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Housetraining Basics

Editor's note: Experienced dog owners who are new to clicker training are often heard to say, "I wish I started clicking when my dog was a puppy." Clicker training is a powerful method of molding a puppy's attitude and capacity to learn. When a puppy knows right from the beginning that it can earn rewards—whether a treat or a chance to play with you—by paying attention and learning new behaviors, it matures into an extraordinary canine companion. Clicking will give your puppy confidence and comfort through positive experiences and clear communication. Here's how to get started housetraining the clicker way.


If your puppy came from a knowledgeable breeder, his mother may have already trained him to eliminate outside. When breeders provide a way for the mother dog to take her puppies out, the mother dog will often housetrain her puppies. However, if you're reading this, you probably have to do the housetraining yourself.

The potty spot

Your goal is to teach your puppy the right place to eliminate. The first thing you must do is choose one spot that will be his permanent bathroom: the "potty" spot. When you take your puppy out to potty, always use the same door and go to the same potty spot.

Watch your puppy carefully in the potty spot. Plan on waiting for him. Let him sniff around. When he begins going, quietly say your potty cue—a word that will tell your dog that this is the place and time to go. (Be careful in choosing your "potty" word. You will want to use this word in public. This cue will come in very handy when you're away from home.)

Click and treat just as your puppy is finishing his business. You want to click while the behavior is still happening, but not so early in the process that your puppy stops eliminating prematurely in order to get to his treat. With a bit of practice you'll quickly learn to time your click and treat so that your puppy associates his reward with eliminating in the right place—yet isn't interrupted before completion.

Soon your puppy will know that: potty in house = no reward; potty in potty spot = really great rewards!

Bell signal

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housetraining your puppy

A bell can be a useful tool for your dog to tell you he wants to go out. Because he can't speak to you in your language, he must use a signal to tell you he needs to go out. You must learn to recognize that signal. Put a bell on the door that leads to the potty spot. The bell rings every time someone goes in or out that door. Remember how fast a dog learns what a doorbell means? Well, your puppy will learn that the bell means that the door is opening. Many puppies will go to the bell and ring it without any special training. However, to speed up the process, take him to the bell. If he touches it, click and treat him. Then quickly open the door and run outside, praising him. If he shows no interest in touching the bell, you can rub cheese or peanut butter on it.

Crate training

It is a good idea to put the puppy in a crate at night and during the day when you can't watch him. Most puppies don't want to eliminate in their nest. If your puppy is very small and you have a large crate, divide it up so the puppy has just enough room to stand up and turn around.

Depending on the age of the puppy, you may have to get up in the middle of the night to take him out. Some people like to keep their puppy's crate in their bedroom at night, so they can easily hear when he wakes and can take him out before he eliminates in his crate. Always take your puppy out when you first get up in the morning.


If your puppy has an accident, try not to be angry or upset (this is sometimes hard), because if he fears you it will slow his learning. This is not an instant process, but if it's done properly your dog won't fear you and he will learn what you want.

When the puppy has an accident in the house (and he will), remain as calm as possible. If you're lucky, you will catch him before he finishes. Quietly get the puppy and take him out to his potty spot. Use your potty cue, and if he goes, click and treat him. (If he doesn't eliminate, try again later. When he does go, click, make a fuss over him, and reward him with a treat or play.)

Go back into the house and use paper towels to pick up the mistake. Place the towels in the potty spot. Leave the towels there as a signal to your dog that this is the correct place for him to eliminate. Don't let the place get dirty; just leave enough to mark the spot for your puppy.

Clean up the area your puppy used by mistake with white vinegar. Vinegar will help eliminate the odor. You can also buy products at pet stores to help remove the smell. Removal of the odor is important in discouraging the puppy from using that spot again.

If you understand when your puppy needs to go out, then you can eliminate many accidents. The following suggestions will help your puppy succeed with his housetraining.

  1. Always watch your puppy. You can tie him to you in the house. You can confine the puppy to the room you are in with puppy gates. You can also crate train him.
  2. Feed on a fixed schedule. Usually he will need to go right after he has eaten.
  3. Always take him out after eating, playing, or any excitement. He will need to go out after exercise, after waking up, and before going to bed at night.

For more detailed information on crate training, teaching sit, down, stay, leave it, and many other key behaviors, see Clicking with Your Dog, by Peggy Tillman.

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About the author

Peggy Larson Tillman is the author of Clicking with Your Dog and, with her husband Barry Tillman, a pioneer in the science of ergonomics.

