The First Steps

Metrodogs and their people face some special housebreaking challenges such as quarantine (see Quarantine under Health) and a long trip from apartment to elevator to lobby to street to an appropriate potty spot.

Luckily, most dogs want to be clean in the apartment, and most Metrodogs learn this skill early and well. Following are a few guidelines to make that process as easy and puddle free as possible, even if you live on the twenty-seventh floor.

First, your pup needs to be in your sight every moment he is free until he is reliable. Reliability usually arrives somewhere between six and eight months of age. Your companion will probably be clean weeks and months before that, but that success will be due more to your use of routine and prevention than to his full understanding of what is expected.

The puppy must stay in the room you are in. You can close the door, use a gate to block the doorway, or keep him on lead near to you, but near to you he must be. If you plan to leave the room for more than a minute (literally), the pup either comes with you on lead or goes into his safe confinement area. This will not only prevent mistakes from happening without your knowledge, it will keep him safe as well.

Second, watch for signs of impending urination or defecation. These include wandering away from you, sniffing the floor, restlessness, whining, panting, and circling. Certain things frequently bring on a need to go, and they include chewing heavily on a toy, eating, ten minutes or so after a big drink, waking up from a nap, or a rollicking game of anything.

When you see any of these signs or your pup has just done any of the above, take him to the papers or, if you have a safe outdoor area such as a rooftop or garden, go there. (“Safe” means not frequented by other dogs likely to be unvaccinated.) If you do have an outdoor area, carry your pup there and then walk him on lead. Since he will be walked on lead outside in a few weeks, best to make that part of the routine now.

Finally, remember to pick up after your dog meticulously. If you find it disgusting—get over it! You owe it to your building, your neighbors, and all other dog owners. It is also critical that you clean up thoroughly after any accidents indoors.

Getting Your Pup To Go Outside

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From papers to the park:

Getting your pup to go outside

Having spent the last weeks using the papers for the bathroom, your pup will often view the outside world as a fabulous place to visit but not as a toilet. This is an aggravating but usually brief period. Our best advice is simply hang on—be persistent. This too shall pass, and when it does, you will never have to deal with it again.

The following basics apply to all plans:

First thing in the morning hurry to the designated toilet area and then walk in slow circles like a sailboat on a pond (movement will help get things moving). Say nothing to your little precious, as it might 1) distract her or 2) be mistaken for a fun chatty time and not a mission.

If you are lucky, and she does, then celebrate! Petting, treats, praise, whatever gets that pup happy. Leave no doubt in her mind that this is exactly what you want.

Now, take her for a little stroll. This serves two purposes. First, it is a reward for a job well done. Second, if you take her directly back in, she may associate relieving herself with going home, which could cause her to tighten her sphincters. This is, of course, excellent socialization time. Take her around the block or up a street. Go to different places each time. (A walk won’t be possible every time, but do it as often as you can).

The exception to this hike is the fearful dog. While they need extra socializing, they also need not to be overwhelmed. For them, an adventure into parts unknown is a punishment, not a reward. These dogs should be walked in quiet areas and given lots of cheers and food rewards for all bravery shown. And bravery it is! Just imagine what any modern city would seem like at your pup’s size, with no idea what any of the noises or smells meant. It would be terrifying, yet most pups learn to cope with it all within a week or so.

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This is best for owners who are currently working and need to lave their pup alone for long hours. Leave the papers down. It is not fair to remove all options before the puppy understands that outdoors is okay.

Walk the pup outside on schedule but allow her to use the papers as needed between times. Do not comment on the paper use. Focus on getting outside results first thing in the morning and on weekends.

On workday mornings, walk her first thing before shower, before coffee. Get up quickly, do the minimal, grab pup, outside. Between the time you get up and the time you get the pup outside, ignore her. Greeting her will get her excited, which may result in a wet crate. Even when you go to get her out of her crate, do so calmly and with little conversation. Instead, greet her outside, preferably after she “does her business,” as yet more motivation for her to do so.

Once outside, walk back and forth in the bathroom area or, if you are close by and she is a happy, social creature, take her to a dog run. Running around gets things moving for most dogs.

If she does not go, take her inside and keep her on your lap or in her crate. If she (when she) starts whining, panting, circling—take her right outside again. If, despite your best efforts, she has not gone by the time you have to leave, put her on her papers! She cannot hold it all morning, and our goal is always to avoid in-crate mistakes.

On the weekend, be firm! Walk or crate. If you want her out with you, then keep her on your lap (size permitting—of lap or puppy, your choice). Give her exercise outside with long walks. But inside, limit her freedom severely until these few days are past and she understands what is expected.

Usually, once the dam has broken and you have had success a few times, the deed will be done. Try not to be angry if she shows fabulous self-control and holds it admirably until she gets back indoors onto newsprint. She’s just being super well trained. Once she gets things straight, you’ll have a wonderfully housebroken dog. If you’re dealing with this, go to plan B: cold turkey.

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This is for folks who are home and have some time. It will take three or four annoying days, so be ready. You take up the papers; you walk your puppy. A lot! If the pup does not go outside, then you crate him and try again in fifteen minutes or an hour, depending on the bladder capacity of your new companion. Your pup gets almost no free time in the apartment until this is accomplished. That is okay because he should be exhausted from all his walking anyway.

