My Smart Puppy

with Dog Expert, Sarah Wilson

Housebreaking – What NOT to Do


Here is some advice commonly given out about housebreaking and why you should ignore it:

“Rub his nose in it.”

Not only is this disgusting but it makes no sense to the dog. It teaches the dog to fear you, and that fear can create more housebreaking problems not fewer. Frightened dogs can learn to hide when they go to avoid this treatment. They are then often called “spiteful” when they are, in fact, frightened and confused.

“Clean it with vinegar and then put vinegar on his nose.”

This is incomprehensible to the dog and creates more fear of you (and possibly of salads). Results as above.

“Yell at him when you catch him.”

Rage and volume does not teach the dog what he is supposed to be doing. What he learns is that you don’t like it when you see him urinate. He then will start hiding when he pees inside and refusing to pee in front of you outside.

“Spank him with a rolled up newspaper.”

This and other violent “methods” are a major cause of anxiety, submissive urination and aggression problems. Hitting won’t help. Dogs do not enjoy being beaten. He is not being spiteful when he makes a mistake, he does not understand. You may think he does, you may think he should, but he doesn’t. Assume he knows nothing about what you want or what he “should” be doing and start from the beginning.

“Tie him near it and leave him there for a while.”

If you teach the dog anything by this strange procedure, you will teach him that being near his mess is okay. Achieving a clean house requires that your dog wants to stay away from his mess, a desire most dogs are born with. Tying a dog near his mess erodes this necessary instinct upon which all housebreaking is built.

What actually works?

It’s pretty undramatic: stick to a routine, watch your puppy or dog for signs he needs to go outside (sniffing, circling, attempting a quick exit from your view), get him outside, reward him for going outside and confine him when you cannot do those things.

For more detailed advice, read the other articles in this section and stop by our friendly forums.

Good luck!

By Sarah Wilson,

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