Trying to use clicker

Trying to work with my JRT.

Puppy wont leave the house without everyone

Can any one give advice on a 6 month old rotty who wont leave the house for a walk without everyone in the house going with her, if just one of the family tried to take her she wont move they have tried toy, treats, pulling her etc.  Also when the owner comes in the back door from the garden she is growling at her, but not when she comes in from the front. All other basic training is going well, and when they all go to the park she is very sociable and well behaved.




My New Baby Has Bad Habits

A few weeks ago I adopted an 8 month old chihuahua. The woman told me that he was housetrained and that he only had one accident the whole time that she had him. Well after getting him home and after a couple of days I realized that woman was lying to get rid of him quicker. The first time he went in the house I thought that it was just nervousness of new home/surroundings. I've had him for a month now and he still goes in the house everyday! I take him out constantly and he goes outside. But within 15-20 minutes back in the house he'll go again. It's starting to frustrate me. I resorted to getting a crate to keep him in at night and while me and my husband are at work. Unlike other dogs I have, he doesn't go to the door to let me know if he has to go, he'll just go! I've never had to potty train a dog because my German Shepard trained herself! Me and my husband argue about getting rid of him, I'm not! I've adopted him as my baby, lol. But I'm at my wits end! Another thing is, he was abused in the past, could this be the reason for his behavior? He is real skittish and will not come to my husband and when my husband tries to hold and pet him, he'll wiggle and squirm. He's even bit my husband. He is skittish with me, too, but not like he is to my husband. But I don't know why he is scared of men, I got him from an older, single woman. And he'll walk on the leash just perfect for me but when someone else tries to lead him, he'll fight the leash. And his growling. He constantly growls under is breath. If I drop something or there is a noise, he'll growl for 20 minutes and will not shut up. I also don't like him growling constantly. How can I correct his behavior?

potty training

I have a 12 weeks old border collie pup. I've had her for nearly a month now. I was using the old fashioned newspaper training, but its driving me mad! I often let her out in the garden, where she sometimes goes potty, but often keeps it until she comes back! Its a lot of cleaning, and sometimes she just goes anywhere in the house. If I grab her and hurry out, she refuses to go and just looks at me very annoyed. I bought a clicker and Karen's book, but I did it the wrong way and clicked her for going on the newspaper instead of trying to restart the whole process. My question is: is it possible to correct the mistakes I've made with potty training? Wont I confuse the dog with wanting something different? Also, its hard to get a potty spot, because the garden is huge and I always praised her going anywhere but inside the hosue! Its hard to put her on a leash in the garden, because she got used to her freedom in the garden and goes mad! Help me!
Thanks, Niki

potty training


Hi my name is Terry and my husband is Dan Torpea.

Is this your first dog? Do you have it traned to sleep in a kennel? It does take lots and lots of patience and persistence. I have a 9 wk old border collie  and we have had her since last Thursday. She went in my kitchen twice and my hall once. It takes alot of patience and you will have to watch her just like a 2 year old child, take it out after it eats, when it wakes up from a nap, and every time she drinks or eats and playing or alot of excitement. I have had the same thing happen, but she still doesn't fully understand and like you, I do not get upset, I just take her outside and wait. I have not cleaned up the poop outside yet since I want her to see/smell where she went before, she DOES give us clues when she has to go, and we have been watching her closely. I do not have a fence, therefore I have been training her to walk on and off the leash, and to come when I call. It is important to MAKE her accept the leash, and I took a chair outside and sat with her on the lease and she fought and threw a fit but in the end she accepted the leash. If I am not able to keep my eye on her I put her in her carrier. I bought 2 of them, I keep one in the living room w/door always open and one in the bedroom for her to sleep in at night. It was a breeze to train her for the kennel. I never have put her there for punishment so she is willing to get in. She woke up at 3:00 am last night and I stumbled out of bed took a treat and put her on the lease and took her out. She went potty and I brought her back in and put her back in the crate. (She slept a little later than 5:00 am) (yay!) I am no expert and I have had dogs all my life and can tell you only my experiences. This is my first border collie. If you want, Email me with your progress. dtorpea [at] gmail [dot] com

 PS.. I have been cleaning the area where she went with pet odor cleaner or white vinegar to get rid of the scent where she had her accident.  She just now went to the door and I did not catch her on time (DARN! ) We are getting closer.  I take her poop outside where I want her to go, put it down and show her.  GOOD LUCK!  

new puppy owner

I'm sure you have all been through this....Do you leave food in the crate?
When leaving for work 8hrs, should you leave the puppy in the crate?
Should you let the puppy sleep in the crate in the same room you sleep in?


