Tamar Geller: Housetraining Your Dog


Today we’re featuring the second excerpt from Tamar Geller’s brand-new book: 30 DAYS TO A WELL-MANNERED DOG. (Yesterday’s excerpt covered “Bringing Your New Dog Home“.) Starting Wednesday, we’re going to be launching a giveaway of  20 copies this new book by this NY Times bestseller author and dog coach to the stars including Oprah Winfrey, Ben Affleck, Owen Wilson, Natalie Portman, and Larry King. Geller is known for her unique “Loved Dog” method, a nonaggressive training technique that has been praised by the Humane Society of the US.

One of the first unwanted behaviors you’ll probably face is the inevitable accident. Housebreaking a puppy or dog who has not yet mastered the skill will require a crate. However, if you adopt an older dog, you may not need the crate—just a few repetitions of going out and celebrating a successful pee or poo will do the trick. When your new dog soils your favorite rug, you may feel the urge to yell, smack her with a newspaper, or rub her nose in the mess. Your instincts may tell you that you’ve got to let her know she’s done something wrong.

But what has she done that’s so wrong? Think about it from her perspective: In wolf society, it’s appropriate to poop or pee whenever the urge strikes, wherever happens to be convenient, without having to ask for help or permission; the same is true of toddlers. To live in your home, your dog is going to have to learn (from you, her coach and teacher) an entirely new set of skills and rules:

She has to learn how to “hold it.”

She has to learn the appropriate places to go.

She has to learn how to get to those places, or how to ask you to take her to one of those places.

That’s a lot for your dog to digest, although not that much for you to teach. It isn’t brain surgery, but it will take a large chunk of your time and will probably test your patience in direct proportion to the value of the rugs, books, and curtains your dog is soiling. (Again, it’s a good idea to move your most treasured possessions to a safe place until your dog has better control over her bladder.)

Housebreaking is nowhere near as hard as it sounds. It does, however, take time. The average dog takes four weeks to learn all the housebreaking rules. She might not seem to get it at all, until one day it clicks and you realize that it’s been a week since the last mistake.

Let’s start with number one: The fastest way to teach her how to hold it is to use a crate, which you’ve hopefully set up as described on Day 0.

As I said earlier, the crate should always be associated with pleasure, not pain. Toss a few small treats into the crate to get her inside. You can feed your dog in the crate during mealtime—you want your dog to associate the crate with the things that are good in her life—but you should remove any food and water once mealtime is over and take her outside immediately to relieve herself. Also, teach your dog that she gets her toys only when she goes into her crate. She can come out right after, but she will learn to associate walking into the crate with pleasure.

Remember, we’re trying to teach her to hold it, hopefully for a couple of hours at a time. There’s a direct connection between drinking water and peeing. If you let your dog drink randomly, she’s going to pee randomly—you’re setting her up to fail.

For your first few weeks together—until you’re fairly sure your dog knows the appropriate places to do her business—the schedule should go something like this.

1. Two hours in the crate, then let her out. Some of my clients ask me what they should do if their dog is sleeping. Let her sleep! Puppies grow during their sleep, which is why they sleep so much.

2. Immediately offer her some water. When you take her out, rush her to the water bowl. I call this “loading up.” While you don’t want her to drink inside the crate, you want to make sure that she’s getting plenty of water—dehydration can damage your dog’s kidneys. If you make sure she gets all the water she’d like with every meal, plus every two hours when you let her out of the crate, she should be getting plenty.

Designate a specific area for the water bowl so you can monitor your dog’s intake. It’s best to keep the water by the door that leads to the housebreaking area, or even outside, so as to limit any opportunities for accidents along the way. If your puppy can’t make it to the water bowl without peeing, take her outside first. After she’s done, let her drink some water, and take her out to pee again in five or ten minutes.

3. Take her outside. Lead her to the place where you’d like her to poop or pee. If you’ve got an unvaccinated puppy, she won’t be ready for the outside world, so designate a toilet area in the corner of your yard (preferably behind bushes, someplace where children are unlikely to play), on a patch of grass, or on a balcony where you can lay down a “pee pad.” It’s crucial for you to accompany your dog—she may find other things to keep her busy outside and wait to come back inside before doing her business. Accompany your dog to the area you’ve chosen and wait for it to happen. As she’s going potty, give the behavior a name, something that you won’t use in any context other than this one—I like to use the phrase “hurry up.” (It can also be something fun—Oprah uses the word “poodie” with her two dogs.) Repeat it in a calm voice, for as long as your dog is going, like a lullaby. Try not to look at her—if she sees you staring at her, she may quit too early and rush over to be with you.

When she’s finished, show your dog how happy you are. Smile and clap your hands. Enthusiastically repeat “Hurry up!” or whatever you called it, using the specific phrase as opposed to a generic “Good dog!” or “Good boy!” (More on this later.) Reward your dog with a special “gold” treat, like a few tiny pieces of steak (about the size of a raisin), or chicken, and occasionally a little bit of hot dog or cheese—we’ll go more deeply into treats on Day 2. You want your dog to know that, right now, this is the biggest deal in the world, and you want her to have the biggest and most amazing treat as a reward.

I call this process “making a party”—clap your hands, smile, and give your dog a jackpot of treats. When you do it, you’ll be creating positive associations with whatever behavior you’re trying to teach—in this case, relieving herself in the designated area. Try to start the party as soon as she’s finished. Soon she’ll start to look forward to it, speeding up the process and saving you from spending a lot of time waiting for her to go.

One common mistake is to reward your dog after she’s back in the house—instead of giving her a fantastic association with the outside bathroom area, you’ll have a dog who would rather linger next to the refrigerator or treat jar. Make sure you have the treats with you in the place where you want your dog to go to the bathroom. I recommend having a small glass jar with special treats outside and a plastic bag in the fridge with precut super gold treats that you can grab on the go.


Some dogs take a long time, once they’re outside, to do their business. Usually it’s a sign that they love the outdoors and are afraid that as soon as they “go,” the excursion will be over. You can solve the problem by reversing the sequence, waiting until after she’s gone to the bathroom to begin the walk. Your dog will learn that going faster doesn’t shorten her time outside (which she associates with pain), but will allow her to get to the fun part faster (creating an association with pleasure).

4. Treat your dog to a half hour of free time. Once you’re back in the house, give your dog thirty minutes to play freely. When you’re sure she can go a half hour without peeing, you can start to extend this free time, first to forty-five minutes, then to an hour, etc.

When free time is over, you have a few options—you can take her out again, put her on a leash and tie her to your belt or the chair you’re sitting on, or put her back in the crate.

Some dogs may protest for fifteen minutes or a half hour when you first put them back in the crate, but if you can ignore them with consistency, they’ll quickly learn the routine.

If you’re following this routine and your dog still pees in the crate, chances are that you’re probably not spending enough time outside focusing on the task at hand. But there’s always the possibility of a bladder infection, so take your dog to see her vet.

Tomorrow: Housetraining and Praise

copyright Tamar Gellar

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About Paris Permenter

Paris Permenter is the founder and co-publisher of LT Media Group LLC. Along with her husband, John Bigley, she edits DogTipper.com, CatTipper.com, and has authored over 30 books on pets and travel.

  • Roo!! Roo!! I’m already a well mannered dog, but enjoyed reading your article. I’ve added you to my Humans News Feed so they can follow you too.
    Was just hoppin’ by to see what was happenin’ on the Holiday Pet Hop!
    Y’all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog
    .-= Hawk aka BrownDog´s last blog ..Saturday again… =-.