House Training Your Dog

house training dog
house training dog
house training dog

I prefer the phrase “house-training” to “housebreaking,” which sounds so harsh. Housebreaking implies that you have to “break” your dog of something; almost as though you and your dog are in a battle of wills. If you understand that emptying her bladder and bowels means more than just a bodily function to a dog, then when you train her not to eliminate in the house, what you are actually doing is redirecting her instincts.

Wolf Instincts about “Elimination”


Dogs are extremely territorial: they are born with a strong drive to stake their claim and they do so by choosing where they pee and poop (sorry if that sounds like baby talk, but “urinate and defecate” sounds so professorial). Their wolf-pack origins are what cause dogs to mark the boundaries of their area with bodily fluids. Each dog’s urine has a distinctive odor that is immediately discernible to other dogs. Once a puppy (or an adult dog) has established several areas where she relieves herself, she will be drawn back to them. This is called “scent-posting” and is a way to mark off territory.

In a wolf pack, the alpha leader, or Top Dog, is usually the one to decide on the boundaries of the pack’s territory. However, for the purposes of house-training, the issue of what comprises a dog’s territory is not necessarily relevant — unless you have a multiple-dog household and/or issues of aggression


All dogs — starting from the age of eight weeks — look for their own scent or that of another dog to urinate or defecate over. This is called “over-peeing,” and it’s a way for a dog to impose his presence. When dogs are mature, over-peeing is also a way to stake a higher claim. If you have two or more dogs in your family, you will notice that the ones higher up the ladder cover the lesser dogs’ urine with their own; if there is a dog in the pack more senior than they are, that dog will pee on top of the others’ markings. You might say, “The last dog to pee wins!”

Keep in mind that nothing about house-training is natural to dogs: in fact it can be counter-instinctive not to mark the boundaries of their living area (otherwise known as your living room). So you should cut a puppy some slack while teaching her to live in your house by your rules. One of the secrets of house-training is to recognize that your task is to redirect your dog’s instinctual behavior so that she eliminates where and when you wish — which can be in direct opposition to her instincts, contrary to her hard-wiring.

House-training Guidelines for Puppies

(Note about paper-training for city pups: most city dwellers — and some who live in houses but have work schedules with long hours — will probably paper-train or litter-train as a step on the road to complete house-training.)


On his arrival at your house, do not carry the puppy indoors. The first place you should set the pup down is where he will mark, so carrying him inside will guarantee that the first place he will pee at your house is inside it — which is the very place we do not want him to “scent-post.” Instead, lead the puppy on a leash outside, giving him the opportunity to mark his new yard — the area in front or back of your house or apartment. Set him down in front of the house, or better yet take him to the backyard (if you have one) and let him “scent-post” there. This area will become his preferred place to do his business.

Teaching a Puppy to “Go on Command”

You can teach your puppy a voice cue to encourage her to eliminate. This is actually simpler to accomplish than you might think. Use any words that suit you—“ Hurry up,” “Go on” or “Go pee” — as the puppy squats. Quietly praise her as she goes, then make a big fuss with a treat when she’s done. Before long, when you say “Hurry up,” she’ll squat. This can be incredibly useful if the weather is horrible or you’re in a rush.


  • Take your puppy to her “potty spot.”
  • Stand and wait as she sniffs around.
  • When she starts to go, do not say “good girl” — save the praise for when she’s finished.
  • Instead, say the words you’ll use hereafter to encourage her to do her business: that phrase — a consistent few words said in a firm yet encouraging voice — that you will continue to use just as the dog starts eliminating.
  • If you consistently say those words whenever your puppy starts to pee or poop, as time goes on you’ll be able to get her going just by saying that phrase in the same way.
  • As soon as the puppy finishes, give her a big “Yes!” and a treat or a good scratch behind the ears or a tummy rub — whatever is her favorite spot.
  • When teaching her to go on cue, always use that phrase the moment she begins and always praise her right after she finishes. It should not take long before you can inspire her efforts by using the cue words before she needs to go.

Try Different Surfaces

You want to avoid having a dog that is used to only one type of surface — such as grass — on which to relieve herself. If you don’t encourage her to use a variety of surfaces, she may wind up becoming a dog who needs a particular sensation under her feet in order to go.

Once your dog has come to understand your cue words—“ hurry up” or “go pee” — you can encourage her to try a variety of surfaces.

Gravel, cement, dirt, etc., are all surfaces that could crop up at some point in her life as the only options for a potty spot — and you don’t want her to have to hold it until her eyeballs float just because the ground feels alien under her paws.

Using a Crate

Trainers agree that the most humane, clear and effective way to teach a dog not to relieve himself in the house is to keep the puppy in a crate between the times that he’s playing with you, eating or relieving himself. The theory behind the crate is that a dog instinctively does not want to dirty the area where he sleeps and eats.

–Tracie Hotchner

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Copyright © Tracie Hotchner – Originally appeared in The Dog Bible: Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know by Tracie Hotchner

photo credit: Arrqh via photopin cc