No One at Home Housebreaking

This is the basic plan for housebreaking a puppy or an adult dog when no one is home during the day or for some substantial portion of the day. It's far from an ideal way to raise a puppy, but it might get you through a difficult period or an emergency, and it is better than locking the puppy out of the house.
Another very serious problem with no one being home most of the day is that the puppy will be terribly lonely, bored, and anxious unless there is a kindly adult dog for company. I will not address this issue in this article, which restricts itself to housebreaking issues.



Pam Green © 2002

This is the basic plan for housebreaking a puppy or an adult dog when no one is home during the day, either all day or for some portion longer than a puppy can be expected to "hold it" when crated (number of hours equal to puppy's age in months). No one home means either no responsible adult or that whoever is home is unable to give adequate attention to supervising the dog , eg a mother with two young children may have her attention totally pre-empted. Of course this is a really bad situation for introducing a dog to the home, worse yet for a young puppy (especially in the absence of another dog for company) ; but it is still manageable and better for the dog than being left to die in the pound. Also you might need to use this method during some emergency when you have to be away from home for the day or may be delayed longer than puppy can "hold it" in his crate. Even if you are home, you may find you like this plan using an "X-pen" better than you like the "standard" plan using a crate.

There are also medical and dietary issues relevant to housebreaking. this is especially important if you are having problems with a pup or if a dog you thought was housebroken starts having accidents. See your vet !!! Discuss the situation and ask the vet to rule out any contributing medical problems and to evaluate the diet.

For further information, please see the classic text "The Evan's Guide to House-training" by Job Michael Evans. This wonderful book has the answer to just about every house-breaking problem you can imagine.

Step 1 : assess your home's floor plan and dog door to yard access.

Is there a room (eg laundry room) in your home that has a waterproof easy to clean floor and also has a door leading into a safely fenced yard ? If so that is great and that is where the dog door will be installed. If not, then what room does have a door that could lead into a safely fenced yard ? You can go out and buy a piece of vinyl flooring ("no wax" sheet flooring ) to place on top of the existing carpet.

Now as to your yard, assess carefully if the fencing is adequate and the situation safe for a dog to go into the yard without human supervision. Perhaps it would be safer to fence off a small section adjacent to the door you have chosen ? An area of as little as 5 feet by ten feet is adequate for a potty yard, though a bit more would be desirable. If there is any chance of aerial predators (pirds of prey) assaulting your puppy , play it safe by putting a cover over the potty area, eg welded or woven wire.

If the door you have chosen is one that you don't want to cut into to install a dog door (or if you live in rented housing), simply remove that good door and store it away in the garage and buy a cheap solid core door to install in it's place and put the dog door into this cheap replacement door. If you have sliding glass doors, there are special panels that you can get at any big building store or at the big pet supermarkets that can be installed and (when desired) removed again with very modest effort. You can also install a dog door into an ordinary wall, placing it between the studs; you would need some carpentry or construction knowledge to do this.

Step 2 : fence off an area indoors next to the dog door.

An "X-pen" , consisting of 8 panels two feet wide, available in a variety of heights (choose height sufficient for the adult dog) is ideal. All you need are two or three eye-screws secured into the wall at each end of the pen and snaps to attach the ends of the pen to the wall. The pen will be set in a semi-circle (or rectangle) enclosing the dog-door .. Now this is the area where the dog will live whenever no one is home (or you are unable to supervise). It will contain a comfortable dog bed and one or two water buckets snapped to the X-pen so as to be spill proof. Also of course a few of puppy's favorite toys. Initially I would leave the flap off the dog door to encourage the dog to recognize it as an exit. Teach your pup or dog how to go in and out the dog door, eg get a friend to be on the other side and call him back and forth (possibly with aid of a leash) giving praise, petting, and a treat each time he comes through. Usually one or two five minute lessons will suffice. (In place of a dog-door, you could just leave the entire door open, but I assume you would not want to do that.)

The X-pen should provide an area small enough that the dog will not want to eliminate in that area. Dogs normally have a strong instinct to NOT eliminate (pee or poop) near where they sleep or eat. Now if you have been foolish enough to get a puppy from a pet store or otherwise obtain a puppy bred from a puppy mill, you are likely to find that this normal instinct has been bred out of the dog or destroyed by the experience of living its formative weeks or months in a tiny cage where it could not avoid sleeping in its own wastes. If so then this method will not work ; if so then you will have to stay home and use the umbilical method exclusively until your dog is rock-solid housetrained.

