Dog House Training 101

Stick to these basic guidelines and everyone will be happy campers.

author Paige Bluhm

This absolutely will work if the rules are followed exactly. We are not aware of one person who has tried this and failed to have it work, but you must be dedicated to doing it precisely as described. If it doesn't seem to be working, read the rules again and try to see where you may not be following them. When followed closely, this takes about 1-2 weeks, with follow ups that are ongoing. So here is the deal...

The Rules of Prevention

It all boil down to not giving the dog any opportunity to go in the house at all. This means:

  • if the dog can not be watched by you, the dog is in a crate, gated off in the room with you or attached to you by a leash at all times.
  • he is immediately taken outside at key times...after he wakes up, after he is let out of his crate, after a play session, after meal time.
  • if you see him start to circle or making moves like he has to go, follow the potty rules immediately.

The Rules of Potty

Encourage the dog to see doing its potty chores outside as very desirable.

  • Grab some high end treats like cheese or liver.
  • Tell him "Let's go outside for potty", "Go out and pee", or whatever phrase you choose.
  • "Lets go potty!"
  • Get him excited at the door and work him up, talk to him in a high pitch noise, try to get him to make some noise. Direct his attention and yours at the door to the potty world, even try to get him to scratch at the door.
  • This must be the same door every time.
  • Leash him up and take him directly to THE spot you want him to go.
  • Tell him "Go potty", "Go pee", "Do your business", "Hurry up"…whatever phrase you choose.
  • Stand there and don't move, don't pay attention to him, and wait...bring a book if you need to but don't move around at all! Just hold that leash and don't give him any interactions.
  • If he isn't doing anything, sometimes walking around in a very limited area will bring the urge on. Do stay away from interesting things like bushes, posts, etc. Give him no excuse to be distracted. The younger the puppy, the easier it is for him to get distracted.
  • After he goes potty and is completely done... tell him "Good Potty" in a neutral voice and give him THREE treats. These need to be very high end treats like cheese or liver.
  • Watch him carefully to be sure he has really done something. He gets nothing for pretending to potty. You aren't being mean here. You are helping him to learn what it is you want him to do and where you want him to do it.

The Rules of Mistakes

Mistakes are intended to teach the dog that you do not want him pottying inside. Hopefully you won't need these rules, but the dog may have to make one or two mistakes in order to figure out the distinction.

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  • If you catch him going potty in the house, stop him in his tracks and pick him up, if possible by lifting his butt in the air and scooping him up like a baby belly up. Take him immediately outside. Then follow the Rules of Potty.
  • Do not scream and yell at him over an accident. You can give him a "no" correction, but don't freak out on him over it. Yelling and screaming over an accident can actually teach the dog to be afraid to relieve himself in front of you. This will then result in the discovery of accidents that you did not see because the dog managed to sneak off and do it somewhere so that you wouldn't scream and yell at him. He will not have learned that "Going potty is not what is bad. It is doing it inside that is bad. Doing it outside is good." You have to help him learn the distinction.
  • If you miss seeing him going in the house,YOU messed up and YOU missed an opportunity to TEACH him where to go. Pick up a newspaper and roll it up and give yourself a whap on the head.
  • After doing all these things, make sure you really clean up any results from an accident thoroughly before the next urge strikes him. Remember that a dog's sense of smell is far keener than ours. You need to eliminate any trace of a smell that says "You did it here before, so you can do it here again." White vinegar works well on hard surfaces. Enzyme products (like Nature's Remedy) work well on carpet.

Additional Rules:

  • He never gets a walk until he has gone potty in his spot.
  • If you plan to take him for a walk, he can't get one till after he goes potty in his spot. This will endear you to your neighbors, as your dog won't be leaving piles on the neighboring lawns and you won't be conspicuously bending down to pick them up.
  • A walk and out to potty are TWO separate things. A walk is also a reward for potty in his spot; if you plan to take him for a walk, tell him "Let's go for a walk" after he goes. This helps make the distinction.
  • If you don't have a fenced yard it is extremely important to help him distinguish between a "walk" and "out to potty". Pick an area where you want him to do his chores, an area where it is easy for you to clean up after him and where repeated eliminations will not damage too much. When taking your dog outside, always take him to that spot first. Reward there only and insist that the chores be done there. Then MAKE SURE that you don't end the outdoor time right away. After he's done his potty chores, take a moment to do a brief walk as a reward. If you don't do this, you will soon have have him refusing to do anything on leash because he wants to stay outside, have fun and explore.
  • If he goes potty in the house after making noise at THE door, you can't do anything about it; YOU REALLY made a HUGE training error. You may need to try a different signaling tactic like a bell hanging on the door, which you will teach him to ring when he needs to go out.

