House Training Dogs

Dog Training Advice


We have a three-month-old Australian Shepherd. She is a beautiful dog and things are going well, but she is still not housebroken. We are crate training, and that is working out well, but she still urinates in the house at least once almost every day. Can you give us any tips?

-Sam & Jane from Manchester-by-the-Sea


For the most part, when it comes to housebreaking, it is you, the owner, who needs to be aware of the times and likelihood of these accidents.

At this stage, you need to pay fairly close attention to your pet. When you are too busy to monitor her, then crate her or confine her to the area where you are working or otherwise occupied. Learn her signals. Many dog owners complain that their dogs don't signal when they need to relieve themselves. While it would be convenient if all dogs barked at the door to be let out, this is not the case. However, dogs do display ritualistic behaviors, albeit sometimes very subtle ones, just before doing their business, just as most baseball pitchers do before delivering a pitch (adjusting their caps, playing with their belts, spiting).

Knowing the times when your pup will most likely need to relieve herself is a help. Of course, one of those times is in the morning when she first wakes up and is let out of her crate. In fact, any time she wakes up from sleep, even if only from a brief nap, she will need to be let outside.

Any time after your pup gets really excited she will need to take a bathroom break. For example, after a play session, no matter how brief, you will need to take her out. Often we run and play with our pups then turn our attention back to our computers or housework or homework, leaving our poor pooches to fend for themselves. And even if your pup relieved herself just before the play session, she will probably need to go again.

Which reminds us of the time Glenn did a private, in-home session with a couple and their dog. After the initial greeting, Glenn suggested that the owners take the dog out to evacuate, but they insisted that their pup had just gone to the bathroom prior to Glenn's arrival. A few seconds later as everyone settled into the living room, the dog squatted on the living room rug and urinated. The owners were incredulous and asked Glenn how he had known. "Your puppy mentioned that he had to go when I first arrived," Glenn replied. You know, we think they half believed him!

So, be especially careful when guests arrive. Company comes and we meet and greet. Your pup runs and jumps, joining in the excitement, and suddenly everything shifts into that tiny evacuation chamber. It is best to welcome your guests quickly and then politely excuse yourself as you head out the door with your pup.

Aside from knowing the likely times, you also need to be aware of some of the ways in which you may be unintentionally adding to the housebreaking problem. For instance, whenever you do take your puppy outside, don't hustle her back into the house immediately after she has done her business. During these cold months, owners are especially prone to doing this. Many dogs, especially breeds like the very active Australian Shepherd, love running around outdoors. If your puppy realizes that her outdoor fun ends as soon as she relieves herself, she is likely to hold back and either not evacuate or do so only partially, hoping that she is buying more time outside.

As always, be sure you are cleaning up any of her messes with an enzymatic cleaner specially designed to remove the smell for your dog's very sensitive nose. Otherwise, the house will begin to smell like the right the place to go. Ordinary household cleaners and disinfectants just don't do the trick.


I have a six-month-old lab that insists on messing in the house everyday when we return from our morning walk. Before I leave for work, we go for a one-to-two mile walk, so he has plenty of opportunity to relieve himself. But as soon as we are back in the house, he urinates and/or defecates, usually on my new oriental rug in the dining room. I have tried rewarding him with treats when he does his business outside and I have tried scolding him when he doesn't. But he persists. I am at my wit's end. What can I do?

-Chelsea from Danvers


This is a very common problem. First of all, while on your walk, your pup is probably too busy to make a pit stop; his senses are being bombarded. Yummy, the neighbor is having bacon for breakfast! Wow, a squirrel! Hey, is that a new dog in the neighborhood I hear? Like a young child that is too busy playing to take time out to relieve himself, your dog doesn't pay attention to his need until he is back in familiar territory. At that point he thinks, "Ho-hum. Nothing new here. Hmmm, I think I feel something pressing. Gotta go." And the dining room, a low-trafficked area not perceived by your pet as part of his nest, becomes an appropriate and (with that oriental rug) a very comfortable place to go.

