House training a new puppy or rescue dog!

If you’re new to dogs, you’re likely enamored and baffled by your new baby’s routines and behaviors. House training might seem like an unfathomable goal, but I’ve got a perfect remedy that is both simple and positive.

Think of your dog like a toddler: a toddler who speaks a slightly different language but who can still learn to go to one area to do his/her business. Consider the similarities -

➢   Going potty is predictable. Everybody does it! Dogs, puppies, and kids go to the bathroom after waking up (think morning), after being confined (think car travel), and after eating, chewing or drinking (think life).   

➢ Both dogs and kids develop bladder control: kids by age two-years-old, dogs by 18 weeks. Until then, they have little time between feeling the need to go and letting loose!  

➢    Neither dog nor child like to eat, play or sleep in the same area as they go potty. They’re programmed to go to separate areas for each activity. Phew!

➢    Dogs and kids love attention. If you withhold your attention, until they potty in the right spot, they will be more eager to do their business on cue.

➢    Babies have accidents and so do puppies. Most accidents happen when someone else is in charge or you’re busy. Don’t sweat it! Give your puppy, or new dog, time to figure it out. Most dogs, like kids, get the routine given time, patience and support.  

So, how best to housetrain your puppy or new rescue dog?  The formula is a little different for each.

YOUNG PUPPY (8 weeks to 5 months of age)


Young puppies need two naps and an early bedtime (8PM-9PM at the latest) to develop normally. If a puppy is kept awake throughout the day, they will be hyper and nippy—the doggy version of a toddler meltdown by supper time. For more help on sleep training, read my Huffington Post piece on Sleep Training your puppy.

Download a free House training schedule or create a similar one to keep everyone on track. Given an ounce of structure, it’s easy to stay on top of all your puppy’s needs.  Download a free Needs Chart and share it with family and friends!

➢    Chose a potty area—indoor or out. Like a bathroom, it should be nearby and secluded.

➢    Take your puppy to his area after eating, resting, playing or containment.

➢     Use a strong but pleasant voice and say “To Your Spot” as you lead your dog to it. Having a bell at the door can help teach your puppy to ring it when he feels the need.

➢    When you arrive, ignore your baby until he goes. 

➢    Say “Get Busy” as (not before) your puppy pees or poops, then kneel down to give soft, loving attention. Soon this cue, “Get Busy”, will prompt your puppy.

➢    Decrease the amount of “free space” in your home until your dog is able to prompt you to let him out to go potty. (For example, if your dog normally enjoys the entire kitchen as his “den”, use a gate to cut the kitchen in half. When potty training a child, we tend to keep them near to a potty, so as to avoid an accident and to prompt independent use.) Use gates or keep your dog with you on a Teaching Lead or Station Lead to secure him near you.

➢    If your puppy gets fidgety, nippy or moves towards and rings his bell take him to his spot immediately.

To get the most out of your new housetraining regime, withhold your affection and praise until after your puppy goes potty, then lovingly and reward him with calm, reassuring affection.

Rescue Dogs

Rescues dogs come from many walks of life. Your dog may be what’s called an owner surrender, where they’ve been given up by their owner for a host of reasons, (allergies, divorce, behavioral issues, etc.) which is a sad thought for both owner and dog. Other possibilities could be that your new baby was part of a hoarding case, found on the street, or even used for fighting. Try to get as much information as you can about your rescue.  

Some rescues have never set foot inside, others can be terrified of a crate, and some relieve themselves anytime they’re left alone. House training may not be straight forward, especially when your new baby is eliminating when you are not home.

Be very forgiving of your dog’s bathroom habits: correcting a new dog out of frustration often leads to more stress, which leads to more…can you guess... presents. (Think of a scared or abandoned child - a harsh reprimand would lead to regression rather than making progress.) 

If your dog is nervous of a kennel, try gating her in a familiar room like the kitchen or a bathroom. Leave music on and toys or bones to pacify their isolation.

Don’t fuss over accidents, and make sure you clean them privately, without your dog around. Your bending over might cue play and that’s the wrong message to send.  

Continuously take your dog to the area, even taking a used tissue there to leave your scent nearby. Busy yourself and only look or greet your dog when he’s mid-stream or squeeze. If he is very anxious and it doesn’t calm after 2 weeks time, get help from a professional (in person or even remote) who believes in positive forms of training. Strong emotions get in the way of understanding. 

Follow the Puppy House Training tips in the above section, paying close attention to the use of a strong voice - direct your dog where to go and what to do when he gets there!

I don’t know about you, but it’s the small things in life that baffle me. The fax machine, the power blender and the fact that you really can house train most dogs.

Let me know how it goes, and don’t forget to take frequent play breaks. After all, life’s an adventure—grab your dog and c’mon let’s play!


For more helpful tips & video

check out House Training here

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