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Housetraining 101


Many people think housetraining a dog is difficult and time-consuming. But if you are conscientious, it takes just a few days! The trick is to manage the dog closely for a few days, making sure she only uses the proper spot. If you are extra-careful for just a few days, you will set a pattern that will stick very well, with few accidents.

To do this we use two techniques: Crating and leash-bonding.


House training is your first major trial as a dog owner. Yes, your new dog is cute and you want her to be happy. Well, the way to make a dog happy is to establish a natural order, with you in charge, as pack leader. Corgis are cute, but they are not wimpy little fluffballs! Bred to herd 1000-pound steers, these dogs are not pushovers. Unless you establish the roles clearly, your dog may assume you exist to serve her!

Your dog will be more secure and easier to train if you establish who's the boss. Leash bonding and the crate are wonderful devices to make this clear.

Leash bonding

The only way to ensure quick housetraining is by ensuring that you maintain full control over when and where she does her business. One way to do this is through leash bonding. This means that during the day while you're going about your normal routine, you put a leash on your dog and attach the other end to your belt. Don't make a big deal out of it, just pour your coffee, read the paper, work on your computer, follow your usual routine — with her attached!

Using the leash bonding is also a good way to get your dog to bond with you. She learns that being with you is the best place to be!

Be conscious of times when it is likely that she will have to go:

  • First thing upon waking in the morning
  • 10-15 minutes following a meal
  • After she wakes from a nap
  • After rigorous play
  • Within 3-4 hours of her last yard tour
  • Before bed at night

You will soon start to get a feel for her regular schedule and can work with that.

When you suspect she has to go, take her outside, to the place you want her to go and give her a potty command. Choose a command that is unlikely to come up in normal conversation. As you might imagine, that could be pretty important!

For the sake of example, let's say that your potty command is "Get Busy." As soon as you see her squat you give her the command and follow it with praise, "Get Busy!" Then praise her: "Good Girl!" Praise her hugely, but just for a few seconds — if you keep going, she won't connect it with the action.

Soon, you should be able to give her the command and she will respond. This is a handy thing to train — especially when you are out somewhere and want her to do it at a specific time.

Continue to keep her leashed to you for the first 3-5 days when in the house. That way you have complete control over where she goes and when she might decide to go indoors.

Mistakes are a great learning opportunity!

At some point, she will likely squat to do it in the house. You MUST catch her in the act! This is absolutely essential! You will probably need to catch her in the act two or three times. When you catch her, tell her firmly "NO!" Use a deep voice and look her in the eye. Scoop her up immediately and whisk her outside. Give her the potty command. Hopefully, you've caught her in the act and she still has some to do. When she does, praise her as if she's won the Nobel Prize!

Consistency is everything

The key to successful housetraining is to avoid uncaught mistakes: If she associates going on command, in the right spot, with heaps of praise; and attempts to go in the house are met with a clear "No!" then she will get the idea quickly and clearly.

If you allow her to mess in the house and you don't catch her, you make it difficult for your dog. Sometimes she gets scolded for going inside and other times she doesn't! She gets confused and doesn't know where the approved potty spot is. Once this happens, house training takes a lot longer. You have to undo this pattern before you can teach her the correct one.

Your Dog Will Love Her Crate

Generally, it isn't practical to have the dog leashed to you 24 hours day. When she can't be leashed to you, she must be crated to prevent her from messing in the house.

Dog crates, commonly used to ship dogs in airplanes, are widely available and every dog owner should have one. They are extremely useful tools and crucial in housetraining. And it will have many additional uses throughout your dog's life.

Step one is to get past the natural concern you may have about crating your dog — you're thinking like a person, not like a dog! We think of it as a "cage" or as confinement — but dogs are descended from den-dwellers. They like small, closed, safe spaces because that is a "den" to them. In the wild, dogs make dens underground. Your dog may resist the crate at first, but once she gets that it is her special place, she will be just fine.

Learning to use the crate

If your dog is reluctant to go into the crate, toss a treat in and encourage her to go in and get it. Do that a few times and let her come right back out if she wants to. You're just letting her get the sense of the crate.

Do this every few hours for the first day. At the end of the day, encourage her in to the crate and shut the door for 30 seconds. Walk away so she can't see you. Wait for 30 seconds. If she is crying and upset, wait till she calms down. Don't let her think she can pitch a fit and be released. After she's calm, open the door and let her out. Don't make a big fuss over her when you let her out. This is just business as usual.

Repeat this over a three day period and monitor her comfort level. She will most likely adapt pretty quickly. If she settles down in the crate, try leaving her there for successively longer time periods — 10 minutes, then 20, etc. When she is up to 30 minutes or so, she'll probably be comfortable being left there for an hour or more. It is crucial that she get used to the crate, as this is an important tool in housetraining.

The crate's role in housetraining

Remember how the crate is the dog's den? Dogs don't mess their den — it is instinctive. Similarly, a dog will not mess in its crate unless it is desperate.

When you take a shower, put the crate where she can see you and put her in it. She will soon see that the crate isn't a bad place. To the contrary, dogs like the crate because it is a safe den, a room of their own.

Until she is housetrained, she should also sleep in the crate. This way you have complete control over her at night. I know this might be hard to put her in the crate at night, but it will give you a housetrained dog within 5-7 days, if you follow this advice and combine it with the leash bonding.

Open the door and go outside with her, the first thing in the morning, before you get your coffee (or do anything else)! You can be almost 100% assured that she'll go right away in the morning so it is an excellent opportunity to give her the potty command and praise her.

Are we getting it?

The way you will know your dog is really housetrained is when she asks to go out! Keep in mind that the asking might be a very subtle thing. My Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Elbee, just sort of walks toward a door with a concerned look on her face. It is so subtle that you can easily miss it, if you don't know her sign. My Cardigan Welsh Corgi, Kenai, actively asks by giving me a single bark to get my attention and putting her paws in my lap if I am sitting down.

It is also helpful, but not required, to teach the dog a phrase that allows you to check to see if they need to go out. Oddly enough, I use "Do you want to go out?" with mine. Kenai springs into the air and runs to the door when I ask her this question.

My Corgi mix, Bart, is a firm house dog. He wants to be inside with me at all times. He knows this phrase and if he has to go, he will walk toward the door when I ask him. If he doesn't have to go, he will lie down in response.

I taught them the phrase by simply repeating it when I walked toward the door to take them outside. In short order, they associated the words with going outside.

Cleaning up accidents

Be sure to clean up all spots with an enzyme cleaner, such as Nature's Miracle or similar product. If you use standard rug cleaners, there will still be smells she can detect. Do not use ammonia-based cleaners as they smell like urine to a dog. This causes her to want to revisit those spots. If you know there are obvious places that she's started to mark as hers, such as the bedroom, close that door to be sure she doesn't have access.

I think I get it!

When she seems to start asking to go out you can let her off the leash for the 30 minutes after you've seen her do her thing outside. You might then limit her area. Close her in a room with you and give her the chance to go in 2-3 hours. She may just realize that she's going to get regular opportunities and not really ask very obviously. This is OK, as long as she is clear that going in the house is not an option.

A good start

Housetraining is the perfect opening exercise for new dog owners. Pack animals by nature, dogs thrive in a setting with clear established roles. The first days are crucial. Careful housetraining, using crating and leash bonding, can be the perfect beginning of a long, happy relationship between you and your dog.


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