Housebreaking is probably the number one complaint I hear from clients. The good news is that housebreaking is very simple. The bad news is that it can be time consuming in the beginning stages.
Here is housebreaking boiled down to the two main things to remember:
1. Prevent the mistakes
2. Reward your dog generously when they go to the bathroom in the right spot
These two simple ideas will help you housebreak any dog, whether it is a new puppy, or an older dog who has regressed or never learned to live cleanly indoors. Lets get into some details.
1. Prevent the mistakes by taking your dog out often and keeping them either confined or close to you when they are indoors.
In the beginning 2-3 days, I would suggest taking your dog out every hour you are home. Setting a timer can help to remind you. Some other times that you should always take your dog out: right after they eat or drink, as soon as they wake up, and right after a particularly exciting event or game. If you see your dog circling, sniffing intently, or trying to sneak off in a corner, take them out immediately. This schedule will give your dog the best opportunity to succeed, by always having them outside when they have the urge to go. After a few days, you will pick up a pattern in their elimination, and you can start taking them out a little less frequently, but try to keep to a general schedule. This kind of consistency will help your dog, and their bladder, to adjust quickly.
Between trips outside, you will need to either keep your dog in a crate/pen area or within eyesight (use baby gates or leash tethers). If they have gone to the bathroom within the last 1/2 hour or so, you can give them a bit more freedom off leash if you want to, but still not out of eyesight.
If you catch your dog in the act, clap your hands loudly and say, “Outside! Outside!” urgently as you pick them up and rush outside. Chances are, they will not have to go by the time you get down there, but you are trying to connect in their mind where you want them to be when they feel that urge. If you do not catch your dog in the act, you cannot punish them and expect them to make the connection even 1-2 minutes after they have done the deed. Make sure you always thoroughly clean up mistakes with an enzymatic cleaner. Hopefully you won’t need to deal with accidents too many times, as the goal with this kind of schedule is to never have a mistake. That is why we are so intent on being careful to watch them or contain them so they don’t get to practice the wrong behavior of eliminating inside. Practice makes perfect, so lets make sure they are practicing the right behavior!
One of the most important things to remember is: Don’t give your dog or puppy any freedom to roam out of your eyesight indoors until they have earned it.
2. Reward your dog generously when they go to the bathroom in the right spot.
Whenever you take your dog outside, head to the same spot so they understand what is expected of them. You can use a potty cue like “Do your business”, repeated every 5 seconds or so until they start going. Then quietly praise them as they are going. Immediately after they are done, get a few treats in a row right to them. The goal is for them to get 2-3 treats within 2-3 seconds of finishing. Don’t pet them- just praise and treats. Then you can go on a walk if you were planning one. If they don’t go to the bathroom, don’t go on a walk. The walk is a reward for going to the bathroom. Instead, after 3-5 minutes, head back indoors and put them back in their crate/pen and try again in 10 minutes until they go.
Use only the best value treats as rewards for going outside like cold cuts, cheese, freeze dried liver, meatballs, etc. Use kibble or dry treats to train other things. This will keep bathroom trips special and your dog will have something very motivating to work for. You will be able to fade the treats out after they get the idea by giving fewer and then only occasionally. There is no need to ever stop praising them, though. Always praise behavior you appreciate!
With hard work and consistency, you should see some good results within a few days. After a week or two, it may seem like your dog is housebroken, but don’t relax too much until you have had 3 straight weeks without an accident. It takes that long to form a habit-good or bad. At that point you can start allowing your dog more freedom out of sight, one room at a time.