YOUR responsibility, so be sure to supervise him carefully so you can teach him to do the right thing.
In some cases, you may have to do a full housebreaking program to solve this problem. However, it can often be solved easily using the following methods. Be sure to clean the area well with an odor neutralizer you buy at the pet store (not just regular household cleaner). Temporarily move your dog’s food bowl to the spot where he’s having accidents so he will associate the area with eating rather than with going potty. If you feed him in that area for a couple of weeks, he’ll likely stop having accidents there.
If your dog is obedience trained, practice his training in the area where he’s been having accidents – having him hold a long sit or down in the area can be another helpful way to get him to think of that area of the house as something other than a toilet.
If it’s convenient, consider changing the layout of the room so there’s a plant or piece of furniture over the spot where your dog’s been having accidents. Sometimes a minor change in the layout of the room will convince your dog to change his habits.
If these steps don’t resolve the problem, not giving your dog access to the room where his “spot” is for a period of time may get him out of the habit of pottying there. If it’s an area that you’ll want him to spend time in once he’s housebroken, block it off temporarily with a puppy gate or exercise pen, then only allow him to spend time in that area when you’re there to closely supervise him. If it’s an area that you don’t ever want him to go into (formal living or dining room, baby’s room, etc.), you can use a Scat Mat or indoor barrier system to teach him to stay out of the room completely.
Treats are a very valuable dog training tool, but we don’t suggest using them for housebreaking. Your dog should certainly be rewarded handsomely for doing his thing outside, but praise, petting and play are your best bets.
Some people do have success using treats as part of their housetraining programs, but it can be risky. In many cases, the dog will be so excited and anxious to get the treat, he’ll squat, squeeze out a few drops and say GIMME! Then he’ll go inside, realize he didn’t finish, and have an accident in the house. Use lots of rewards in your housebreaking program, but no treats!
Most owners prefer that their dog use only one area of the yard as his potty spot. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and find that your dog’s a modest guy who seeks potty privacy in the back corner of the yard. If he’s not the private type, encourage him to go potty in a specific area by taking him, on-leash, directly to that area each time you take him outside. Allow him access to the rest of the yard for playtime as a reward for emptying out in the right spot.
This training will be difficult if your dog’s already in the habit of going potty elsewhere in the yard, and it may be impossible if he spends long periods of time alone outside (since he’ll be peeing and pooping all day with no guidance from you, which will get him in the habit of going potty all over the yard).
While you’re attempting to teach your dog to go potty in a specific spot, you should NOT correct him harshly for pottying in the wrong area outside. We still need him to learn that he’s a good boy for going potty outside, and it will confuse him if he gets in trouble for it. Instead of correcting him if you see him about to go potty in the wrong area of the yard, gently lead him to the right spot and praise him for going there. If you’re doing this training and you find that your dog is frequently attempting to go potty in the wrong areas of the yard, it may mean that you’re allowing him too much freedom in the yard without having him go potty in the right spot first, so be sure not to let him have the run of the yard until he’s empty.
I thought dogs would bark or scratch at the door to let you know they need to go to the bathroom. Why doesn’t my dog tell me that he needs to go outside?
Some dogs naturally seem to figure out how to signal to their owners that it’s time for a potty trip, but many don’t give any signals at all. Your dog is most likely to give you a signal if he believes that going potty in the house isn’t an option and that he must get outside to go. When he’s uncomfortable because his bladder or bowels are full and he believes he can’t go potty inside, he’ll get anxious and will likely start to pace, cry, scratch at the door or vocalize. If you’re on the ball and watching for signs he needs to go potty, you’ll let him out, which reinforces his attention-getting behavior. Once he learns it works, he’ll tend to repeat the behavior every time he needs to go out.
If your dog has successfully had a lot of accidents in the house, he knows he can just go inside if nobody takes him out, so he won’t naturally get into the agitated state of mind that tells him he must let somebody know he needs to get outside. He’ll likely just have another accident, since he’s learned he can also get relief by emptying out inside the house. If your dog’s this kind of guy, you can train him to have a signal like ringing a bell or barking to go outside. Most dogs respond well to this training and will happily use the new signal to get outside once they know how to do it.
My dog is mostly housebroken, but when I come home or when I correct him, he pees on the floor. Why does he do this?
If your dog sprinkles when he’s corrected or when he’s greeting someone, or if he rolls over on his back and urinates, it isn’t a housebreaking problem. It’s submissive/excited urination, an involuntary behavior that often occurs when insecure or sensitive dogs have intimidating or exciting interactions with humans. Please read our article, Submissive Urination: What to Do if Your Dog Sprinkles, to learn how to resolve this problem.
All dog owners should have a pet odor neutralizer on hand in case of accidents. There are many brands available at the pet store or online. These supplies are specifically designed to eliminate pet odors, and should be used each and every time your puppy has an accident. Regular household cleaners don’t eliminate the scent completely, so your dog may continue to go back and have accidents in the same area.
If the accident is on a delicate upholstery fabric or rug, start by using the product to do a test patch in an inconspicuous area to be sure that the product won’t leave a stain. If you’re afraid to clean up an accident on a valuable rug or piece of furniture yourself, time to call in the professionals… a rug and upholstery cleaning service should be able to do the cleanup without doing any damage.