House training your pup or dog should be a fairly straightforward process if you follow some basic rules from the start, some dogs will take a little longer than others and you have to expect some accidents while carrying this out. If you have ended up taking on a juvenile or adult dog with house training issues then extra time, effort and consistency will be required to sort things out, and possibly the help of a vet/behaviourist may be required as the inappropriate elimination may be the result of other underlying problems like separation anxiety, urine marking, fear, disease and others and not just a lack of house training. If attempts at house training are having no effect whatsoever then you may have to look at the above, and get some help. Please read the whole section for the full picture.

    What I would firstly like to say is if your dog or pup does do their thing in the house don’t launch into a rage over it or start rubbing the dogs nose in it, this will achieve nothing except maybe make the dog or pup fearful and in the future more secretive about urinating/defecating and then doing it when you are not around. The end result here is often another rollicking when you do find the evidence (not the way to do it) and a circle of: pee in secret and punishment from the owner when they find it. The dog doesn’t know what the punishments for as they live in the moment and it escalates to dog is fearful when owner returns as they now associate owner return with punishment, things can only get worse in this situation. Many owners say “ oh, he knows he has done something wrong, look at him” but he doesn’t, the guilty look and submissive behaviour is the pups or dogs association of punishment with owners return, and reaction to your present angry behaviour, not the pee he done an hour ago. There is something you can do if you catch your pup or dog in the act so to speak and I will cover this as we go through the training but it dose not involve rage and physical punishment. Some pups and dogs will eliminate inappropriately (to us ) as a result of Fear, Anxiety, Submission behaviour, Excitement or Conflict.

    The puppy :-

    Firstly we will look at the pup and assume you have just brought them home for the first time (use DAP/Adaptil plug in two weeks previously). If you already have the pup in your home you can start to follow this advice as well.

    Obviously the pup will be a bit scared/anxious as just being separated from his/her home, mum and littermates (see preparing home section and others). Have a jolly (not over the top) matter of fact attitude with the whole scenario. They will probably be excited too so this is a stimulus for them to have a wee so a visit to the garden/yard as quick as possible will probably be a good idea, make it unhurried though, not a sprint that might make the little one panic. Spend a few mins in the garden and if they go praise them up big time, they need to know that it is a good thing to wee in the garden or yard. It is a good idea to have a nice treat to hand every time you go to the garden to initiate a pee, something a bit special to use as a reward for doing things right and only for this, nothing else, if you feed your dog dried food then some of it's dried food is not good enough for a treat as a reward for good behaviour, personally I used to cook up some liver or chicken and cut it into small pieces only the size of your little finger nail, it is relatively cheap and goes a long way, grab a piece as you go out to try your luck; prepare something beforehand as you want to get it right from the off and only give the treat if the deed is done not just willy nilly.

    Where they first go in the garden can be the spot where you will take them to pee for the immediate future, unless this is not a good place, then you will have to wait for them to take a pee in a good place and reinforce this as the place to go; reinforce by directing or taking them to this area and reward immediately after going with high praise and treat (always go out with them to start so you do not miss a reinforcing chance). Reward with the praise and treat directly afterwards while outside not when you are back in the house as puppy/dog will not put the association together. Using the same area for eliminating just puts a strong scent in that area and will encourage them to go to this spot more regularly.

    After the first wee you can start asking for a toilet each time you take them out to the spot you have chosen, use a little phrase like “go wee wees “ or whatever you like as long as you always use the same one. A puppy will want to wee quite a lot when young and will be stimulated to go by some things, those being: after rising from sleep, after expending energy playing or becoming excited, after eating (but don't play in garden straight after eating as this can cause stomach problems like bloat or worse a twisted gut), after or during a period of fear or submissiveness, by smelling a previously soiled area and after a couple of hours of not going. Ask for the “go wee wees” or similar and if they go give heavy praise and treat immediately on finishing, not when you are back in the house. Sometimes they may not go, no problem, try again later, don't stand out in the garden for an hour demanding a wee from your frozen bewildered pup. Some pups will learn very quickly and very quickly your pup might be asking you to go out, this may take the form of just standing by the back door or giving a little whimper or pawing the door or something nearby, or another sign, be vigilant and look for this, if you miss it and an accident is the result, who's fault is it ?

    If your pup does do a wee in the house when you are there you can try this. Give a argghhh sound, loud enough to interrupt the event and have the pup look at you but not loud enough to instil terror. With out any more telling off take them outside straight away and ask for a wee, if they go all well and good, praise highly and treat if you have one on you (you should), if they do not then don't worry there is next time. You then have to go in and clean up the wee, when you do this do it quietly, no saying “what have you done !” or similar, you don't want any association to this as some pups/dogs that crave attention will pee in the house as it gets attention from the owner for it, it might be negative attention (telling off) but it's still attention for a dog that craves it.

