A Progressive Method of Housebreaking

Dog training from housebreaking to advanced obedience training is nothing more than behavior conditioning. We want the dog to learn to respond to a signal, either within his body (in the case of housebreaking), or from a human (in case of obedience). Dogs have strong natural instincts and tend to respond to routine. These traits can be used to our advantage to condition the dog.

First, let’s define housebreaking. A housebroken dog is one that will retain his urine and feces until taken out and / or will indicate his need to relieve himself to his owner. It is usually possible to condition a dog to relieve himself outside on schedule within a week or two, but it will take months of conditioning before the dog can be considered completely housebroken as defined.

In the first step of housebreaking, we use the dog’s natural instinct to keep his sleeping area clean to encourage the dog to relieve himself outside. For a bed, we recommend the use of a crate. The puppy should be started overnight in the crate at about three months of age, at which time he should have developed control of his bowel and bladder muscles. The feeding schedule should be three meals a day, with the last meal being served around 5 PM. This will allow the meal to pass through the digestive tract by the last time the puppy goes outside before bedtime. 

The natural instinct to sleep in a den is strong in dogs, so the puppy should feel safe and comfortable in a day or so. Never use the crate as “punishment” when the dog misbehaves.

The puppy should not feel the urge to relieve himself overnight in the crate unless he is disturbed or very young. If the dog wakes at night, take him out to go. In the morning, the first person to disturb the puppy’s sleep must take him outside or he may soil his crate. After a few weeks, the puppy can be kept waiting a short time in order to encourage retention, but at first it must be immediate. If the crate is soiled, do not scold, just clean it up. It may have been your fault. Puppies and dogs should not be left in the crate for more than four hours without being let out.

No paper, food or water should be left in the crate at night. If the puppy has not soiled the crate, he will probably relieve himself as soon as he gets outside. When he does, praise him. Remain outside with him for a few more minutes allowing for some exercise and then stand still to see if he has to go again. Most dogs go twice in the morning after being confined all night. 

Praise, praise, praise him every time the dog relieves himself. Also take him to the same toilet area every day. Do not allow him to have free run of the yard yet.

Now the puppy can be unleashed (if you have a fenced in yard) and allowed to play outside or returned to the house. If you return to the house, the puppy can be confined to the crate or taken with you to an uncarpeted room.

The kitchen is the best place to allow freedom at first, as the floor can be easily cleaned in case of an accident. Do not give the puppy free run of the house and do not permit him in any carpeted areas yet. Gate the kitchen door with a baby gate.

After a short exercise time, feed him and take him out again. Whether he soils or not, return him to the crate for about an hour and try again. If he doesn’t relieve himself he can have some more supervised freedom in the kitchen.

This schedule should be followed all day and into the evening with the last meal at about 5 PM and the last trip outside about 11 PM or just before bedtime.

Usually, after a week or so on this schedule he will be conditioned to relieve himself outside and you can start extending the time permitted for freedom from the crate. However, the puppy must not be free unless you are able to supervise him. There are bound to be accidents occasionally during free time and they must be seen in order to be at first corrected and later prevented.

Correction must be given only if the dog is caught in the act. Correction consists of a loud “NO” and/or a loud noise like the sound of a loud clap. Never hit the puppy or rub his nose in the mistake. Do not make a correction unless you catch him in the act. All mistakes you did not see were your own fault; just clean them up with an enzymatic cleaner.

After a few days, you should be able to prevent an accident by noticing the behavior that immediately precedes the act. Most dogs display some preliminary behavior before relieving themselves. Now you should be able to stop the act by noticing the behavior, giving him the “NO” command and then taking him outside. 

Praise is very important to encourage the dog to relax and relieve himself outside.

By the second week you should have a good idea of how often the puppy actually has to go out and you can start extending the retention by extending the time in the crate in the morning or perhaps leaving the dog in the crate the entire afternoon.

When the puppy has gained good control and no longer relieves himself in the kitchen, begin to introduce him to the rest of the house. Begin by taking him with you (on a lead) into other rooms and confining him there. Now if you see the puppy needs to go out, go to the door and say “Do you want to go out?” Praise him and open the door. You must encourage the dog to indicate his need and you must learn to recognize it when he does. Do not trust the dog to be loose in the house without close supervision until you are certain he is thoroughly conditioned to go outside and is clearly indicating his needs.

As for leaving the dog in the house when you are out, start gradually by first keeping the dog in your room with you overnight.

As you move from step to step, expect regression. When it happens, take a step backwards and start again.


  • If your eyes are not on the dog, the dog must be in a crate.
  • Praise, praise, praise correct behavior.
  • Use correction ONLY if the dog is caught in the act.
  • Walk the dog on a leash when you take him out.
  • Take the dog to the same area every day.
  • Pick up droppings and keep the area clean to prevent worms.
  • Do not change diet or give treats that might cause soft stools.
  • Prevent dog from drinking excess water.
  • Regularly check for worms.