To avoid this problem, I would suggest not waiting for your dog to search out a comfortable spot to relieve himself while on the walk. Rather, after walking for five or ten minutes, you should determine an appropriate place for him to go. Then the waiting game begins. You must be patient and outwait him. Let him just circle around on the lead. After he has gotten totally bored with the spot, he is more likely to become aware of the sensations and relieve himself.

In the meantime, you should clean your carpet with a product, available at pet suppy stores, that breaks down enzymes. This will completely eliminate the smell for your pet, who has at least forty more scent receptors than you do. This will ensure that your beautiful oriental carpet doesn't begin to smell like the right place to go.


My husband and I recently adopted a German shepherd pup. He is 11 weeks old. Our problem is that we both work, and so he is left in his crate about 10 hours a day. The people we adopted him from said that he would be fine in his crate all day, but we are beginning to feel this is not a good situation for him. Of course, he is messing in the crate. If we don't keep him in the crate, he will chew up everything in sight. He has already begun chewing the molding in our kitchen. We are thinking that it is unfair for us to keep him, so we are thinking of returning him. Do you have any suggestions or is giving him up our only choice?

-Lisa from Haverhill


Certainly, ten hours in a crate is an excruciatingly long time for an 11-week-old puppy. Although nature designs things such that a pup learns from its mother not to mess in its nest, ten hours in a crate is a strong override to this. A puppy that age needs to be taken outside at least every two hours, sometimes more. A puppy also needs fresh air and exercise.

Before you decide to take him back, however, there are some alternatives you might consider. Day care is one of them. Check with your vet to see if there is a puppy day care facility or people who provide this service in their homes.

If day care is not in your budget, you might buy an exercise pen and place it in the middle of your kitchen, for example. You may have to move some things out of the way so that you can give your pup as much room as possible. Be sure to get one that has sides high enough so that he will not quickly outgrow it, i.e. be able to jump out of it.

In one corner of the pen, you can put down some puppy pads for your dog's bathroom needs. You can also place his crate in the pen, leaving the door to the crate open so that he can go in and out at will. Be sure to clean the crate thoroughly with a cleaner that breaks down enzymes, since he has been messing in the crate and it now smells to him like the right the place to go. Ask at your local pet store for this kind of product. Also, be sure to provide a variety (the key here is different textures and materials) of toys in the pen for him to play.

Even if you use an exercise pen, if your budget allows, you might hire a dog walker to come in at least once a day to take your dog outside. Ask your vet or other dog owners for the names of reliable people they feel confident in referring.


Our 3-year-old Bichon Frise is very smart and lets us know when he wants something like food or water, but we have not been able to train him to do his duties outside.

He is left alone in the house mornings from 7 to 11.Otherwise there is someone here for him. He will urinate anytime he wants in the kitchen, where he is gated in because he is still not housebroken when it comes to urinating. We have not had any problems with bowel movements in a long time. It is a shame that he has to be banned to the kitchen all the time because we would like him to sit with us and have free access to the rest of the house. But we cannot let him do that as long as he has this problem. What can we do to get him to stop urinating in the house?



First of all, we would suggest a visit to your vet if your pet has not been examined in a while to rule out any physical problems.

Be sure to clean up the kitchen area now and any time he messes with a special product that breaks down the enzymes so that the area smells less like the right place to go.

You might try first training him to a doggie litter box or doggie pads placed in the area where he is confined. Either of these would be an intermediate step toward completely housetraining him.

Or you might try introducing him to a crate, so that he can be crated when you are not at home. First-time crating of an older dog will demand some understanding on your part to make the process successful.

A transition to having your Bichon in other rooms of the house would be to attach a leash to his collar and attach the other end to your belt or around your waist. It is unlikely that he will mess while attached to you. By having him secured to you, you can become aware of his particular behavior just prior to urinating. Your dog probably has some ritualistic behavior, i.e. circling, sniffing, walking around in a particular way before he urinates or defecates. This gives you the opportunity to take him outside to do his business. Be sure to praise him profusely when he does and, if your dog likes being outdoors, be sure to engage in a bit of play before hustling him back into the house.