The Maintenance Plan

This is a complete maintenance and teaching plan. It really does work, but must be followed completely for a minimum of 1 week. After one week of this, you then give him a little more freedom. If you are using the leash attachment, take that off, give him a little more room to show you, have him hanging out with you more without using the crate. Then your next step will be to give him two rooms, then maybe a whole area, then the entire house. If you have any mistakes along the way, YOU must immediately take a step back in the training. Then do that for 3 days, then move forward again with his freedom. If he has any accident along the way YOU moved too fast and need to move back a step (to the place where you are winning) before moving forward again.

No matter what you MUST give THREE HIGH-END treats after he does a potty in his spot EVERY TIME! If he gives you a signal at THE door, and then you take him to his spot and he immediately goes, YOU MUST reward him with FOUR treats. After weeks of perfection with no mistakes, if he is signaling by going to the door and telling you he needs to go out, then you can make the treats intermittent. But they still must come on occasion. And you can ONLY do this after he has graduated to full freedom for one week straight, complete with the signaling that he needs to go out.

Why this works:

The Confinement and Maintenance: Dogs only give us so many chances to teach them where to relieve themselves. You must ensure that every time they go YOU don't miss the opportunity to show them where to go. If the dog goes in the house, you have just missed a training opportunity. Moreover, since a dog is a denning animal by nature, it will have an instinct to keep its den clean. By keeping it somewhat confined, you are using that instinct to give yourself an opportunity to teach it to do its potty chores outside. By gradually expanding what areas the dog regards as its den, you encourage it to see the entire house as the area that should be kept clean.

The Treats: Dogs need to relieve themselves and this in itself is a reward. You need to give him a reason (hence the three treats) why it is that much better to relieve themselves outside in their spot. Even if you yell and scream at them for going potty inside, this will not outrank the fact that they still got a reward in relief. The treats also make the dog WANT to do everything they can to get the extra reward of the treats after they go potty. If you had to go potty and if every time you went to a certain bathroom you got $1,000 wouldn't you do what you could to try and hold it and get to that bathroom?

The Walk vs. The Potty Spot: Differentiating the two for the dog speeds up the training process, helping you to communicate the difference. If you don't differentiate, the dog will try to signal more often at the door, because they want the walk. They need to understand that the purpose of the scratching and humming at the door means they need to potty, not they need to sniff the grass. When you stand there and don't pay attention, you are telling the dog we are here for the business at hand. If you start walking around and paying attention to them, you are not giving them a clear signal of why they are there.

The Reduction of Treats and more on the Treats: You must be consistent and persistent about the THREE treats until they are totally clear about this process for one week straight. If they make the great and wonderful point of letting you know they have to go out, then you have to tell them that they did something extra special, by giving them the additional reward of the FOURTH treat. Now in their mind, they think "Hey, if I go to that spot and potty I get relief (reward) and three cool treats (bonus) and now if I do all that funny stuff at the door I get even more treats (score extra bonus!)". Then you can reduce the treat giving to every so often. You MUST only do this after ONE week of perfect signaling to go out and potty in his spot.

The one week is to convince him that this is that great to do as well as making it habit. Next you gradually take away the treats and use them to fine-tune the process. At first when you start to make them intermittent, you only give him the treats when he goes immediately after you say "go potty." If he goes out and you say "go potty" and he wanders a bit first then he only gets a "good boy." He will then look and say "What, no treat?" Then next time he goes right away, he gets a treat right away. Now he starts to learn, "Okay, I only get the treat if I go right away." Then he will start to go immediately every time you take him to his spot. Now you have shaped his behavior and taught him to go to his spot on command, which is really nice when it's pouring rain. Always say "good boy" after he has gone to his spot and pottied on command. CONGRATULATIONS! You have effectively communicated to him what you want.

Now, after all this is SOLID in his mind, you are going to keep his interest, but change the rewards. Every time he does this he still gets the reward of a "good boy", but now sometimes he get a walk as a reward, sometimes he gets one treat, sometimes he gets three treats, sometimes one, sometimes nothing. To him it still makes it worthwhile to go to his spot. This is a lot like the slot machines for humans. We play the game and sometimes we get nothing (but we still have hope that a reward will happen the next time) and sometimes we get $5.00 and sometimes we hit it big time and win $1,000.

That's it! If you do this, I PROMISE that dog will be 100% housebroken. But you must follow this in its entirety, be consistent and play it out. Not only will you have a housebroken dog, but you will have a dog eager to go to one spot and eager to hurry up and potty immediately on command.