I’ve got to tell you a story, mom had never housebroken a dog before and when she adopted her first dog from Furry Friends Rescue, she was worried she wouldn’t be able to do it (but it turned out Griffen was already housebroken)..but then when she started fostering she was even more worried!
However after some research and training with me, she realized it wasn’t as scary as she thought! If you’re worried or scared of house breaking a dog, here are some tips and good information to know.
The first step is to learn about natural dog behavior and also breed behavior if you happen to know the breed of your dog. Dogs in general won’t pee or poop where they sleep – unless they’re feeling sick, getting old, or have a small bladder for some reason. Which is one reason why FFR always suggests crate training, it helps your dog feel safe, makes it easier to travel or board them, and helps with housebreaking! Since most dogs won’t relieve themselves where they sleep, the crates help limit a dogs space and allows you to control their movement while you housebreak. You can feed/water them, crate them (where they’ll learn to hold it) and then take them out to potty where you then praise and give them rewards for a job well done – outside of course!
When first bringing home a puppy (we suggest reading Before & After Getting Your Puppy by Ian Dunbar) or any new dog, it’s always best to set up an area where they can’t “fail” – meaning they can’t get into any trouble or if they do, it’s okay. The area should be just enough room for them to sleep in or somewhere where if they have an accident it can be easily cleaned up. If you don’t have such a space, creating one is easy, get a pen and put tarp or pieces of linoleum underneath it.
One way to start is to control the dogs intake of food and water. Puppies can general hold their bladders for an hour for each month they are old – for example a 3 month old can probably hold their bladder for 3 hours. However, they’re not going to really try, so it’s best to take them out every hour or so and when they go potty outside, praise and give them treats. You want to try and associate something good with going bathroom outside. You can also attach words to the action like ‘potty outside’, this can sometimes come in handy when it’s rainy and cold and you want them to hurry up. If they’ve eaten, you’ll want to take them out about 30 minutes after so they can go poop, until you know they can hold it.
If you want to move around the house with them, it’s a good idea to leash them and tie it to your belt loop, that way they can’t go very far and you’re more likely to catch them from having an accident. Learn the signs that your dog gives before it goes to the bathroom, this usually entails, sniffing around, tail up before squatting or lifting a leg. If you catch them in the middle of the act or just as they’re going to start, CLAP your hands or create a loud noise to try and stop them. Then take them outside, let them do their business and again treat and praise.
Mom would keep treats in a plastic bag by the bathroom door or in her pocket for those just in case situations. Praise and lots of petting and attention can work if you can’t grab the treat motivator in time.
Another tip is to limit the number of rooms the dog has access to right when you start. Mom would use baby gates and close doors so we only had access to her room, the hallway, and the kitchen (which has the door to the potty yard). Since we (me and the fosters) spent a lot of time in her room and the kitchen, we learned quickly not to pee in either of those areas. The hallway became an issue, so mom grabbed some of the blankets we slept on and pulled her laptop and a book into the hallway and we just sat there for a few hours. After a few sessions of this, the fosters stopped peeing in the hallway and learned to go outside, they associated the hallway as another living space.
Mom then moves to closing the door (but still keeping our space limited) so that we learned to hold it until she let us out. I also learned to give her a signal that wanted to go outside. You can also try training your dog to ring a bell tied to the door knob to let you know they need to go.
Just remember two things – 1) to have patience, some Nature’s Miracle and a couple of good shammy’s to clean up the messes and 2) consistency is key, the more you do it, the more likely your dog will pick up housebreaking much more quickly.
If you want some more information, check out the FFR Behavior/Training Page!