Initially you will use an area encompassed by one single X-pen. As time goes by and puppy gets bigger and has proven reliable about keeping this indoor area clean, you can add a second X-pen to increase the amount of space. The next step may well be to close all exits from this room to the rest of the house, either by closing doors or by blocking the doorway with stretch gates (also known as baby gates). If the dog jumps over the stretch gate, it is possible to install a second one above the ground level one. (I call this "stacked" or "tandem" stretch gates, and will put a photo of such an arrangement up on the site.)

If you already have another dog in the home, and if that dog is tolorant of the puppy (and many adult dogs of both sexes are very tolorant of puppies), then let that dog stay in the pen with the puppy so the puppy is not lonely. It is not normal for a puppy to have to be completely alone, and indeed many adult dogs are unhappy if totally alone. Dogs are by nature highly social animals. Of course you will have to provide enough bedding and enough water supply for both dogs. If the other dog is able to hop over the stretch gate to take a break from "baby-sitting", that is all right.

Step 3 : use the umbilical cord method when you are home.

The umbilical cord method is simply to have a leash or cord from the dog's collar to your waist whenever you are home and awake and able to take some cognizance of the dog. The dog goes everywhere with you and whenever you see the slightest indications that the dog may need to eliminate , as well as any time the dog has recently eaten, drunk, awoken from a nap, or been very active, you will take the dog outdoors into the potty area and you will wait to see if he eliminates and if he does so you will very sweetly praise and pet him. Let him know for sure how much you approve of him using the potty yard. Do NOT simply put the dog outdoors and hope he will eliminate. You must be there to watch and to praise. Later in his life, when eliminating outdoors is a rock solid habit, of course you won't need to watch and praise, but right now you are building the foundation for the rest of your life together.

Step 4 : at night, dog is either in X-pen, crate, or your bedroom.

You've got a few alternatives for the night. First of course make one last visit to the potty yard. With young puppies you may want to pick up the water bowl a few hours before bedtime and you may want to feed the last meal shortly before bedtime (and before the last potty outing). Doing so helps them make it through the night without needing to eliminate. While the puppy can spend the night in his pen, it is better to have him sleep in your (or another family member's) bedroom. So use a crate (or an X-pen) in your bedroom, or tie puppy by a short cord to the leg of your bed or other immobile object. Or if your bedroom is small and no valued possessions (eg shoes!) or dangerous objects (eg electric cords!) are left out where puppy could play with it (chew on it), then puppy could be loose in your bedroom -- I really don't reccommend this as you will find that something does get chewed that you had not thought of. Or finally puppy could be in bed with you -- if you are committed to sharing your bed for the rest of the dog's life -- and consider carefully size of the bed, the probable adult size of the dog, and presence or absence of others likely to share your bed in the future. Puppies in bed usually will sleep through the night and you will likely be aware if puppy does wake and need to be taken out.

Step 5 : if there is an accident, clean up and deodorize -- and DON'T punish !

Any urine or feces inside the house,including inside the X pen, MUST be cleaned and deodorized. Use a product specially made for this purpose. Do NOT attempt to punish the dog, as it's your fault not his for not being there or not noticing that the dog needed to go out. If you must punish someone, then roll up a newspaper and hit yourself over the head and scold yourself.

Final thoughts :

This program relies on an x-pen with dog door access to the outside yard or outside potty area. The difference between this program and those that use a crate is that the dog door allows the dog to let himself out at time when you can not be home to take him out. For a crate program to work , you (or some other responsible person) must be home at the needed times. For a puppy, the length of time he can be crated and remain clean is only the number of hours equal to his age in months. Ie an 8 week old puppy must be taken outside at two hour intervals throughout his waking day (and probably at least once in the middle of the night). If you are not able to be home as needed, then you would be better off to adopt an adult dog rather than a puppy. Please consult your local breed Rescue group about adopting an adult dog. I would still recommend some form of confinement, umbilical cording, and supervised potty breaks for the first couple of weeks, but for a yearling or older dog it would suffice to give a potty break every 4 (daytime) hours for the first week and then with luck you may be able to leave the dog in his X-pen with dog door situation for the full length of your workday. Again, if you run into problems, please visit your vet to deal with any medical reasons.


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 4/12/03 revised 9/01/2015
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