Regardless of your new dog’s history, start with the assumption that they are not housetrained. Always approach house training from the dog’s perspective. Your dog does not understand that it is wrong to eliminate in the house!
Dogs, like people, learn at different rates.
Feed your dog on a schedule
Instead of free feeding, feed your dog at set meal times. Most adult dogs do well with two meals a day, but puppies need more frequent meals. Stick to a high quality, dry dog food and keep your dog’s meal times as close to the same times each day as possible. Give them access to food for about 20 to 30 minutes at each meal. Remember to walk them after they eat!
Take your dog outside to eliminate as often as possible and reward them whenever they eliminate outside
If you are considering a young puppy, remember that they need to eliminate every hour. Regardless of your walk schedule always take your new dog outside after playing, napping, and about 20 minutes after eating. Try to use the same spot each time. Keep walks brief and encourage your dog to sniff (this is an important part of the canine elimination sequence). Praise the dog as soon as they begin to squat and as they eliminate. Do not play or take long walks with the dog until after they have eliminated outside.
Pay attention to your dog’s body language when inside
Behaviors such as pacing, whining, circling, excessive sniffing or squatting indicate that the dog may need to eliminate. If you catch your dog exhibiting any of these behaviors, interrupt the dog and immediately take them outside. If they eliminate outside, praise them profusely.
Catch them in the act!
If, and only if, you catch your dog eliminating in the house can you correct them. The correct must take place at the same time as the undesirable action (preferably as the act begins). The most effective correction is to startle the dog with an unpleasant stimulus (a loud noise, squirt of water, etc.) as soon as they begin the unwanted behavior. You can then redirect their behavior. This means that after interrupting them, you should immediately take them outside to eliminate. Praise them if they go outside. Remember to always use the weakest stimulus possible to interrupt your dog. Your goal is not to scare the dog, but to startle them.
Punishment has no role in house training and can actually intensify the dog’s undesirable behaviors. Dogs make immediate associations.
Additional Housetraining Options
One of the first decisions you have is whether or not to use a crate. The crate has two main functions. First, it keeps your dog and your possessions safe while you are away, and second, it encourages your dog to inhibit the urge to eliminate.
For example, if you come home and find a puddle of urine on the floor, show it to your dog, and punish your dog (either physically or vocally), your dog will associate the punishment with you and the puddle of urine and not with the act of urinating in the house. This may seem like the same thing to you, but for your dog there is a huge difference between the act of urinating and a puddle of urine.
Since your dog does not understand that it was their act of urinating that contributed to the punishment, they may in the future cower or act guilty when you come home to find another puddle or urine on the floor. Your dog’s guilty behavior is merely canine submission and it is their way of telling you that they acknowledge your anger, but does not understand its cause.
In fact, punishing a dog for eliminating inside has been known to lead to other behavioral problems. A classic example is the dog who after repeatedly being punished for eliminating inside, develops coprophagia (the nasty habit of eating feces). In this case, the dog views the feces as the cause of punishment and attempts to get rid of it by eating it. Again, the dog did not understand that their defecating caused the punishment.
Clean any soiled areas with mild soap and an odor eliminator.
If your dog has an accident (and most will have at least one), getting rid of the underlying odor is crucial. Dogs use scent cues when deciding where to eliminate and the average dog as 215 million more scent receptors than you. Thus, even if you cannot smell that spot on the rug, chances are that your dog can. Never use an ammonia-based product to clean up after your dog. Many of these products just smell too much like urine for your dog to resist. Always place your dog in another room before cleaning up mess. You do not want this to become a game.
Health and Behavior
If your dog continues to eliminate inside after repeated attempts to house train or if your house trained dog begins to eliminate inside, they may have a medical problem or behavioral problem that needs to be addressed. First, have your dog thoroughly examined by your veterinarian (including urinalysis and fecal exam) to rule out any medical problems. If your dog is healthy and the problem persists, ask your veterinarian to refer you to a qualified animal behavior specialist.
An alternate to crate training is to confine your dog to one area of the house using a baby gate or door, when left unsupervised. Just make sure that the area is puppy proof. You can gradually expand their access to the rest of the house. If you use a crate remember the following: no dog should be crated for more than four consecutive hours! Your dog may still have accidents in the crate. The crate must be large enough for the dog to completely stand up and turn around in, and your ultimate goal is not to use the crate.
Remember, a crate should never be used for punishment!
Teaching a dog to eliminate indoors, even on paper, makes it more difficult to ultimately teach the dog to eliminate outdoors. If you do not have to paper train your dog, then don’t. This said, there are some circumstances when you might want to consider paper training. For example, if your dog is very young or very old and you can not take the dog outside to eliminate as frequently as they need, you may need to paper train. Small dogs can even be litter box trained. It is possible to housetrain a dog that has been paper trained, but it may take more time and vigilance on your part.