House Training

One of the reasons why some people end up rehoming their dog is because the dog messes  in the house. There is probably nothing worse than living with a dog that isn’t house trained! Puppies don’t just become house trained on their own as they grow up. The only difference is that when they get bigger they make bigger puddles and piles!  The principals of house training are the same whether your dog is a tiny puppy, an adult rescue dog who has just moved into your home or an older dog with an established problem.  Dogs are den animals who will do what they can to keep their den clean, all they need to be taught is that your whole house is their den. There are some health and behavioral problems which can be a factor but more about those later.

Basic House Training Rules

  • Never punish your dog for accidents.
  • Never leave your dog or puppy unattended in the house (use a lead if your house is open plan)
  • Always confine your dog when you cannot watch him (older dogs can be left outside)
  • Always praise and reward your dog for doing his business outside
  • Interrupt your dog if you catch him in the act
  • Keep to a strict feeding schedule


Dogs who are punished during house training become house trained despite the punishment. In some cases, your dog can become very stressed and anxious and can start finding an out of the way spot to do his business where you are unlikely to catch him or even start eating his own poo before you find it.  Never show any reaction if you walk in and find a puddle or pile on the carpet.

Watch your dog!

Accidents usually happen when your back is turned or in another room. Dogs love to go back to the same spot again and again, even if it is right in the middle of the living room. If you can, close all interleading doors or use a baby gate to block off the doorway. Your dog should be in the room you are in, all the time. If your house is open plan, keep your dog on a lead. That way you know exactly what he is up to.  Watch for signs of his needing to go like sniffing the floor, circling or if on the lead, pulling to get away from you. Immediately take your dog outside to his toilet area which should be a quite corner of your garden.

Prevent Accidents

When you are busy e.g. taking a shower, talking on the phone etc, Keep your dog confined to a small area that he would not want to mess in as he can’t get away from it. I recommend a dog crate but a child’s play pen will work or a cordoned off part of your kitchen or bathroom.  Click here for info on crate training. When you go out you need to take your dog out to do his business first then put him in the confined area until you return. Be reasonable about the amount of time you expect your dog to keep it in. Young pups can hold it for about 2 to 3 hours max while adult dogs can manage double that at least. Your adult dog can be safely left outside while you are out . Older puppies can also be left outside if you have a safe enclosed area. At night, take your dog out before you go to bed and then leave him in his crate or pen and get up to take him out if you hear him stir.   This is easiest if  the crate is set up in your bed room. Your older dog can be tied to your bed by his lead so he cannot wonder off during the night and mess in the house.

Praise and Reward

Your dog needs to be confident to do his business in front of you and when he does you should praise him and offer a small reward.  Always take him to the same area of the garden and wait for him to sniff around to find the spot he likes. Small puppies should be carried outside or they will have accidents on the way but all dogs should be taken on a lead.  If your dog doesn’t want to do anything, take him back inside and keep in on the lead or confined for a while then try again.

Interrupt your Dog

If you catch your dog in the act, interrupt him with a sharp “reprimand” like “NO” or clap your hands. Then take him outside and praise him even if he has already made the mess inside. He needs to be reminded that we always do it outside. Do not show any anger or irritation.

Routine, Routine, Routine

To help you anticipate when your dog needs to go, it helps to make your dog’s life as routine as possible. Feed your dog at the same times every day and take him straight outside afterwards. Get up at the same time every morning and immediately take him outside. Very young puppies need to go out every 20 minutes or so, older dogs every hour or two. Always take your dog out after meals and when he wakes up from a snooze.

Health Problems

Some health problems can interfere with house training. if your dog has always been clean in the house and suddenly starts having accidents, take him to the vet for an examination. Possible causes include urinary tract infections, incontinence after spaying, prostrate problems and gastro intestinal bugs.

Behavioural Problems

Some puppies are very difficult to house train. One of the reason for this can be a pup who was raised in an environment which the breeder didn’t keep clean. These pups are used to being surrounded by their own mess and may even soil their own beds. Some dogs will mess in the house if they feel insecure. They seem to feel that once they deposit their own scent around them, they are more in control and calmer. You might even find your dog marking new furniture you bring into your home or guests possessions.  Changes in your pack like a new dog moving in, a bitch on heat, an older dog weakening can also influence house training as lower ranking pack members may start marking  their territory.  This is particularly common in young males. Neutering usually eliminates the problem.

With some patience, vigilance and lots of praise, any dog can be house trained successfully.

Good Luck!