    As for cleaning up the wee the most important thing to do here is try and get rid of the smell as this might attract your dog to this spot again next time they want to go. The following may sound like a bit of a fuss but believe me it will be worth it to get a clean house dog, hopefully you will get things sorted quickly but there will be some pups/dogs out there that will take longer so patience and consistency will be required. Firstly and without any verbal punishment of the dog (hard I know but truly required) clean the area with a damp cloth and a enzymatic cleaner like natures miracle, do not use an ammonia based cleaner as urine contains ammonia so you will attract them, preferably one with no scent but a weak pine oil/lemon cleaner would be OK. Pat up the worst of the dampness with a cloth into a bucket or similar, then pat dry with a decent kitchen paper roll or similar. Lastly dampen a cloth with surgical spirit (get a bottle from any chemist) and rub over the area to hopefully remove the smell of the wee. You can take the contents of the bucket outside and tip in the area where you are asking your dog to eliminate just to add a bit to the smell in the right place. 

    Your pup will almost certainly not be able to go through the night without eliminating so someone will have to get up and let them out, I had to do it with mine, if you don't then every time your pup has to go in the house and it happens unanswered so to speak, it makes them think it is OK, don't worry though, if you put in the time it will hopefully be quickly rewarded as it doesn’t usually take long for a pup to go through the night.Go to bed as late as you can and get up early, taking them out for a wee before retiring and as soon as you get up. What I will add is when you do take them out at night it is just for a pee, no other interaction or play should be carried out for fear of the pup thinking middle of night means playtime. Some pups and dogs may ask you to go out at night for a wee, if you ignore it then you know what the result may be. If they are asking to go out and not doing anything be careful that this does not become a persistent problem with other driving forces (attention, anxiety).

    Many will say to use paper at night (and during the day) and try to get them to go on this, gradually moving it closer to the back door and then outside, eventually this may work but will often take much longer before your house is truly clean and there is the possibility your pup may fixate on the paper as the only place to have a pee causing you other problems later or become worried when they want to go and no paper is available.

    Get into the habit of taking your new charge out and initiate a pee before you retire to bed and when you first get up, remember to praise and treat when they go. Hopefully as your pup/dog gets older and you are taking them out for plenty of exercise elimination in your house will be less of a problem as they will be emptying their bladder while out and about.

    Defecation (pooing) should not be as frequent as urine elimination and the same advice can be followed for this, that is, do not punish defecation mistakes, clean up quietly as for urine, reward correct defecation etc. I would like to add here that I have come across some pups that came from a first home/breeder already with digestive/stomach problems (consistent diarrhoea etc) and took some time to sort out requiring veterinarian help/nutrition advice, if this happens to be your problem get some professional help quickly as a pup can dehydrate and become ill fast. 

    The juvenile/adult dog :-

    Hopefully you would have acquired a house trained older dog but sometimes this is not the case, especially when rehoming rescue dogs that were once strays, or the upheaval of re homing can cause behavioural problems of an elimination type to occur.

    To start, if you have a problem, you can follow all the above training for a puppy, you have to go back to square one and start at the beginning as you would with a pup, don't punish (physically/verbally) for elimination mistakes, reward with a decent treat for going outside and only for going to toilet outside, should go through the night OK (unless other issues are present), basically follow all the above for a puppy but remember they are adults so will not need to go as often as a puppy and smaller dogs with a smaller bladder need to go more often than a larger dog. Look for signs that your new friend wants to go and then get them outside and ask them to go and praise/treat if they do, signs could be lowering of the head and sniffing around, an increase generally in movement or indeed slowing right down and showing interest in a particular area or thing in your house, you will soon see the signs with your own dog. If they are raising the leg or squatting with imminent urination give an "argghh or no", nothing else, loud enough to stop the act, not to instill terror, take outside and ask to go, praise/treat if they do. If after some length of time there is no improvement or elimination mistakes are being made of an unfathomable nature then help from a professional may be required. There could be many reasons for elimination problems apart from just house training issues and I can not cover this here as it can be different for each and every dog due to any previous environmental and learnt behaviours. What I would say if your new friend is doing small quick wees in several of the same areas around your home instead of larger type wees then it may be marking going on. Your first port of call should be the vets to rule out clinical problems (urinary tract infection etc ) and then a behaviourist or sometimes a combination of both. Make sure though it is not just a lack of commitment/effort on the owners part.

    A quick note about senior dogs :-

    If you have or are taking on a very senior dog then they may have or develop urination or defacation problems. There are some age related clinical problems out there that will make your dog lose control of their toileting skills, much like very old people, it may be out of their physical/mental control and you need to see a vet about it, their may be some help available from the vet to make their lives a bit better. 


    Why not take a look at my first book - Elmer no ordinary wolf, a realistic novel about a wolf called Elmer, his family and their life. My hope is that you will learn much about wolves and mother nature, coming to understand why man first thought to domesticate these amazing social animals to give us our best friend, the dog.

    copyright 2013-22 Paul lindley