3 easy tips to house train your puppy or dog!

If there is only one thing all dog guardians agree on, it’s this: life is much better then they’re house trained. However, when you start looking up how, you’ll quickly find a bit too much information. Some of it is good, some less so. Friends will say do X, family will say never do X, your neighbour who hasn’t had a dog in 15 years will say do “Y”. All the while, it’s actually pretty simple to house train a dog or puppy. Do these 3 things to do and you’ll get there pretty fast. Before we start discussing strategy though, let’s cover the question you’re probably asking yourself right now:

Will it work with MY puppy or dog?

To answer that, let’s look at the situation objectively. Which of these categories does your dog fit into:

A. A dog that has been house trained for a very long time, but suddenly started having accidents.

B. It’s clean most of the time EXCEPT in very specific circumstances.

C. Every other dog.

Figuring out which one applies to your situation isn’t quite as easy as it seems. We tend to give meaning to our pet’s actions that may not be there, peeing inside is no exception!

Pro trick : read each category above out loud and then decide if that statement is true or false. If yes, go to that category’s part below. If not, read the next statement. This will help you shed the “intentions” of your dog and think of what exactly the situation is. Instead of thinking “My dog isn’t happy when the neighbours comes to visit, and therefore pees”, you’ll think “My dog is clean all the time, except when the neighbour visits.” Category B it is!

A. Sudden change in house training, accidents: No time to waste.

If your dog has always been house trained and all of a sudden starts having accidents, there’s only one thing you should do: consult your veterinarian immediately. Sudden changes in cleanliness is very often a sign of a health issue, and no one is better fit to figure out what that is than your pet’s vet team. This guide won’t help you if your dog falls into this category, at least not until the underlying health problem has been addressed or until your dog has a clean bill of health. Please close your computer and call your vet right away 🙂

B. My puppy is clean all the time, except…

If the dog never has accidents except in one specific situation, the issue is often the situation and not house training itself. Let me explain: if your puppy only ever pees inside his crate and nowhere else, it’s a safe bet that your problem is fear of the crate rather than house training (Click here if you a guide for that!). Another example would be a puppy that can hold itself for several hours when you’re home, but pees only a few minutes after you’ve left the house. Your issue here is likely that your dog isn’t comfortable being left alone (Click here if you need a guide for that, too!). If you have a dog in this category but you can’t quite figure out why the accidents are happening, it’s a good idea to get in touch with a qualified dog trainer to help you find the proper solution.

C. Every other dog or puppy

Finally, the category this guide will help. With these 3 tips, every dog that aren’t in categories A or B will become house trained by carefully following the very simple strategy below. We aren’t reinventing the wheel here: no matter how old your dog is, if he’s been house trained before or has never been inside a house, it’ll work.

So, what’s the actual method?

Here’s the crunchy part. It’s actually pretty simple to house train a dog. It’s not exactly the most fun thing to work on, but it’s easy. Here are the 3 rules to follow to get it done:

1. More surveillance than your friendly neighborhood social media

Every breath it takes
And every move it makes
Every toy it shakes
Every sniff it takes
You’ll be watching it

You never lose sight of the dog, pure and simple. You’re a cat following a laser pointer, a teenager watching her first crush, me with the last slice of of pizza no one seems to want…you get the idea. If you aren’t actively watching the dog, you at the very least know which room it’s in and what it’s doing. I told you: Simple? Yes. Fun? Not all that much. There are several ways to have a break from watching your puppy, though. For instance, if you need an hour to focus on something, give him his meal in an interactive toy that’ll take him quite a while to finish, in the same room as you are. That way, you know what’s happening without needing to focus on it quite as much. Another great tool is your dog’s crate. If you have a crate of an appropriate size, your dog will hold itself (up to their limit!) for quite a bit longer while they’re in there! Make sure they enjoy being in the crate first, though.

That’s, it, that’s step 1. Always be watching. Now, what’s next?

