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House training struggles with your puppy or dog? Why it's not always about schedule...

Have you ever struggled with a dog who keeps doing their business in the house?

This can be one of the more frustrating struggles a person can have with their dog, and it's not just because it makes a mess, it's often an occurrence that happens at the most inconvenient time and place!

It can feel like your dog did this just to spite you, but the truth is dogs don't act out of spite.

They relieve themselves dependent on patterns they were taught as a puppy, and according to how safe and how stimulated they feel.

Schedule and Conditioning

For most puppies house training is all about having a schedule that prevents your puppy from ever "going" in the house. That means crating them or having them attached to you at all times they are not supervised. Having them go out frequently (every 20-40 minutes for your 8 week old puppy) especially if they just ate, drank, or played. You gradually increase this time. One hour for every month of age, but take them out often so they never get the chance to "go" inside. Once they learn to go outside that's where they will be "conditioned" to want to go. You give them 5 minutes to potty and if they don't go when you take them out you can pick them up and put them back in the crate and try again in a few minutes. Play and walk time only comes after they potty. Eventually build up more of an urge to want to go outside and your puppy will start to ask to potty outside.

Sounds pretty simple, and it can be.

But not always!

This can get complicated if you have a fearful puppy or dog, a dog who is petrified of being crated, or a dog who experiences high baseline stress levels and feels unsafe. This is very common for your toy breeds.

Even a "house trained" dog will have accidents if they are stressed, nervous, or fearful.

This can happen for so many reasons, but not because your dog is being willfully disobedient.

This behavior like so many others is feedback. It's communication. Don't personalize it.

And definitely don't yell at your dog and rub their nose in it...

Baseline Stress

Many dogs that have a high baseline stress level are therefore easily overstimulated, because they are already operating at such a high stress level in everyday normal life. Instead of operating at neutral they are operating at 80mph at all times. It doesn't take much to put them over the edge. These dogs go out on a walk already looking for what could go wrong, become overstimulated on a walk (which could look like over reacting to another dog they see), then come home decompress and realize they have a full bladder which they need to relieve immediately.

It's stress relief.

It is literally relieving themselves of all the stress hormones that have built up in their system over the day or even week.


Dogs with a high baseline stress level are often "wired" this way because they were raised in an environment that felt unsafe to them. This is very common with rescue dogs or your toy breeds. Remember that feeling safe is dependent on the individual. So it's not necessarily because you are not providing a safe environment. What makes you feel safe doesn't apply to everyone. Dogs are no different in this respect.

Dogs that struggle with feeling safe will become more easily over stimulated outside of your home because there are more stimuli out there. This can mean they cannot relax enough to do their business outside. Which often means the second you bring them back in they feel safe enough to relieve themselves. Often in places you really wish they wouldn't go-

like your bed or their crate where they feel really safe and relaxed.

So hopefully even if you are feeling really frustrated with this behavioral issue this helps you see that a lot of this behavior can come from over stimulation, high stress, fear, and a lack of feeling safe. I think this is a situation where knowledge can help open the door to compassion for your dog who is "having a hard time not giving you a hard time" (Mark McCabe).

So how do you begin helping your dog if you're starting to feel like your house training issue is more than just a scheduling and typical puppy potty training issue?

How can you help your dog feel safe?

How can you help your dog cope better with over-stimulation or anxiety?

The answer lies in teaching your dog to always expect "good things" instead of bad. It lies in teaching them strategies that help them transmute their baseline anxiety or stress into calm. This begins with good communication and motivation for your dog that builds trust between you. This deepens your relationship and connection and allows your dog to feel safe with you and in the training patterns you teach them. They also learn how to control their environment in more resourceful ways that also work for you.

I would always start with a potty schedule as outlined above to get any dog restarted on house training, but I would also recommend keeping a journal of the activities you do with your dog and also record when they have accidents. You might find some really interesting patterns and begin to uncover this link between feeling stressed/overstimulated and having accidents in the house. This is always a great way to uncover patterns you might not notice in everyday life until you write them down.

This is one of those training opportunity that is frustrating, mundane, and messy, but can really open the door in your heart to patience and compassion.

It's definitely not always easy, but it does present that opportunity!

The more you can treat others with compassion and patience in messy and frustrating situations the more you will find you extend this grace to yourself. When you treat the everyday problems in life as opportunities to learn, it's fascinating what you discover about yourself and the world.

Happy House Training!

Val & Lewen

Valerie works with dogs of all breeds and temperaments and focuses on teaching dogs to want to make the choices that we want them to; For their sake as well as yours!

She believes in building deep trust and connection with the animals she works with and has found that this is always the final ingredient in a successful partnership.

To find out more about Valerie you can visit her About page at

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