Dogs have to pee, and their instinct is to do it on an absorbent surface-- carpets beware! They also have

  • vastly different opinions on hygiene than humans,
  • no idea you own the ground they walk on, and
  • no sense of guilt about the very normal, vital and even useful action they have performed.
They see a "mess" as a wonderful thing-- dogs LOVE to sniff each others' "messes" and maybe add a short remark on top of it.

Fortunately, dogs are one of those animals who have an instinctual drift about going in the same general area and on the same general surface type. This aids greatly in training them to go potty in a human-approved area. Here is a short breakdown of how to get your dog to want to go outside, and not want to go inside.

But we've ALWAYS done it that way!

Dogs will tend to do what they've done before. So if you get started with a puppy or new dog, give them a clear location for potty breaks. Take the dog out to the Place on a 6-ft leash and stare quietly at the sky for a few minutes. Hovering and talking is often counterproductive. If she doesn't within 5 minutes or so, go back inside for half an hour and crate or watch her like a hawk to prevent accidents.

After a couple trips to the Place, the dog will begin to see it as a safe and predictable destination and want to "own" it by peeing there. If you want to hurry up the process, try sprinkling some Potty Training Spray in the Place. In any case, you will eventually get what you want. When it happens, say a quiet "good dog!" or the like, and wait until she's finished to further praise and give a treat. Elimination is generally its own reward but it doesn't hurt to pass out treats whenever you can!

So your dog has planted his first pee in the potty spot. Hurray! Do it 89 more times. You may as well mark the behavior by saying "go potty!" just as the dog begins to go, but don't expect the words to mean anything to him for many weeks and many, many successful potties. Don't lessen the effect of the words by throwing them around if the dog obviously has no intention of peeing.

No mistakes!

In order to build a strong habit, you have to be 100% dog owner and own every minute of their time. Most dogs will not pee in their crates and some are more reluctant to on hard surfaces so every minute you are not watching the dog, they need to be confined in a low-likelihood area. I sometimes have the dog-in-training lie on a mat near me while she's in the house and only move when I move. This builds up a lot of attachment so be sure to balance with plenty of peaceful alone-time, chewing a bone or sleeping.

Dogs give a "tell" when they are starting to feel like letting go, sniffing in circles and straight-out tail. If you see this sign you have about 1 second to quickly lure or nab your dog-- try not to frighten him-- and go out to the Place.

About half an hour after eating or drinking, the dog will probably feel a need so be proactive in taking them to the Place at those times, as well as first thing in the morning and just before bed. You want a 0% mistake-rate for at least two weeks before you test this behavior by leaving your dog on the carpet unsupervised.

No punishment!

If your dog DOES make a mistake-- wait, your dog can't make a mistake at this point: he either has a habit or he doesn't. If YOU make a mistake in managing your dog and let him practice peeing in the house, don't freak out. Your workload has increase by one messy cleanup and lengthened the days you will be escorting him out to the potty spot, but it's not a huge deal.

Treat the spot with a commercial odor remover, following the directions carefully. It can be nearly impossible to get the smell out of carpet pad and subfloor once it's soaked in, so if possible also cover the spot with a piece of furniture or a rug with a piece of plastic under it. There is absolutely no use in "showing" your dog the spot, lecturing him, rubbing his nose in it, etc, after the fact. The dog will by no means associate his long-ago need to pee and subsequent relief with his current angry owner. All this will accomplish is to make him mistrust you.

If you catch him in the act, by all means interrupt, dramatically, but there's no need to punish him at this point either. Punishment may make you feel better, but if it's early in the training, punishing a normal potty behavior will only make him question whether it's safe to go potty in front of you. You'll probably have to wait longer for results next time you lead him out to his potty spot.

Jean Donaldson has an excellent and heart-touching explanation of house-training in her book, The Culture Clash.


The information above is provided as a public service. Shasta Dogs does not receive financial benefit in exchange for advertising any service or product on this page or linked pages.