Primary Blog/Training Tips/Three Essential Tips for Housebreaking Success

Three Essential Tips for Housebreaking Success

Monday, January 22, 2024

3 Essential Tips for Housebreaking Success

#1 - To Treat or Not To Treat?

No treats for a job well done in housebreaking! YES, WE SAID IT… Housebreaking, going potty outside, is one of only two training behaviors we DO NOT treat!

Here’s why! How many times have you watched your puppy go potty outside then turn right around and go potty again inside within a few minutes of returning indoors? You see, your puppy, just like the wolf, is a partial voider. That means she can go potty outside just enough to gain a measure of physical relief and GET THAT TREAT!

You, thinking your puppy has fully eliminated, take her back inside the house where suddenly, Fifi realizes, “Uh-oh… I still have to go,” and before you know it, you have a puddle on the floor.

Therefore, eliminate treats from your housebreaking training and substitute them with verbal praise. Don’t go over the top with your verbal praise either. A simple, “Good job,” will suffice. Your praise may not be as enjoyable as a delicious treat to your puppy, but it also won’t be counterproductive to your training program!

#2 You Have to Catch them in the Act

If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a thousand times, “But my puppy KNOWS going potty in the floor is bad. He acts SO GUILTY when I come home!!” We will dispel that myth in a moment…

It is challenging for young puppies to associate rewards or punishments with desired or undesired behaviors if they are given more than 3-5 seconds after the act. After all, puppies have an instant feedback brain just like their wolf ancestors. (Think about a porcupine; how long do you think it takes a wolf in the wild to realize eating a porcupine was a bad idea? That is instant feedback!)

Because we are dealing with this same instant feedback brain in our puppies, we have to catch them in the act of going potty in our house to reprimand them. You can’t find an accident and bring the puppy back to that spot and rub their nose in it (EEEWWWW!!!) or point at it and yell loudly at them to remember. You quite simply must catch them IN THE ACT!! Otherwise, you run the risk that your puppy won’t associate the punishment with having gone potty in the house.

Now, back to our myth about the “guilty” looking puppy. Let’s say everyday for a week you come home from work and find a puddle in the floor and everyday you reprimand your puppy for that puddle. Because your puppy does not associate going potty in the floor with the reprimand he received, what do you think your puppy is going to associate with that reprimand? (Are light bulbs going off??)

That’s right… Your puppy associated the punishment he received with your arrival at home. Hence, the guilty look your puppy gave you when you walked through the door.

So, to keep your housebreaking program on track, don’t reprimand unless you CATCH THEM IN THE ACT. Perhaps you should give yourself the reprimand for not keeping a closer eye on your puppy!

#3 - Why the Dining Room?!?!

So we already learned that TIMING is a critical factor in your housebreaking training, but so is CONSISTENCY! Perfectly timed reprimands applied sporadically to undesired behaviors can just as quickly cause unintended associations as bad timing. Consider this; you catch your puppy going potty in your house as you are getting ready for work in the morning and reprimand him within the proper time frame (3-5 seconds, remember?). When you come home later that afternoon, you don’t catch him going potty. That night after dinner, you do catch him. Before bed, you don’t catch him. The inconsistency here creates a big problem!

When you catch your puppy, he gets reprimanded. When you don’t catch your puppy nothing happens; no reprimand / correction.

Guess what your puppy has learned? Your puppy has learned that it isn’t dangerous to go potty in the house! It is only dangerous to go potty in front of the humans! That is why he runs off to the rooms that are used most infrequently; the guest bedroom and formal dining room!

You MUST be consistent and catch your puppy IN THE ACT, EVERY TIME he goes potty in the house. Is it easy to do this? Not if you are letting your puppy run amuck all over your house! Limit your puppy’s freedom so you have control over where they go and it is easier to watch them and catch their mistakes CONSISTENTLY!

Housebreaking is the bane of puppyhood for most dog owners. It is an incredibly frustrating process that has been made even more so by misguided training recommendations doled out by friends, family, the internet, and a myriad of dog professionals. The information provided is often incorrect or misleading, especially regarding the amount of time and effort that will be required to train your dog to go potty outdoors reliably. However, successful housebreaking doesn’t have to be so scary or painful. It just requires patience, consistency, a small bit of knowledge about your dog’s behavior, and an easy to follow plan of action.

Bryan Bailey

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Bryan Bailey

CBCC-KA Certified

Bryan Bailey, an acclaimed author, media personality, and expert in canine behavior and training, co-founded Taming the Wild and brings his diverse experience and innovative methods to his role as a mentor and director at The Academy for Canine Behavior and Training.

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