Are you trying to house train your dog? Training your dog to be clean in the house is one of the first things you’ll want to start teaching when they first arrive to your home.

Those of us with adult rescue dogs may need to go through the same training process as we do with puppies. Rescue dogs often haven’t had the same opportunities as little puppies to learn the correct places to eliminate and may not have spent much time inside a house before.

House training will take a month or two of intense effort on your part. It may involve changing your routine with your dog. However, doing the job correctly and thoroughly from the start is much preferable to a half-hearted attempt that goes on much longer and creates confusion and uncertainty for the dog, to say nothing of damage to your carpets!

Can’t I just rub his nose in it?

Modern thinking about how best to house train a puppy is quite different than what was recommended years ago. Punishment for mistakes is no longer considered either necessary or helpful.  Delayed punishment is cruel and simply doesn’t work. If you discover a pile or puddle in the house that the dog left minutes or hours ago, it is too late to react. The dog cannot figure out why you are angry, and cannot learn from the punishment. If you catch the dog in the act of relieving itself in the house and punish it, the immediacy of the consequence means that it can learn, but what it learns will probably be  its bad to eliminate in the presence of my owner, rather than it’s bad to eliminate in the


YOU and your actions are much more relevant to the pup than the location inside the house.  You might wind up with a dog that hides behind the sofa or in the guest bedroom to eliminate.

As you’ll see below, you want the pup to eliminate in your presence in the correct location, so punishing it for performing in the house is not helpful.

There are two keys to successful house training:
1. Reward for elimination in the correct location
2. Prevent accidents in the house

Reward for Elimination in the Correct Location

The idea is to catch your dog doing something right so you can reward it and thus strengthen its likelihood of doing the same thing again in the future.  First decide where you want the dog to eliminate.

For most people, this will be a handy corner of the back garden. Some people train their pups to eliminate on newspaper in the house, but most experts recommend teaching the dog to eliminate outside the house from the very beginning, rather than trying to paper train it and then retrain it to grass.

You must accompany your dog, on leash, to the elimination spot quite often.  When you get there, stay with it but

do not play with it, just let it wander around on lead and sniff the ground.  As soon as it begins to eliminate, praise softly.  When it has finished, give it couple of special food treats from your pocket and play with it. Rewarding the dog for performing in the correct location time after time helps it learn where you want it to relieve itself.

You will need to take the dog to the chosen location quite often and at the time that you can reasonably expect that the pup will need to eliminate. When a pup is very young, it may need to urinate as often as once per hour during the day.

Other times you can be pretty sure the pup will need to eliminate are immediately (IMMEDIATELY!) on waking up in the morning, 10-15 minutes after eating or drinking, after waking up from a nap, after a vigorous playtime, when something exciting happens like the arrival of a guest, and last thing at night.  Many also need to relieve themselves in the middle of the night until they are mature enough to hold for seven- eight hours.

When the puppy is getting the idea of eliminating soon after you take it to the toilet spot in the garden, you can begin to put toileting on cue.  Start to repeat your cue word (like busy or do it) as the puppy sniffs and begins to eliminate. Eventually the puppy will become more likely to eliminate when it hears this cue.

If the dog does not perform after three minutes in the garden, you may bring it back inside but put it in a crate (see below) then take it out again in 30 minutes for another try.  If you are not using a crate, confine the dog in a play pen. When you are pretty sure that the pup is empty, you can let it loose in the house for a short time while closely supervising it.

Prevent Accidents in the House

While teaching the dog to eliminate outside, you must do everything in your power to prevent accidents in the house. This means anticipating when the pup may need to relieve itself, and taking it outside to the designated spot in time.  It means watching the dog 100% of the time it is loose in the house, and putting it in one of two safe areas if you cannot watch it. If you are not prepared to do this for a while, get used to cleaning up accidents.  If at any time you see it circle, sniff the floor, or start to squat, immediately INTERRUPT it by calling it urgently to the door to go outside with you to finish its business.

Keep a supply of treats handy so you’ll always have some for quick trips to the garden! Your two safe areas will be a crate and a puppy play room, as described below.


Dogs are naturally clean and will not usually foul their immediate sleeping area. You can take advantage of this tendency by putting the dog in a very small area such as a dog crate (with soft bedding and a chew toy like a Kong stuffed with kibble and peanut butter or canned dog food) when you cannot watch it.

It will probably hold while in the crate, then you can take it outside immediately after coming out of

the crate.  This helps you create an opportunity to reward the dog for a correct elimination while avoiding accidents in the house.  A young puppy should not be crated without a toilet break for more than an hour at a time (except at night).


The playroom is for longer safe confinement, if you have to be away for several hours.  It might be a small bathroom or laundry, with a washable floor.

First puppy proof the room by removing ALL objects a puppy might chew, damage, want to wee on, or be hurt by (like towels, shower curtains, electric cords, waste baskets, rugs, and household cleaners.

Put the puppy’s bed in one corner and a small toilet area in the opposite corner.  If you want the dog to get in the habit of eliminating outside, the toilet area should be a few square feet of turf.  Also put a bowl of water and several stuffed Kongs in the room.  This will keep the puppy occupied while you

are away, and allow it to eliminate in an acceptable location while learning that grass = toilet’.

If your garden is fenced and you have a doghouse or sheltered area outside, the alternative to a playroom is to put the puppy outside when you cannot watch it.  Chew toys are still recommended to keep the dog occupied and less likely to get up to mischief while alone.

The disadvantage of time outside is that when you do bring the pup into the house, you don’t know whether it’s just relieved itself or is just about to need to relieve itself, so preventing accidents requires even more attention. The advantage is that the pup has fewer opportunities to toilet inappropriately in the house (that is, in the wrong part of the play room).

If the dog sleeps inside the house, put it in its crate or playroom last thing at night after a late visit to the garden.  A 3:00 or 4:00am toilet break may be needed the first week or two if the dog is crated, then gradually move the time later until the pup can make it through the night. It is also useful to take away pup’s water before bedtime.

When there is an accident in the house, clean it up thoroughly with a special deodorising product obtained from your pet store or veterinarian.  Don’t use ammonia based products. Then ask yourself why the accident happened and how you should revise the toilet schedule or become more vigilant to prevent it happening again.

Puppies or new dogs should NEVER be unsupervised in the house. You wouldn’t give an 18 month old child unsupervised run of your home, would you?  Close doors to keep the pup in the room with you so you can keep an eye on it.  When you can’t watch it like a hawk, use the crate, playroom, or fenced yard.

Content By Dr Cynthia D. Fisher, B.A. M.S., Ph D.,

Chief Instructor – Obedience – Gold Coast Dog Obedience Training Club, Inc.

Kindly reproduced with permission of the author