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House Training Your Small Dog


Many people believe that small dogs are harder to house train than larger dogs.  While this may or may not be true, in addition to using housetraining procedures that work for any dog, owners of small dogs may need to take several extra steps to ensure their little dogs can be successfully housetrained.

Dogs readily develop preferences for particular locations and surfaces for where they like to relieve themselves.  These preferences can develop fairly quickly, especially during puppy hood which is why constant supervision is crucial during housetraining.  You want your little dog to get in the habit of “going” outside, not inside.  If supervision is lax and your dog frequently urinates on the carpet, it will become her preferred location and surface.  Because little dogs leave a much smaller “puddle”, than big dogs, you may not notice the soiling until an unwanted surface or location preference has already been created.

That’s why the first key to housetraining is not allowing your little dog out of your sight until she’s relieved herself outside.   Dogs generally need to eliminate after eating, after long naps, or after play bouts. So take your dog to her elimination place at these times and stay with her until she relieves herself.

Most dogs give specific signs when they need to eliminate – pacing restlessly, circling and sniffing the ground, and/or whining or whimpering.  Knowing and attending to these signs when you see them is a second key to housetraining. Because the signs can be harder to see in small dogs (it’s easier to see a big dog dip his head to sniff, but a little dog’s nose is already close to the floor!), and because little dogs can more easily get out of sight, owners of small dogs must be more attentive to their dogs than owners of large dogs.  Leashing your dog to your belt or your chair or blocking off rooms using baby gates or closing doors can make it easier to keep your dog in sight so you can spot the signs.

When you observe the tell-tale signs, use a specific phrase that your dog can associate with going out to relieve herself.  We’ve always said “Do you want to go potty?”  Whatever you choose, keep it consistent among all family members and take your dog to the “potty place” immediately. Do NOT pick her up and carry her – either get her to follow you or put her leash on.

Many small dogs don’t like to eliminate in the snow or on wet grass. We had a miniature Dachshund who despised morning dew.  We put him in an old playpen in the mornings until “holding it” became worse than a wet belly and he’d finally “go” in the grass when we put him outside.

Shoveling a path in the snow or taking a broom and sweeping a path in the wet grass can make it more attractive to small dogs. Even our Irish Setter, Coral, readily uses shoveled elimination paths in the snow in the winter.

Finally, don’t believe the popular claims that housetraining can be done in 7 days or less. With even the easiest dog, establishing reliable housetraining habits usually takes several weeks or a month.  If you’ve been careful and persistent in your training and your dog still isn’t fully house trained, consult your veterinarian.  Many medical conditions can affect a dog’s ability to become house trained. If your veterinarian determines that there is no medical problem, she or he can refer you to a certified animal behaviorist, behavior consultant or trainer to help you.


Dr. Suzanne Hetts and her husband Dr. Dan Estep are Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists. They provide professional behavior education services online, and resources to prevent and resolve pet behavior problems to both pet pros and pet owners. Coral, their diva-dog Irish setter provides daily inspiration.

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