7 Steps to housebreaking your dog, including how to get him to use a litter box
Until the glorious day he learns to use the toilet and flush (not to mention washing his
paws afterwards), we're going to be stuck with traditional housebreaking.
(The use of "he" is for administrative convenience, but all this applies to either gender unless noted.)
Toy Breeds are notoriously difficult to housebreak, but partly this is because owners
let a Chihuahua or Shih Tzu get away with behavior they'd never tolerate in a German Shepherd.
At the same time, it's important to remember your petite pooch does not have a bladder and bowel the size of a German Shepherd's, and with the small dog's high metabolism rate, he will need to go to the bathroom frequently - probably every waking half-hour during his first six months.
It will be so much faster if you can devote some extended time to training him. Take
off a week from work if possible. If not, at least start over a long weekend.
If you can devote some time to it, he should be housebroken within 10-14 days. If he's home alone, it may take a few weeks before he's reliably trained. Much depends on his temperament.
On the first day you have him, as soon as you bring him through the front door take him to the area you want him to use as his bathroom. He
will be excited and ready to relieve himself -
trust me. Praise him vigorously. Now you're
off to a good start.
Remember the keys to training him are consistency and confinement. I offer you seven (no-breaking) rules for housebreaking.
First, please two things you should never, never do.
* Never hit the dog. Never. It only will make him fearful of you and more aggressive to everyone else. Don't even do something like rolling up a newspaper and slapping it against your hand to make it sound as though you're spanking him. This is a counterproductive measure.
* Never rub his nose in his feces. Where did this goofy idea originate? It doesn't work. I hate to alarm you, but for many Toy breed owners (e.g., Shih Tzu), the problem will be to get him to stop eating his feces!
1. Decide where you want him go and then make him go there every time.
It only delays his learning if you try to wean him; i.e., start him inside on newspapers and then keep moving the newspapers farther and farther toward the door.
At the least, get a bit of grass, sod or gravel or whatever you expect to have him use eventually and use it in the house instead of newspapers. Outside, inside on paper, inside in litter tray, any of these can work.
I like the litter trays better than newspapers or puppy pads because the litter absorbs odor better, and dogs seems to find it a more natural toilet than paper. The trays also don't allow waste to leak through on my floor.
I also don't like newspapers because your dog will consider every newspaper his personal toilet, not to mention any paper he happens to find on the floor.
One additional benefit of a litter box, puppy pads, or newspapers is that you can take this mode of toilet with you when you travel. Sometimes dogs resist using an area or surface that is new to them. With the tray or paper, you can easily
re-create the toilet area of home.
Two companies sell the litter and plastic trays - Ralston Purina's "Secondnature" which is available at any pet store and the "Puppy Go Potty" system which is available at some pet stores or via the Internet at www.puppygopotty.com. Both systems are similar. The plastic tray I use was $12.99 and a bag of litter is $5.99. Either one will work fine.
If you have a male dog who likes to raise his leg, you should place a plastic drape around the tray.
Once a week, remove the old litter, wash and disinfect the plastic tray, then put new litter in it. Add a tiny bit of the old, "perfumed" litter so he doesn't forget what the tray is for! Do not flush the pellets down your toilet - just wrap them up and put them in the garbage.
OR, HAVE HIM GO OUTSIDE.
If you want him to go outside, pick an area with grass or at least as soft a surface as possible. Many dogs do not like to go on a hard surface such as concrete.
At least three times a week, clean feces from your yard to help prevent the spread of worms and other communicable diseases. If you can do this daily, even better. Remember other varmints may leave microscopic disease in your yard so pick up all feces.
If it's raining, snowing, windy, or dark, you'll probably find that your dog does not want to go outside. You simply tell him, "life is tough and then you die." If you let him go inside because it's raining, he will soon expect you to let him go inside because he doesn't feel like going outside. Who is being trained here? Certainly, put a little rain slicker or sweater over him, but if you want him to go outside, he must go outside every time.
You also may need a product to help remove urine stains from grass and one to prevent him from using your flower bed as his personal toilet. Both types of products can be purchased at pet stores or ordered from www.DrsFosterSmith.com. I recommend them because I've used them, and they offer a 100% guarantee.
If you want him to use a doggy door so he can go outside while you're gone or sleeping in, start him using it right away. You may need to push him through it the first few times. It also helps to have a second person on the other side of the doggy door, calling to him to Come. Praise him lavishly when he goes through the door on his own.
2. Do not use walks as toilet time.
If you insist on making your neighborhood you dog's toilet, you must take a scooper or plastic bags with you to clean up his mess. I like plastic baggies because you can just put one over you hand and scoop up the feces.
