Mark Vette – Internationally renowned Animal Behaviourist, Educator, Author and TV personality

House Training: The dos and don’ts

House training is one of the most important behaviours to teach your pup. In the wild, dogs don’t have ‘a house’. They do, however, have dens, which are treated as a home of sorts. Once puppies are seven weeks old, they no longer do their business in the den and learn to go outside for that sort of thing. We use this instinctive behaviour to our advantage when house training.

The key principle for this process is texture discrimination. We try to establish that some surfaces or materials are okay to toilet on and others aren’t. To help with this, there are three different methods for house training, each with their own benefits.


Method 1 is to use disposable material like newspaper in a small fenced area with the dog’s bed in the corner. Ideally, this fenced off area would lead out to the back door, but this is not an option for all owners. The entire floor of the fenced area must be covered in newspaper for the first two weeks. After two weeks, we can begin shrinking the area of paper down. By the third week, the newspaper should only cover one corner of the pen. By now the dog should know this is the correct material to go on and we can start to move the paper out of the house. Over the following week continue to make the paper area smaller until eventually theres no paper at all – by this stage the dog should be going outside to go toilet on their own accord. For this to work smoothly, independent access to an outdoor area (like a dog flap/door) will help immensely.

Method 2 is what we call crate training. The principle here is to use your pup’s instinct to not want to go toilet in their ‘den’ area. To do this, create a contained nest for them, something like a small crate big enough for them to lie down in comfortably. If you put your pup in the crate during nap and night time, they will naturally hold on until they are removed. For the first few weeks, they’ll likely be able to hold on for 4-5 hours at a time, so you’ll need to let them out just before you sleep and as soon as you wake up. Making sure you take them out often during the day will also minimise risk. If you do catch them in the act, it’s important to calmly grab them and take them outside to finish their business.

Method 3 is what we call the pick and drop. This method is simple, but requires someone to be around the pup more often than the other two techniques. The logic behind it is that you take the dog outside whenever it would naturally need to go. So typically after feeding, drinking, playing, exercising and sleeping. Also, if you’re unable to supervise the puppy, the puppy should be placed outside. This way, the puppy begins to learn it should only go to the toilet when outside.

We believe the best way to house train your pup is to use a combination of all three methods. This can be done by creating a puppy den with a crate, newspaper on the ground and easy access to a fenced off outdoor area. I usually pop the pup in the crate for blocks at a time to teach them to hold on, and during the day while I’m not watching I make sure there is access to newspaper and ideally and outdoor space. If I’m with the pup, I try to take them outside at all the appropriate times noted in method three. The combination of the three techniques generally produces faster results than just one method used independently.

Overall, it’s important to never blame the pup if they do end up doing their business inside. By growling or rubbing their face in it, it will only confuse and scare them – they won’t understand what you’re trying to say. If you catch them halfway through, always calmly take them outside and encourage them to continue on the grass.

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