Housetraining Frequently Asked Questions

The internet can be a huge resource for new pet owners.

Crate training instructions, the importance of a schedule, and much more can be easily found. However, housetraining issues still pop up and baffle puppy owners making the process much more difficult. Let’s take a look at some of the questions I’ve been asked in my puppy training classes.

Is using a crate fair to my puppy?

Most puppies would love to have free run of the house and yard. That freedom, however, will lead to a number of undesirable (and potentially dangerous) behaviors, including a lack of housetraining skills, destructive chewing, and more. After all, a puppy can get into trouble quite quickly; in fact, potentially every time you look away from him.

Just as babies and toddlers are often put in a play pen, swing, or walker to help keep them safe, a crate can keep an unsupervised puppy safe while preventing destructive behaviors. Plus, while in the crate the puppy learns to control his bowels and bladder as most puppies don’t want to soil their bed.

There is one huge caution that goes along with crate training; the puppy should not spend all day and all night in the crate. During the day, he needs to run and play and spend time with his owner. However, fifteen or twenty minutes now and then throughout the day is fine.

When your puppy is out of his crate, limit his freedom in the house. Keep him in one room with you and use his leash to keep him close or put up baby gates to block off rooms or the hallway. Don’t be in a hurry to give him more freedom; concentrate on setting him up to succeed rather than to make mistakes.

When do puppies have to go?

Puppies need to relieve themselves often. Take him outside after he eats, drinks, plays, and wakes up from a nap. He should go outside right after you let him out of his crate in the morning and before you put him in his crate at night. That said, every puppy will have his own schedule (his own needs) and as you get to know your puppy you’ll learn what those are.

If you discover that your puppy needs to go often and isn’t learning to hold it longer, even a little bit longer, take the puppy in to his veterinarian. Puppies can develop urinary tract infections and this (or other health issues) can affect housetraining.

Why should I go out with my puppy?

When puppy owners complain about housetraining, one of the first questions I ask if whether they go outside with their puppy. Many say, “no,” they send the puppy out by himself.

If you don’t go outside with him, you have no idea if he’s relieved himself or not. He may chase butterflies or June bugs and then come back in the house and relieve himself on the carpet. Go out with him and give him time to go. If he doesn’t go, bring him back inside and put him in his crate. In fifteen minutes, try again.

When he does go, praise him and tell him how wonderful he is. Puppies repeat actions that are rewarding, so praising housetraining efforts is important. Then play with him for a while. You may find that he needs to go again after he’s had some exercise. Then, of course, praise him again.



Do I need to teach him a command?

Teaching your puppy a word or phrase that means, “Try to relieve yourself right now,” is important. This is a word or phrase you’ll use for your dog’s lifetime.

When you go outside with your puppy, watch for him to begin relieving himself and say, softly so as not to disturb him, “Good boy to get busy!” When he finishes, repeat that praise more enthusiastically.

Don’t think of this as a command so much as a request. I ask my dogs to try and relieve themselves and then, because they are praised afterwards, they’ll try. This is wonderful when on a walk, before they go inside, and when we’re traveling.

Why doesn’t my puppy go away from the yard?

Many puppies who understand the housetraining process at home feel that they are to relieve themselves at home in the back yard and only there. After all, they get praised for doing it there. Then when you begin walking the puppy elsewhere, take him somewhere else, or travel; he’s confused. After all, he’s supposed to relieve himself in the backyard, right?

You can help him overcome this by taking him somewhere else to relieve himself at least once per day. I like to take my puppy out for a walk immediately after getting up in the morning because I know he needs to go at this time. His bladder is full; he has to go. So we’ll immediately go out into the front yard and begin walking. As soon as he relieves himself other than in the back yard, he gets lots of enthusiastic praise. It doesn’t take long for him to learn this lesson.

As he gets better about this, I then concentrate on introducing different surfaces: sand, gravel, concrete, grass, or ground cover. After all, sometimes I may not have much choice as to where my dog needs to relieve himself.

How long does housetraining take?

This is the most common question I’m asked. Puppy owners are impatient and want the puppy to know what to do so they (the owners) can go back to their normal routine.

Unfortunately, the process takes as long as it takes. I’ve had puppies of my own who learned the process amazingly quickly and never had an accident in the house. Others needed guidance for much longer.

A huge part of raising a puppy is being patient and teaching the puppy what you want him to do. All the effort you take now, however, will be worth it when he is reliably housetrained.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika, CDT, CABC

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer and Certified Animal Behavior Consultant as well as the founder and co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in northern San Diego county. Liz is also the founder of Love on a Leash therapy dogs; her dog, Bones, goes on visits on a regular basis. A prolific writer, Liz is also the author of more than 80 books. Many of her works have been nominated or won awards from a variety of organizations, including Dog Writers Association of America, San Diego Book Awards, the ASPCA, and others. Liz shares her home with three English Shepherds: Bones, Hero, and Seven, as well as one confident and bossy orange tabby cat, Kirk. To relax from work, or to take work on the road, Liz and her crew travel the West and PNW in their RV. If you see an RV on the road named "Travelin' Dogs", honk and say hi!

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