Housebreaking Your Puppy

Housebreaking builds on the young pup's natural instinct not to foul the communal sleeping area. To carry it out successfully, you need patience, persistence, and understanding of your puppy's needs. An 8-week-old puppy urinates approximately every two hours during the day. It empties its bowels three to six times a day, depending on the sort of diet it is receiving—an easily digestible diet, low in bulk, is best. It is most likely to want to relieve itself first thing in the morning, immediately after eating, on waking from a nap, and when it is excited (after visitors have arrived, for example).

When a puppy wants to relieve itself, it starts sniffing and circling around. Learn to recognize the signs. Take the puppy outside and stay with it. Praise or reward it immediately after it performs in the right place. That way, it will want to please you again next time the need arises.

If you live in an apartment, place a sheet of newspaper by the door, and teach the puppy to use that. Once it has learned to do so, take it outside and lay the paper on the ground. Praise the puppy when it uses it. After a time, stop putting the newspaper down and reward the puppy when it relieves itself outdoors without it. Let your puppy spend time on its own in a crate or indoor kennel. That way, if you have to leave the puppy alone for a part of each day, you will avoid it soiling your rugs while you are out.


Your puppy is bound to make a mistake from time to time, but as it matures, accidents should happen less and less often. Use hot water and a biological odor eliminator to clean up after your pet. This will remove any lingering smell and discourage it from going back to the same spot again and again. Never punish your puppy if it has an accident. If you catch it in the act, shout “no” loudly and take it straight outside. Praise it lavishly if it completes the business outside.

Some puppies learn toilet training much more quickly than others, but you should expect your puppy to be reliably clean at home by the time it is 7-8 months old. If you are experiencing difficulties with housebreaking your puppy, check with your veterinarian that it does not have a physical problem. It may do better after a change of diet, especially if its present diet is high in bulk.

Problems in Adult Dogs

Even a well-trained adult will have an accident sometimes. But if it occurs persistently, there is likely to be an underlying cause, either of a medical or behavioral nature. Male dogs will sometimes start lifting their legs against objects in the home — walls, tables, plant stands, even visitor's legs. This is a form of territorial scent marking, and is often a sign that the dog feels insecure, perhaps the dog's normal routine has changed, you have moved to a new home, or another dog has been introduced into the household. The behavior often ceases when the situation causing it has been resolved, but sometimes it may be advisable to have the dog neutered.

Some dogs may panic when left on their own and as a result will relieve themselves indoors. Don't punish or scold your dog if you find that it has made a mess when you return home. This is likely to worsen the problem and increase the dog's separation anxiety. The underlying causes of this problem can be complex, and you would be advised to seek professional advice in treating it.

Persistent incontinence, either of the bladder or the bowel, is often a sign of physical disease, especially in older dogs. A sudden attack of diarrhea will also cause an otherwise well-trained dog to defecate indoors. In such cases, always seek veterinary advice.

My 6-month-old English Setter, Matilda, urinates on the rug right in front of us when we come home. Why does she do this?
Have you scolded Matilda harshly in the past? If so, it seems likely that she has become slightly fearful of you, and is showing her submission and deference by urinating when she sees you. Next time you return home, ignore her completely so long as she adopts a submissive posture, and wait until she is standing on all four feet before greeting her calmly without fuss. Don't show anger when she urinates. She cannot help it, and you will only make the situation worse.

I recently adopted a Yorkshire Terrier, Jemma. She has always lived in kennels until now. She frequently soils in the house, but the vet says there's nothing physically wrong with her. What should I do?
Adopted dogs who have not been brought up as family dogs do not know that it is unacceptable to soil indoors. You will have to toilet train Jemma as if she were a puppy. Though it is more difficult with an adult, it can be done. Watch Jemma's every move, accompany her outside as soon as she shows signs of wanting to relieve herself, and encourage her with rewards and praise. If you have to leave her, put her in an indoor kennel, make sure she has relieved herself first, and don't leave her for long.

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