Top 10 Do’s and Don’ts for Errorless Housetraining

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This is an excerpt from Linda’s book, Do No Harm™ Dog Training and Behavior Manual, available to download here.

If you’re reading this before you get your puppy—good for you! If possible, have everything ready before your puppy comes home. To help you and your puppy start off on the right paw from day one, I highly recommend the renowned puppy primer by Dr. Ian Dunbar, “Before and After You Get Your Puppy”. If you have a new puppy or an older dog who was never reliably housetrained, or who has regressed back to making mistakes, it is time to institute or revisit housetraining protocols. Housetrain your dog using a plan that your dog can understand.

From day one, the key words are containment, both short-term and long-term, and reward opportunities. Confinement in a crate for night-time and in a small area during the day with an indoor sod tray or puppy pad is necessary until your pup earns more space in your house. Ample opportunities for elimination with food rewards will have your dog looking forward to getting on the leash to go to the chosen spot in your yard to eliminate in order to get a yummy treat.

Here’s how to set your puppy up for success:

  1. Do confine your puppy to a crate in your bedroom at night with just enough room for him to stretch out comfortably. When puppy cries, get up and take him to his elimination spot—either a puppy pad near the door, or outside.Don’t allow your puppy to eliminate in his crate.
  2. Do limit your dog’s access to the house unless he has recently eliminated. During the day, confine your dog to an X-pen with a sod tray or puppy pad if that is appropriate, inside when you are housetraining. An extra bathroom, extra bedroom, or the kitchen, with a baby gate will also do nicely. Over time, if your puppy is error-free, enlarge your dog’s space. If your dog has an accident, decrease space but please be judicious and expect occasional errors at the start. If your dog pees in his bed area, elevate the bed in the X-pen. Dogs don’t like to eliminate where they sleep!

    Don’t allow your dog to roam around your home until she earns more space in the house—one room at a time. You may order to have a container of sod delivered weekly to your home. Puppy pads are useful mainly for urination training, although some small dogs who live in condos have learned to defecate on puppy pads as well. Your dog may need to be trained to eliminate on sod if you have used puppy pads, even though dogs naturally prefer a soil substrate for elimination.
  3. Do give your puppy a yummy treat then praise exuberantly every time they complete elimination in a proper location. Use a high-value food reward. You want these events and this experience to make an indelible positive impression on your dog’s memory. This is so worth celebrating!Don’t ignore the successes.
  4. Do remember that your puppy won’t have full bladder control until 16-20 weeks of age.
    Do forgive mistakes.Don’t be impatient.
  5. Do provide elimination opportunities at least once per hour for puppies, once every 2-3 hours for adult dogs and:

    • Immediately upon rising in the morning

    • 1/2 hour after your dog eats or drinks

    • As soon as you walk into the house — get your dog, walk directly outside with your dog on-leash for a potty break before greeting your dog.

    • After playing with your dog

    • After exercising or walking your dog

    • Before bed

    •Whenever your think your dog looks worried, is casting about, goes to hide or you think he or she might eliminate.

    Don’t think because your puppy can “hold it” through the night that she can do the same during the day.

  6. Do use a non-punishing interrupt sound, such as the clap of your hands, if your puppy makes a mistake while you are watching. Completely ignore the mistake itself, but turn it into a correct response by bringing the puppy or new adult dog to the correct elimination area. Then as soon as your dog completes elimination in the correct place, reward her. This is the number one housetraining trick and the basis of force-free training — rewarding for the right behavior, not punishing for a wrong behavior. If your puppy makes a mistake while you are not watching, just clean it up and don’t allow your puppy out of your sight or without an available “toilet” again!

    Don’t yell or stick your dog’s nose into a mess. Punishing or sticking your dog’s nose in a mistake won’t teach him where to eliminate. Your dog will “learn” not to eliminate while you are watching and may hide somewhere to eliminate, such as behind the couch.

  7. Do take your dog out on a leash. Determine where in the yard your dog prefers to eliminate. It can help if your dog chooses her own favorite spot. Use the same spot EACH TIME.

    • Use a cue such as “Go Potty” or one that you prefer as a “trigger” for elimination.

    • Allow no more than the length of a 6-foot leash for your puppy or grown dog to decide on a spot while you stand stationary. You may pace just a few short feet in one direction and then the other.

    • Allow just 5 minutes of elimination opportunity, using your watch or phone. If your puppy or new dog does not eliminate, go back inside — puppy’s opportunity window is over for right now. After 1 hour, try again for 5 minutes.

    • While your puppy is eliminating and relaxing the elimination muscles, let her know that she is on the right track by speaking a verbal cue in a calm voice. I use, “Good, good, good”, then reward.

