Housebreaking your puppy or adult dog probably comes first.

Housebreaking your puppy or adult dog probably comes first.

Basics: Housebreaking


Let's face it. While "leave-it" is super important, housebreaking a puppy probably comes first.


Housetraining issues involve elimination in inappropriate places. Puppies and adults follow the same basic treatment protocols. However, if you encounter an adult dog with sudden onset housetraining issues (accidents after a history of being reliably housetrained) counsel the client to seek a medical exam to rule out physical causes before pursuing training.

Most housetraining issues have at their base an inappropriate substrate preference, wherein the dog has formed a preference for eliminating on carpet or other absorbent surfaces or on linoleum, etc., rather than on grass or concrete or any other preferable surface. A large part of the training, then, is helping the dog to change this preference.

Peeing on the dog bed, human bed, couch, etc. is not to be misinterpreted as dominance. These situations are most often simply substrate preferences (beds are soft and absorbent!) or, particularly for puppies, a failure to get up in time.

The treatment plan for long term housetraining problems—cases that have been allowed to continue for a long stretch of time before being addressed—is the same as that for other cases. But strict management protocols become even more important than usual so that the dog cannot rehearse old habits.

It is imperative to undo the myth of the “guilty look” in order to ensure strong client compliance. Explain to clients that dogs don’t understand or operate from principles of right or wrong, but instead from an understanding of safe vs. dangerous. Dogs who are punished when they pee in front of people don’t learn that inside is wrong and outside is right—they learn that peeing in front of the punisher is dangerous and peeing when the person is not around is safe. This results in dogs who learn to pee behind furniture and/or who refuse to go while the client is present. The “guilty” look is not guilt at all—it’s an appeasement gesture. The dog has picked up that punishment is imminent—either from the client’s body language or from the situation (i.e., a punishment always occurs immediately after the client returns home) and is signaling appeasement, which is mistaken for guilt. Understanding this unfortunate interspecies miscommunication will help clients buy in to the no punishment policy.

Common Technical Errors

  • Punishing mistakes inside before dog has learned the correct place to eliminate
  • Late punishment
  • Failure to monitor and reward elimination outside (no reinforcement, inconsistent reinforcement, low value reinforcement)
  • Poor timing of reinforcement for proper elimination (interrupting elimination to reinforce, reinforcing too late for the dog to make the connection to the act)
  • Using crate incorrectly (too large of a crate, crating dog for too long)
  • No management or frequent management lapses
  • Relaxing management plan too soon


  • Do not allow dog access to inappropriate elimination areas when unsupervised
  • Put dog on an elimination schedule
  • Create a short term confinement area. Crates are best for this. The crate should have just enough room to allow the dog to stand up and turn around, but no extra room. Remove soft bedding in cases where the dog is peeing in their crate. Beware of male dogs peeing through wire crates—use a soft crate or drape the wire crates with a loose covering in these situations.
  • Create a long term confinement area if needed. Enclose the dog into a small, dog-proofed room (such as the kitchen, bathroom, or laundry) by closing the door or using a baby gate, or set up a space in a larger room by using an x-pen. The area should have a proper elimination area (it is best to use the same substrate as the client wishes them to use outside—a square of turf in a low plastic bin, or patio blocks, for example). Place the potty area far from the sleeping area and provide Kongs or other mental stimulation and chew toys and a small amount of water.

Virtual Dog Training

For help with housebreaking issues, which can be difficult to get through, schedule virtual training. We'd love to help.