The problem then is what do you do with it. Does your town have receptacles you can place it in? Otherwise, you will be carrying an unpleasant, smelly, possibly leaky object with you until you get home.
Once you have it in your hand or pouch or other container, how much longer are you going to want to stay outside with your dog? I suspect you'll want to scurry off home.
What does this teach your dog? That as soon as he goes to the bathroom, his lovely walk with the person he holds dear above all others (you, the alpha dog), is over. Small wonder dogs often refuse or resist eliminating during the walk. Then, the minute you get inside the house, the dog has an accident.
Make walks the bonding experience and exercise that they should be. Have him go to the bathroom BEFORE you start the walk. That gives him a great incentive to eliminate when and where you want him to. Take him to his regular potty area.
Do not start his walk until he eliminates. If he is having trouble, give him two or three minutes. If nature doesn't take its course,
put him back inside the house and try again
in an hour. Keep this up until you have a success. Then take him for his walk. How much nicer is the walk if you don't have to carry a bag of doggy do with you.
3. Accidents happen - clean them up promptly.
Puppies do not have full sphincter muscle control until approximately 14 weeks of age. They simply can't hold their bladders and bowel movements very long at a younger age. Please understand he's not trying to challenge your authority.
Start toilet training, but be reasonable when he acts like a puppy. If you've never had a small dog before, you may be surprised how frequently he has to urinate compared to a Labrador or other family-size dog.
You must clean up his accidents with an enzyme cleaner such as Nature's Miracle, Outright Pet Odor Eliminator or similar product you buy in a pet store. This removes his scent from the area.
If you just try to clean up with a regular soap, his scent will remain, and this will become a familiar toilet area for him. Dogs like to go in the same place over and over. Don't use an ammonia product because there is ammonia in his urine, and it doesn't effectively remove his scent.
This also may be a problem for those of you who move into an apartment or house where previous dogs have left their mark. It's very difficult to get rid of this scent without getting rid of the carpet and pad.
If he has found a favorite place, say on your living room carpet, try this tactic. Put his dish on the spot and feed him there. Dogs instinctively
do not want to soil the place where they eat.
Cleaning up accidents is not hard, just yucky. For feces, put a baggie or other plastic over your hand and pick them up. For urine, place paper towels over the stained area, then a newspaper over that and stand on them- the toweling and paper absorb the liquid.
Use the enzyme cleaner so your dog doesn't smell it anymore. When the carpet is dry, use any carpet cleaner to clean up the carpet. I recommend Spot Shot Carpet Cleaner.
4. Keep him clean
Have you noticed how depressed individuals often look sloppy and unkempt? The same thing is true for dogs - a dirty, shaggy dog is a depressed dog.
Dogs with long or dense coats often get feces stuck in their coats. Prevent this by cutting a circle around the anus so he can eliminate without touching his hair.
Dogs have a natural instinct to not want to soil their own nest. That instinct can be overcome (to our detriment) if he is allowed to become so ragged and unkempt that he continually smells his waste in his shaggy coat and can no longer distinguish clean vs. soiled areas.
Wipe your puppy's feet every day, preferably after each potty break, so he isn't tracking yucky stuff in his den or your home.
Sometimes dogs, especially white ones, stain their legs or feet with urine or other unpleasant substances. To remove stains, make a paste of equal volume of liquid Woolite, human hair peroxide (20-volume), and water. Rub this mixture into the stained areas and let stand for five minutes. Then shampoo and use a protein condition on the area.
If you don't want to be bothered mixing something, buy a special stain-removing shampoo, such as Groomer's Select Ultra White Stain Remover Shampoo, at a pet store or over the Internet
5. Confine him, ideally in a crate or at least in a fenced-off area.
Until he is a trained member of the household, you must watch him all the time or have him in his crate or behind a puppy or child's fence where you can minimize the effect of any accidents.
The crate or fenced area should be an area where the dog can see the other household members when they're home. Remember, a dog is a social, pack animal who needs contact with his pack or family.
Some novice dog owners see a crate and think - prison. The crate has wire or metal bars (the kind I like also collapses) so that
air can circulate through and so that the dog can see the rest of the household. To a dog, a crate is a den with the same warm feeling that a den or home office in your house has for you and is no crueler than putting a baby in a playpen.
The crate should just be large enough for him to stand up and turn around. If it's too large, he will be able to defecate in one corner and still have a clean area for his own. If you buy crate based on his adult size, create some type of wall (even if it's just with cardboard) in it so your puppy doesn't have full use of it.
When you can't watch him, put him in it. His instinct to avoid soiling his nest will help learn to control his elimination and help you train him in the appropriate place and times to eliminate.