We just got a dog four days ago. We are trying to housebreak her by doing frequent walks, rewarding, and crate training. We got the dog from a shelter and don't know much about her past. She is (supposedly) 10 months old. She is not eating consistently and in the past four days has only relived herself twice. I'm assuming this is not normal and she will increase the frequency as she gets more comfortable and eats and drinks more.

The issue has come up as to how much time in the crate is acceptable. She stays in the crate while we sleep at night, and while we work during the day. When we return home, we let her out of the crate some of the time. Some of us feel that the dog should be kept in the crate at any moment that she can not be actively supervised in order to prevent accidents - this meaning a lot of the time (while making dinner, eating dinner, putting young children to sleep, etc). Other family members feel that accidents are inevitable and the dog should be allowed out and about while people are home - in order for human-canine bonding to occur and to give the dog the opportunity to exercise and play that she doesn't have during the rest of the day. Nevertheless this is when the housebreaking accidents have occurred.

Any opinions?

My pup goes everywhere, too!

I know this question was already asked, but it never was answered ("Help, new pup goes everywhere"). I have a 3 month old half lab, half jack russell and I'm trying to potty train him.

I take him out incredibly frequently (after drinking, eating, etc.) and give tons of praise and treats when I take him to his potty spot outside and he goes. However, many times, right when we come back in (from a 10-15 minute wait for him to go), he will walk into the house and go on the carpet--in an area he's never gone before!

This is getting so frustrating. What else can I do to help the potty training process along?

Thanks for any help you can provide!

Use a walk as a reward for pottying

If you're using a (fun) walk as the potty break, and going potty results in the (fun) walk to end,

perhaps the pup is just trying to make the fun last as long as possible by NOT pottying!


If you can, potty your pup BEFORE going on a walk, and use the walk as a reward for a job well done!



I totally agree with this!  My dog Loki would hold it as long as possible, because in the beginning I turned to home after potty.  No more, now the walk is longer after, and we all have more fun.  Tinker


RE: "My pup goes everywhere too!"

Hi Krissy,

You are doing everything correctly by taking your puppy outside frequently, however to avoid your puppy from urinating inside the house after you have just taken him outside, make sure his blatter is completely empty before entering the house. I suggest going outside for at least 15 minutes with your puppy. If the puppy continues to urinate in the house after spending 15 minutes outside, do not let the puppy run free after returning home. Instead, carry him inside the house and crate him until you are ready to take him outside again in 3-4 hours.

When you are ready to take him outside, carry him and take him to his potty area. Always remember to praise and treat for doing his business in his potty area. He will learn that doing his business otuside is rewarding!

Follow these steps for about a week and let me know how it turns out!


Christine, dog trainer

more time

if your puppy is soiling after coming in from outside give it more time and space my pup is learning fast for potty training but still soils a tiny bit elsewhere after going in her spot as they dont have full control of timing at all

also sanitize well the soiled areas that happen in the house vinegar works wonders


i have a 6 month old italian greyhound. he loves to go outside. i take him out and we're out there for a while, he won't go! we come back in and he pees inside either in front of me or when i'm around the corner. he won't pee or poop outside. what am i doing wrong? i have potty trained a puppy before but this one just refuses to go outside. even after being outside for some time. i take him out frequently. am i taking him out too much? he's on a set feeding schedule, i just can't get him to go potty outside. any advice?? is he still potty trainable? i don't want to get frustrated but i'm ALWAYS cleaning up his messes.. and i mean everything. i love this dog to death,i just want to potty train him. so i need some help!


doglover12297's picture

your dog

Dear Ashley,
I have read that Italian greyhounds can be very hard to potty train. I was thinking of adopting one from an Italian greyhound shelter but I was doing some research on them and it said that is why some many of them are brought to shelters. How old was your dog when you got it. Especially with Italian greyhounds you should start potty training at 8 weeks if not sooner.

potty training the iggy

Dear Ashley, Your dog has probably learned it's cold and wet on his tummy outside and nice and dry inside, that you get mad when he makes that stuff, and/or that carpet is an ideal urination surface. Stop all punishment for accidents! So your job is to prevent him from going on carpet by keeping him when he's not outside in a long term confinement area: a crate opening into an x-pen with a tarp covered with wood chips, his new urination surface. Prime the chips with a bit of urine soaked paper towel or special go here scent from the pet store. Charge the clicker if you haven't done so. Click and treat if you catch him going on the chips at least for the first few times. Graduallly reduce the amount of chips. Now set up a covered out door potty area near the door with more urine scented wood chips. You might crate him for about half hour after a meal, then take him to his outdoor potty. C/T and jackpot for results!