    • If your dog will not eliminate in your yard for some reason, try having another dog eliminate in your yard so your dog is likely to mark it.

    • Get a puppy pad scented with a scent trigger and place it where you would like your dog to eliminate.

    Don’t let your dog go out to eliminate alone. He may become distracted and find something fun to do outside, then come back and eliminate in the house!

  8. Do feed on a routine schedule so you can track your dog’s elimination needs. Not only should you feed your dog on a routine schedule, but you need to remove all uneaten food after approximately 15 minutes. Take note of your dog’s eating and elimination schedule.

    Note: Dogs should have water available to them at all times.

    Don’t allow your puppy to feed freely all day from her food bowl.

  9. Do clean up soiling thoroughly. If you don’t remove your dog’s scent completely from a floor or carpet, your puppy will identify that spot as a toilet. We strive to set our puppy up for success from day one at home. However, if a mistake does occur, you must clean up thoroughly. Your dog can smell his scent long after we can!

    • Hard surfaces – Use a live enzymatic cleaner such as Anti-Icky Poo® (See Supplies). Scent and stain removers alone won’t help with housetraining. Test for possible floor damage first.

    • Carpet, rugs, and upholstery – It may be very difficult to remove scent from carpeting, however, a live enzyme pet odor remover is recommended. Urine may leak through carpeting into the carpet pad and into a wood floor underneath if it was not recently vinyl sealed. If this happens in your house, housetraining may be significantly slowed or seemingly unachievable…and it’s not the dog’s fault!

    After the solution dries, place scattered food or a food bowl on the soiled area.

    Do use a urine blacklight to locate every area in your home where your pet or another pet may have eliminated. Use a live enzymatic cleaner to eliminate the urine.

    Don’t use household cleaners! They may contain ammonia and may actually trigger your dog to eliminate in your home!

    Note: Don’t let your pup watch you cleaning up a mistake. She may associate the waving of paper towels with playing and associate playing with indoor urination!

  10. Do speed housetraining by devoting at least a long weekend to housetraining protocols.

    Don’t slow housetraining by being inconsistent. Your puppy will have trouble if you are haphazard about the rules.


If your puppy is making frequent “mistakes” after 3 weeks of training and she is at least 12-20 weeks old — it’s not the puppy’s fault!

Somehow you are not communicating to your dog in a language she can easily and clearly understand. Chances are:

• Your technique is not quite right

• Your family members are not being consistent.

Remember — supervise your partially house-trained puppy at all times! Your dog’s location options are: in the crate, on a leash attached to you, in the x-pen or bathroom with an appropriate elimination spot available within a few feet from you, or outside with you. Every time you miss a signal telling you that elimination is on its way, such as sniffing or circling, you are extending the time it’s going to take to house-train!

If you continue to have problems or suspect a medical condition, please visit your veterinarian to rule out any possible medical cause such as a urinary tract infection.

IF SAFE, the most practical and kindest thing that you can do to help insure reliable housetraining is to install a doggie door that leads to a secure area where your puppy or new dog can eliminate at will once fully housetrained. Your dog will thank you.

Above all, be patient with your puppy or dog. He has a lot to learn about the new rules of living in a house but he will learn quickly if you use the right techniques.

Learn more about Housetraining Do’s and Don’ts and topics from Separation Anxiety to Aggression for Trainers, Rescues and Pet Parents, in the Do No Harm Dog Training Manual.

Dog Training Manual Do No Harm Force Free Positive tranier san diego del marThe Do No Harm™ Dog Training Manual was designed as my own personal guide for teaching basic manners classes, and evolved into a reference manual for my private behavior consultations. Created as a practical guide for either or both training formats, it is also helpful for pet parents who want an inside look at dog training and behavior, as well as for those who seek force-free solutions for specific problems. Written with love for the “heartbeats at our feet”. You can purchase and download the PDF ebook dog training manual here.


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Linda Michaels, M.A. Psychology, Del Mar Dog Training, serves clients in Del Mar and San Diego County from La Jolla to Carlsbad, plus Rancho Santa Fe, Hollywood, and Beverly Hills. Linda Michaels was recently rated one of the top ten dog trainers in the United States, by Top Ten Magazine. Linda has a master’s degree in Experimental Psychology (Hons), and is the creator of the Hierarchy of Dog Needs™ (HDN). She focuses on the psychological aspects of dog behavior that often mirror human psychological conditions, such as: fear, separation/attachment disorders, and aggression toward humans and other dogs. She also teaches private, customized basic manners/obedience lessons for dogs of all ages and every breed.

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