2. Take notes, time things, then make decisions.

Constantly watching the dog just won’t cut it. You’ll also need to take note of what works (peeing outside), and what doesn’t (surprise carpet stains). No need to post it on your newsfeed, but you’ll really want to keep track of those things. Why? Because that’s how you’ll be able to make decisions on which changes need to be made based on real data, not guesstimations. Here’s what you’ll do:

  • When your dog shows signs that it has to go, take it outside and note the time. You want to have an idea of the bathroom habits your puppy currently has. For this example, let’s pretend that happens every 90 minutes.
  • When you come back inside (and your dog did indeed do the deed), it can be under “minimal surveillance” for about 90 minutes: we know it won’t need to go right away. Put a timer if you need to so you don’t get distracted! After 90 minutes, you have two choices: either you go outside right away and start the timer again or you push it a little bit. You could, for instance, give your pup an interactive toy after 90 minutes and try to get to 2 hours, then go outside.
  • Once you’ve managed to push to 2 hours without accidents a few days in a row, you can make your “default” time 2 hours instead of 90 minutes and repeat the process, aiming for 2 and a half or even 3 hours. If you increased the time and your dog starts having accidents all the time, that was too much or too quick, go back down to something that worked!

Bonus tip : every time your dog plays, drinks, sleeps or eats, they will likely need to go shortly afterwards. Keep that in mind and take them out early if necessary!

Another bonus : download and print this house training log, then put it on your fridge!

3. React properly, it’ll help house training tremendously

The last part of this how-to is knowing what to do when things work out and when they don’t. This is usually where the most ludicrous, funny or extremely sad advice has been given by friends and family. It’s very simple, actually:

  • If my dog goes somewhere I want it to, I reward it. That implies and requires that you’re always present when your dog goes outside during the learning process: no opening the door to the yard and letting the puppy go by itself! Praise verbally and reward the dog with a treat when they go outside. Two important things: 1. the reward needs to come immediately after the behavior, not 5 minutes later when the dog comes back inside and 2. you need to make sure the dog actually did something and didn’t just run around and come back for his treat.
  • If your dog has an accident or goes somewhere you don’t want, you’re going to clean it up using a product that removes smells or a half/half water-vinegar mix, not with regular cleaning products. Nothing else. Really, nothing else. You don’t scold the dog, you don’t scold the puddle of pee (yup, heard that as a trick), you can pick it up in front of the dog, you definitely don’t shove it’s face into the mess. All of these “tips” are either useless or extremely bad for your house training process and your relationship with your dog. Trust me, you don’t want your dog peeing in hidden spots, where you’ll find it three days later fully absorbed into the wooden floors.

However, accidents give you information: your surveillance system has failed and you need to fix the leak (pun intended). Yes, I’ve just told you that your dog peeing inside is, in fact, mostly your fault. Be patient with your dog and remember that peeing or pooping is a relief for them, they aren’t doing it to piss you off.

Bonus tip : make sure you’ve “secured” the dog while you clean up. While it’s not bad do clean up in front of them, it’s quite frustrating to try and wipe things up as the puppy runs into the spill or tries to play Tug-of-war with your washcloth. Give it something to do elsewhere or ask someone to keep it busy while you clean up.

How long is house training my puppy going to take?

The base idea is pretty simple, but the challenge comes in the fact that you have to persevere until your dog is fully house trained. There are quirky situations and exceptions, but the time-watch-react protocol will be necessary for all dogs. They won’t all evolve at the same pace, some will be clean in the house within a week or two, others will take a month, maybe even more. Puppies have a “time limit” on how long they can hold themselves, at about (their age in months +/- 1) hours, which means no matter how fast your puppy evolves it may not be able to hold itself more than 5 hours at 4 months of age. You also need to adapt this plan to your own household, your routine. For some applying this perfectly will be easy, for other not so much and that will also affect the time it takes to get results. Just think of why things aren’t perfect, see if you can adapt to fix it and, if not, don’t worry too much about it. You’ll get there eventually! If you’re struggling and need help, it’s perfectly okay to get help from a dog trainer. We also have another article, our House Training FAQ, that may help with some of your issues.

Ready? Go!

Written by Nina Esmery, CTC, Translated by Stéphane Fiset