You should be sure that you are giving your pet plenty of opportunity to do the right thing. Take him outside every two or three hours for at least 10 or 15 minutes. You might "seed" an area outside with some paper towels soaked with his urine or the pet pads to help him identify the right place to go.

If your dog has come to learn that messing gets your, albeit negative, attention, then some positive-reinforcement obedience training, a few regularly scheduled minutes five or more times each day, may help. Getting your one-on-one positive attention in this productive way may suffice in ways that other attention getting does not.


This is my first time crate training. My vet suggested a crate as very practical and safe for my puppy, especially when we are not home. The problem is my puppy hates the crate. She whines and cries until I let her out. Is the crate just not right for her?

-Nick from Hamilton


Your vet is right, so before you give up on crating your pet, we would advise reacquainting and desensitizing her to the crate.

First of all, be sure to place the crate in a room that is a center of activity, like the kitchen, living room, or den. This placement will insure that she will not feel isolated or banished, but rather will feel part of the family. Locate the crate in a corner of the room, thus providing her a sense of comfort, security, and privacy.

Inside the crate should be some kind of washable bedding, such as an old towel or blanket, and some of your unlaundered t-shirts or other clothing, as your smell will give your pup a sense of comfort. Your smelly old gym clothes could be put to good use here!!

You need to take the time to reacquaint and desensitize your puppy to the crate in the following way. Scatter some favorite and some new toys or some irresistible treats inside the crate. You might bury some of these in the bedding to insure that she eventually gets all the way into the crate and that she stays in there for some period of time. Leave the door to the crate open, allowing her to go in and out. Replace the treats and toys as needed. During this desensitization period, toys and treats should only be made available in the crate.

When she has become comfortable moving in and out of the open crate, proceed to the next step. At times when she seems calm, for example at times when she is ready for a nap, place her in the crate and close the door. Begin by having her in the closed crate for 3 to 5 minutes and then very gradually increase the crating time. Initially, stay in the vicinity, so that she can either see or hear you. Your pup may still cry and whine. Try not to let her out when she is carrying on. Ideally, you should release her only after she has remained calm for 2 minutes or so; otherwise, she will quickly learn that "the squeaky wheel gets the oil." Be firm, patient, and consistent. It will pay off in the long run.

Some few dogs cannot tolerate being crated, but this is definitely the exception rather than the rule. If you follow the steps outlined above but find that your pup still becomes frantic, i.e. salivates or claws or chews at the crate in a way that could harm her, every time that she is in the crate, then you may indeed have to give up on the idea of crating. But we suspect that this will not be the case. Good luck!


I'm getting a new puppy and many of my friends have suggested that, since I work and can't totally 'puppy-proof' my home, I should crate train my pet. Somehow, the crate seems inhumane. The bars remind me of a jail!

-Catherine, Salem


This may be your perception, but it will probably not be his. Used correctly, a crate can be a blessing for both owner and pet. A crate not only keeps a puppy from messing in the house or doing damage to your home, but it also keeps your pup safe from potentially harmful situations: chewing on electrical cords, pulling down lamps, getting into trash. It also provides him a place of his own, to which he can retire from children and overly stimulating situations. A crate can make traveling safer and more convenient. Additionally, it can make boarding the pet that is already comfortable in a crate a less traumatic experience. If you need to leave your dog with a relative or friend, it will make the experience easier and more comfortable for everyone. Finally, because you can 'trust' your pup's activities while in the crate, he does not have to be relegated to the basement, laundry room, or other isolated areas. Instead, he can be safely near the center of family activities. For you, the crate may seem like jail. For your pet, it will become his home - a safe, special, private place that may even remind him of his ancestral den.


Our six-month-old puppy relieves herself in her crate. I use the crate during the day sometimes if I have to run errands. She is never in the crate for more than two hours, except at night. And the crate is more than big enough for her to move around. What should I do?

