House breaking adult dogs

So, maybe you have a dog you just never quite got housebroken. Or maybe you have a dog who only pees outside when it’s pleasant to do so. Or maybe you just got a rescue, and they were never housebroken. Or maybe you just moved, and your formerly-housebroken dog has suddenly forgotten how to be housebroken.

Clearly, there are a lot of reasons why your adult dog might not be housebroken. Whatever the reason, this is for you.

Steps to housebreak an adult dog:

1. If he ever pees overnight/early morning, he needs to sleep in a crate. (“But he’s not crate trained!” I hear you cry. No problem! Check out this post. Crate train before you housebreak.) If he holds it overnight/early morning, then he can continue sleeping wherever he normally sleeps.
2. In the morning, take her from her crate (or bed) and take her outside. Give her the potty command. If she potties, yay! Big praise and treats, and she can have the run of the house for as long as you think is safe. For a dog who’s only pottying inside occasionally (less than once a day), that’s usually 2 hours. For a dog pottying inside multiple times a day, that’s 20-40 minutes. Whatever the time is, she gets that long “free.” After that, she gets the same amount of time supervised. Lock her in a room with you or put her on her leash and tie her to you. If you don’t have supervision time, she can go back in her crate.
2. Okay, so his “free” time and “supervised” time are both up. Put him in his crate for two or more hours. This is the time he’s learning to hold his bladder, strengthening muscles, and figuring out he can’t just relieve himself when he wants to. You can even give him water in his crate if you’re for sure going to be letting him out to pee in a few hours. He can stay in there for 4 hours. (If he’s going to be in there for 4 hours, I would limit the water to just a little.)
3. When the four hours are up, take her out of her crate and outside to potty. If she does, go back to “free” time and then “supervised” time, and keep repeating that pattern. If she doesn’t, put her back in her crate. She has a choice: pee when told, or go back in her crate. She can have toys in her crate, and food and treats in her crate, and a little bit of water if she hasn’t been drinking (or a lot of water if you want to make her pee sooner!). I’ve often fed dogs in their crates.
4. After an hour or so, take him out of his crate and outside to potty. If he goes, yay! If not, back into his crate.
5. As she starts to figure it out and gets better at holding it, increase the amount of time allowed out.
6. Watch for him heading to the door, and let him out when he does, OR put him back in his crate. One will teach him to signal that he needs out, the other will teach him to hold it until you remember to let him out. If I have a dog constantly signalling, then I let them out and, if they don’t potty, I put them back in their crate. They figure out pretty quick to just go to the door when they need to potty, and not simply to get attention.*
Continue until she figures it out. The usual pattern is this:
Day 1-5: He’s learning, he gets it, yay our dog is smart!
Day 5-7: She says, “FORGET THIS, PEOPLE, YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!” and proceeds to refuse to go potty outside. She’s not pottying inside, either, because you keep putting her back in her crate, so this means she’s just holding it. Forever. It’s pretty common for dogs to hold it for 15-20 hours. Don’t panic. Don’t feel guilty because your dog has basically spent 15-20 hours in the crate, consequently letting her out so she pees in the house. Around day 6 or 7 she’ll decide that, yeah, it’s better to go potty when told and then have that 4 hours free than to refuse to go potty and be stuck in her crate. Worst case scenario: they pee in their crate. You have to clean it up, but they’re not likely to do it again.
Day 7-14: Continue the pattern. You’ll notice he now spends most of his time outside of the crate, because he’s gotten awesome at going on command. Start lengthening the time he gets to stay out under supervision, and lengthening the time in between letting him out to potty (so he has to hold it longer). Most dogs, like most people, go comfortably every 6 hours. Start there and you can build up! My dogs can hold it for 12 hours during the day if they have to (though obviously this is not ideal — and we don’t do it often — so if I’m home I let them out more frequently).
Day 14-28: Continue the pattern. You’re now creating habit; she knows what to do, but she’ll forget easily, so either crate her or supervise her. After a month you’re in the clear!
Trouble shooting:
My dog pees in the crate. What now?
 If this is happening regularly, your crate is too big. You can make it smaller by putting a box in the back. If your dog destroys the box, it was clearly a great toy! Just get another.
I’m letting my dog out every 40 minutes/2 hours to start,but I don’t think he actually needs to pee that often. What should I do when he doesn’t pee? 
You’re right: your dog doesn’t need to pee that often. It’ll take him about 2-4 days to figure out that he’s supposed to pee when you let him out, even if he doesn’t really need to. The big goal here is just teaching him to pee on command, so that we know when his bladder’s empty and when we need to watch him. So, know that you’re going to feel guilty for a few days, and when he doesn’t pee, PUT HIM BACK IN HIS CRATE. After 2-4 days he’ll figure it out and pee most of the time when you let him out. Just in time for the testing phase to start a day or two later…
My dog pees outside, but I have to stand there with him for ten minutes. How long should I wait? 
Not ten minutes. I let a dog out, and for the first few days, I’ll give them several minutes. After they show the slightest glimmering of understanding, I let them out and I count to thirty. If they aren’t going by then, they go back in their crate. This way, they learn not just to go when they’re let out, but to go quickly.
That should do it!
*I taught my dogs to pee when I let them out, and hold it otherwise, and didn’t teach them to signal. Here’s how this works: When I wake up, I let them out. Around mid-afternoon and/or when I get home from work or errands, I let them out again. Before bed, I let them out again. Other than that, they hold it. Now, they did sort of learn to signal: if they want to go out to the yard to play or potty, they looking longingly out the door. If I feel like it, I let them out. Lily seems to lack a bladder entirely, but occasionally Cash needs out. Then he wanders to me and the door and back again, looking progressively more stressed or whining until I pay attention. Then he goes out!

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