Dear Ashley,

I am having the exact same problem with my 12 week old French Bulldog. I found an article on the subject and my first question for you is did you get your puppy from a pet store? My dog is from a pet store and according to what I read since they are kept in cage where they are forced to go to the bathroom where they sleep and have probably never been outside they don't understand that when you go outside that it is where you want them to go potty. The recommendation was to pick up some of the poop your dog makes in the house or a paper towel you used to soak up the pee and set it somewhere outside where you want your puppy to go. When you see him sniffing the floor and circling pick him up and say "outside" then take him to the spot where you left the poop or paper towel. When you get him out there walk him in a circle around the poop (this naturally stimulates there bowels) and he will go. It might not happen right away so expect to be outside a little while and bring treats with you to reward him immediately when he has finished going. I hope this helps you out some, I am going to try it. Good luck and I am crossing my fingers for both of us!

HELP! new pup goes EVERYWHERE!

I have a 5 month old lab who is fully potty trained, but we recently (1 month ago) adopted a lab mix puppy from a rescue facility and she is making us CRAZY with this potty training!

We have her on a feeding schedule and I am home with her all day every day. We take her to the same "potty" area every time. I have tried crating her, using hot dog treats when she does go outside, positive praise, going outside frequently (what seems like every 5 minutes), staying out longer, etc.

However, she still continues to go inside. She is now 3 months old and by this age our other puppy was fully trained, why isn't she? Often, when I take her out she will not go potty -even though I stay out for extended periods of time- until we get back inside, then she will go in the house (sometimes right in front of me) and it is not always in the same spots!

We really love her and are concerned that this is not just something she will grow out of. PLEASE HELP US!

Thank you in advance,

A couple of questions

Can you ever wean the dog of off treats for pottying outside? and wean off of the clicker for pottying outside? I ALWAYS praise my dogs for pottying outside. But I'm getting a new dog and I want to totally clicker train this one. And I don't always have treats or a clicker handy.

Also my Mother has a dog that potties in her crate when she has not had enough attention in a few days. What do you do about this?


As soon as you feel comfortable that he knows what he should be doing, and you add his verbal cue 'go potty', 'get busy', 'hurry up', 'go pee', etc., then you can continue using the cue for a while until you think he knows it, and slowly wean off the clicker. The clicker is just to train, not needed to maintain once a dog knows the behavior. The cue and praise should be enough once the behavior is ingrained. When training your new dog, though, DO use clicker and treat all the time you can, as he is not trained yet, and needs reinforcement continuously. I do not know enough about separation/neglect anxiety and behavioral problems that come of that to advise you on that issue. Certainly problems will come from not getting enough attention, and this can be solved by paying attention to them! Please consult separation anxiety training to train him to be alone, etc.

Training a Dog to use a Litter Box

I've got a 3 year old 5 pound toy poodle.

I live on the 14th floor of a condo. I recently thought it would be a huge time saver to teach the dog to use a litter box on the balcony.

I've gotten the dog to go the bathroom outside with the command, "Go to the Bathroom". Usually she will comply within 10 seconds or so.

I can't seem to get her to figure out that I want her to go to the bathroom in the litter box.

I've clicker her to step into the box. But when I tell her to go to the bathroom, she doesn't get it.

Any help would be appreciated.


doglover12297's picture

Dear Bryan,

Your dog is just confused. It has always gone outside so it thinks that is what it should do to be a good dog. If your dog doesn't get it and you tell it to go in the litter box it may think it can go potty either any where in the house or on the balcony.


response to your comment about litter box training

HI! ive been trying to get my puppy to use his litter box.. tonight was his first #2 in there and i was so proud! but what ive learned from my trainer is that you must have the dogs potty scent in there .. or else they dont know what to do with it.. so my trainer said grab some poop from where they last eliminated and put it in there or they sell scents at the pet store that smell like potty.. OR what i do is just take the puppy puddle pads that my baby already peed on and put that in there.. and he FINALLY figured it out :).. idk how you can change that advice over to a older dog.. but it has worked for a puppy :)

signed, Sarah

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