-Rich and Janet from Lawrence


When it comes to proper bathroom hygiene, nature has created a wonderful plan. While pups are still in the nest with the mother, mom licks them to stimulate their elimination, pushes them out of the nest to relieve themselves, then pushes them back into the nest. Pups learn early on to keep their nest clean.

The fact that your puppy is messing in her "more-than-big-enough" crate may be because the crate is too large. The space should be only big enough for her to stand up in, turn around, and lie down (stretched out fully lying on her side). If it is any bigger than this, she may "go next door" to relieve herself, not considering the extra space to be part of her nest. Although this small size may seem cruel to us, pups see their crates as safe havens where they can cozy in and wait until their family come home and the action begins.

I would suggest closing off part of the space to her access, preferably with something that still maintains the open feeling of the space, being sure to enlarge it as she grows. Also, clean everything - the crate, bedding, and the area where the crate has been placed - thoroughly. Use a cleaning product that breaks down enzymes; this way the crate doesn't smell to your pet like the right place to go.

If after attempting the above the problem persists, then a visit to your vet is in order to check for any medical problems. If there are no medical problems, then you may want to seek the professional help of a behaviorist or trainer.


Whenever my sister brings her two Miniature Pinschers over to my house, the male dog always lifts his leg and marks spots all over the house. The female dog sometimes cannot control her bladder and pees on the carpet. Is there any way to prevent these dogs from doing this?

-Christy, Danvers


I would need to further clarify the situation in order to effectively address your question:

(1) Do these dogs exhibit these behaviors in your sister's home as well or

(2) only at the homes of others?

(3) Does your sister drop off her dogs at your house for pet sitting or

(4) does she stay for a visit?

(5) Are the dogs neutered or

(6) intact?

(7) How old are the dogs?

(8) Do you or have you owned a dog/s while living in your present home?

If we were to assume (2), (4), and (5), one reason for their behaviors may be that your sister's dogs are anxious (or that the anxiety of one dog is being relayed to the other) whenever they are away from home and in a different environment. Another, and possibly related, reason might be that they are seeking your sister's attention. Her dogs may "sense" that whenever your sister is visiting someone, she is more interested in spending the time visiting than in paying attention to her pets.

A potential cure for this problem is to give some attention to the dogs at regular intervals during the visit. One way of doing that might be to take them outside. Your sister could play with them for a few minutes. Or she could put them through a minute-or-two obedience session making sure to set them up for success (commanding behaviors she knows they will follow through on such as sitting or lying down) so that she can praise their behavior. The outdoor play or obedience session not only insures that they have her positive attention on a timely basis, but also guarantees that, if the anxiousness is causing them to urinate more often, they will be able to 'do their business' outside. Your sister should have the first "attention session" immediately after arriving, before beginning her visit with you

Once your sister's dogs become accustomed to this scheduled attention while visiting someone, they will come to anticipate it and will probably no longer feel the need to act out in the ways you describe. In the meantime, you may want to confine them to a small, "safe" area. Also, be sure to clean wherever they mess or have messed with an enzymatic cleaner, which eliminates the smell for their sensitive noses (available at pet stores), because the odor can perpetuate the behavior. In fact, if #8 is the case (i.e. you have had dogs in the past), cleaning with this product in places your own dogs may have messed or marked may help. I might also suggest having the female checked by a vet if, indeed, she really cannot control her bladder and she "leaks." Urinary tract problems such as cystitis are very common in female dogs.

Very best regards, Nell, Willy and Oliver


Glenn, you reminded my Labrador, "Mr. Will Do", AKA, Willy, that he was a gentleman, you reminded me that I was not his doormat, nor his possession, although I'm not sure he got that one, and well, Oliver is just Oliver. Thank you so very much for all your help; he still looks for you at the tennis courts on the boulevard.

(read more testimonials)

For more photos of our clients, visit our Photo Galleries!