While you're watching him and he starts to relieve himself, you can easily move him to the area you want him to use as a bathroom. Repeated enough, he'll get the message.
Many people use a laundry room, with tiled floors, and place his bed at one end of the room and newspapers/litter box at the other end. Put him in a crate but leave the door open so he can go to the "toilet" when he needs to.
If you do leave him in a crate while you're at work, take his collar off so there is no risk he might catch it on the metal racks and accidentally choke himself.
6. Use a humane schedule for toilet breaks.
Among the least helpful advice novice dog owners get is to watch their puppy and try to identify when he needs to go to the bathroom. Good luck. Puppies tend to run around and sniff everything. It's very difficult to know when this means, "It's time" rather than "I love to look around."
With a schedule, you both learn to adjust to manageable breaks (just like the office). He can't be housebroken and given free reign at the same time. Housebreak, then let him roam freely.
A schedule doesn't have to mean - at 7 a.m., do this; at 8:15, do this, etc. Few people will really adhere to this kind of rigidity.
Instead, with a puppy, plan on taking him to his toilet every thirty minutes, on the hour and the half-hour. Yes, this seems like a lot, but while he's young (six months of age or younger), this will be norm. It will be a nuisance. It means you have to get up earlier than normal and perhaps go to bed later than normal, but it won't last forever.
Puppies generally need to defecate within
30-minutes of eating and after playtime. Time your potty breaks accordingly. Give him three minutes to do his duty. Praise him lavishly if does. Take him back to his den without comment if he doesn't. Try again in
It will help if you decide on a "command" that you use every time you want him to go the toilet. Anything from "Go potty" to "Hurry up" to "Get busy." Whatever, just consistently repeat it every time you take him to his toilet area.
If you're home all day and until he's reliably housebroken, only leave his food and water in front of him for about 20 minutes (shorter if he finishes it in less time) until he is housebroken. Letting him graze on food and water means his elimination needs will be erratic. Once he's trained, he should have free access to fresh water at all times.
Toy breed puppies don't have excess body fat and should be fed three times a day (for the tiniest breeds, such as Chihuahuas, I prefer to feed four times a day until the sixth month).
If you're gone all day, that means you should have someone come in at noon and feed your puppy. If that's just impossible, then leave ice cubes in his water bowl (he can lick them as they melt gradually) and his lunch in his food bowl.
As an alternative to lunch, leave a chew toy with a treat inside. I like a Kong toy with peanut butter or cheese spread inside. He needs something to chew. Also consider leaving on a radio.
As he progresses, he will need to be taken to the toilet fewer times. Adjust the schedule to your dog's needs, but have a schedule and stick to it until he's trained reliably.
If he's over six months of age, try once an hour and then once every two hours, etc. until you have a schedule that works for him. Do not vary the schedule on weekends - this is counterproductive.
If you work all day, take him to the toilet as soon as your wake up, feed him breakfast, give him some attention and then take him to the toilet again. Confine him in a room with whatever you want him to use as a toilet - papers, litter box, piece of grass, etc.
As soon you get home, take him to his toilet. Play with him, feed him dinner and then take him to his toilet.
Right before you put him to bed for the night, take him to his toilet. Again, praise him lavishly when he does his duty in the designated toilet area.
Anytime you're home but too busy to keep him under constant surveillance, confine him in his room or crate.
7. You can correct (not punish) undesired behavior.
If you catch him eliminating in an unsuitable place (your sofa cushions), do not turn into a screaming banshee and go flying at him. You will just teach him to hide from you when he has to potty. (Don't forget to clean up the area with the enzyme cleaner.)
Instead, clap your hands to startle him and say "No" calmly. Then pick him up and take him to the designated toilet area. As soon as he finishes, praise him lavishly.
I do not recommend using treats as rewards because it just causes him to have to defecate again and interferes with the development of a schedule for elimination. Treats do work as rewards, however, and if you don't like talking to your dog or if feel like a fool when you coo praises at him, use food treats.
If you come home and find a pile on your sofa, this is one time when you can correct him even though you didn't catch him in the act. Unlike many other dog trainers, writers, etc., I think he can understand why he's being scolded. Don't call him (you only want him to come for good things), just go get him and carry him to the sofa. Let him smell the urine or feces so he knows who left them. Point to it and scold him "No, bad dog" sternly.
If you have feces, pick them up (with a baggie), take feces and dog to the proper toilet and place them in it. Then repeat the command you have for toileting (Go Potty or whatever) to reinforce the desired behavior. He will get the point.
If you follow these steps religiously, you will get a housebroken dog.
About The Author
Back to the Top