Potty training, housebreaking, doing his business outside. These are all terms for the same thing: training your dog to pee and poo outside (rather than on your favorite rug). Teaching your dog this important skill set requires consistency and patience from you. Oh, but it’s worth it.

By Karen Weir-Jimerson
August 24, 2020
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There are plenty of wonderful things about welcoming a new puppy or older dog into your home: companionship, unconditional love, puppy kisses. However, bringing home a new family member also comes with responsibilities. You need to provide the right food, enrichment opportunities, basic training, and health care to ensure that both you and your pet will live happy lives together. One of the most important training tasks new dog owners need to invest in is potty training. If housebreaking isn't a priority, the effects are easy to notice. Simply put, “You need to house-train your dog, otherwise the house gets stinky,” Zazie Todd, PhD and author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy, says.

But as any dog owner knows, getting your pet to do his business outside can be one of the most challenging parts of pet parenthood. Establishing the correct behavior early on can make life better for both you and your pet. Read on for how to find potty training success.

1. Establish a Schedule

Some dogs may stand quietly by the door. Others might bark, whine, or stare at you. There are clever dogs who ring a bell on a door handle. But not all dogs will let you know they need to go out to do their business—and you can’t expect anything from puppies who can’t control their bathroom urges for very long. 

Todd says a good rule of thumb is that “puppies can hold it for one hour for every month of their age.” When you see your puppy starting to squat, “pick them up and rush them outside,” Todd says. Adult dogs should go outside to go to the bathroom at least three to five times a day. Smaller breeds and younger dogs may need to pee more often. According to Todd, how successful you and your dog are with housetraining is all up to you and your management. But, no pressure. 

2. Reward for Success

When you praise your dog’s success (aka, peeing outdoors, not indoors), your dog will learn that this action is praiseworthy. After all, who doesn’t love an “attaboy”? Praising and lavishing them with kudos and treats after they relieve themselves outside will help them understand this is a good thing. 

Todd endorses positive reinforcement when it comes to potty training your pooch. “Reward them, throw them a party,” she says. “Make going to the bathroom outside a good thing to do.” Todd stresses there should be no punishment involved in housebreaking. “Punishment is the opposite of housetraining. It will set you back,” she says. “Punishment for accidents suggests that your dog shouldn’t go to the bathroom in front of you. Instead, your dog learns to sneak off and go elsewhere in the house.”  

3. Don’t Panic Over Accidents

If your dog makes a boo-boo on the bathroom rug and you witness it, you can say, “No” and take the dog outside. But if you find an unpleasant gift on your rug after the fact, your dog won’t associate the stain on the rug with the need to go outside. You can’t reprimand a dog for past deeds. “If you find an accident, there’s no point in taking your dog back to it,” Todd says. Reprimanding your dog for a past deed, even one that was 10 seconds ago may make your pet afraid of you. 

Todd stresses you should never yell at your dog. “It’s unlikely the dog will understand why you are yelling,” she says. “This is especially the case if there is a time lag between the mess being made and you discovering it.” If your pet does make a mistake, make sure to clean it up with a good enzyme cleaner that will help eliminate odors so that your dog doesn’t use that spot again.

4. Manage Feeding Times

Load in, load out: It’s just the way things work. The Humane Society recommends a daily feeding schedule for adult dogs and puppies alike, though depending on a puppy’s age, that will likely mean three to four feedings a day. When you keep a consistent feeding schedule, you’ll also be working your way toward a more consistent elimination schedule. It’s a win-win for all parties involved in potty training your dog.