Be firm! Consistent! On your lap or in the crate! If you leave him on the floor for just a few seconds, he’ll probably pee. If possible, enlist the help of a friend for puppy hand-offs. You keep him outside for an hour, your friend takes him around the block while you run inside to take care of what you need to take care of, then out you go again. The creative use of a dog walker is a good plan as well. Hand your pup off to the walker for an hour while you take a break. Just give clear instructions on what to do if your pup urinates or defecates outside, then go in and take a well-deserved break.

For pups trying hard to stay paper-trained—tank that pup up! Tanking up is an activity for a pleasant morning when you have nothing else to do. First thing in the A.M., pack up a book and bring your cell phone, some letters you’ve been meaning to write, magazines, and whatever. Then mix up a large amount of warm water combined with a little wet food or chicken broth for flavor. Let your pup drink—and drink—and drink. You want that belly distended. Then scoop him up and out you go.

Don’t expect much to happen for the first hour or so, but as the water processes through, he will urinate. Eventually. Be prepared to sit on a bench for a few hours if need be. Meet a friend in the park, take photographs, but stay outside and keep moving.

Sometimes a retractable lead will allow your pup to get far enough away from you to be comfortable relieving himself, if he is shy about such things.

When it does happen, celebrate! Praise him, give wonderful treats, have a great time. Get that puppy tail wagging. You want no confusion in his mind about how pleased you are.

Now, sit back down for a bit. One pee is not going to empty him out. The next one will come sooner (hopefully). Have another praise party when it does. Normally, once a pup has gone outside a few times, the light bulb goes off and it is no longer a problem.

For defecation, a less delicate method is applied, a method that is tried and true, to be sure, but not pleasant: suppositories. Purchase an infant suppository from the drugstore (we’d recommend latex gloves as well). Straddle your pup, snug your legs around his body, lift his tail, and do the deed. Speed is your friend, because once he starts struggling in earnest, it’s a frustrating game of trying to hit a moving target. He may yip with surprise when you insert it—completely understandable. An old training trick is to do the same thing with the business end of a paper match. Dip it in Vaseline, then insert as above. This works for small dogs, for whom even an infant suppository is frighteningly huge. This is for use once or twice, not as a regular habit.

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Some pups do not keep their crates clean when pressed. It is critical that the crate stay clean. That takes priority over all else, since all housebreaking is based on keeping the sleeping and eating areas clean. If you lose that, you lose everything.

Use plan A, but take things slow. When you can, walk your pup, and if she doesn’t go outside, keep her on your lap or on lead next to you. If you must leave her, then she must have access to papers. On nice weekend days when you have time, tank her up and spend the morning outside. With extra time and patience, this pup will be as clean as any other.

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Housebreaking – The Next steps

Now that you are heading outside consistently, things should move along nicely. Most dogs can be 100 percent clean (with your help) by five months and about 100 percent clean on their own by seven or eight months.

Once your pup is going outside without any hesitation, start using this rhythm: walk, supervised free time, water, then on lead or in crate until the next walk. Compensate for this increase in crate time with short, fun training sessions and longer walks. This is not a complicated formula, but it is an effective one.

Paper Training – The Next Steps

The biggest mistake people make in paper training their dogs is not using the crate. Instead of the crate, they put the pup in with the papers, and this causes a couple of problems. As the pup matures, she may start considering that whole room her bed and refuse to dirty it. She will then use the rest of the apartment as her toilet. Second, it does not teach the pup to hold it, nor does it allow you to know when she needs to go.

We recommend that you follow the exact same pattern as regular house-breaking but simply take the dog to her papers instead of outside. Once she learns to hurry up on command on the papers, you can start taking her out of her crate and walking with her back to her papers. When she gets the hang of that, put her down in different parts of the apartment and have her run back to her papers. That teaches her an important skill and gives you a chance to reward her abundantly for doing that.

Hint:  If you have a male dog, wad up a couple of sheets of newspaper and put it in the center of his papers. This will give him a spot to hike his leg. Also, taping some plastic to the wall that runs under the papers will prevent any damage should he decide to hike his leg against your walls.

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Bodily functions hold no shame for a dog. They are just one more thing they do every day: sniff, yawn, whine, pant, urinate, defecate. Because there is no shame involved, it is a pretty easy process to get them urinating and defecating on command. Here’s what you do:

When you see your pup beginning to urinate, calmly say, “Hurry up” (or whatever cue you select; the words don’t matter). When he finishes urinating, praise him and hand out a treat or two. The same pattern with defecation. We use “Get busy” for that.

Say the cue word as the pup begins to go. Don’t sound too excited or you may distract him from the business at hand.

If you do this for a few weeks, he will soon associate the act of urinating or defecating with the cue words. When it is pouring rain or you’re running behind schedule or it’s cold and late, being able to tell your dog exactly what you want will make your life much easier.

Hint: this is not a command you can force, so if he doesn’t go when you say the words, don’t get angry or you will just make compliance less likely. This is a convenience, not an ironclad obedience trick. It is a behavior built through enthusiastic reward. It can work brilliantly for some dogs and less well with others, but since you are witness to the events anyway, why not work on putting them on cue?

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Few things are as embarrassing as your pup squatting in the elevator or lobby. Don’t correct him if this happens (he is doing the best he can to make it outside), but prevent it. Here are a few ways:

Carry Out

If your pup is small enough or you are strong enough, carry him outside to his potty spot. After a week or so of this, put him down a few feet from the spot and walk him to it. Then put him down just outside the door of your building and walk him to the spot. Then just inside the door, then a few feet from the door, and so on.

Cover Up

Often, if a pup’s genitals are covered, he (or she) will not urinate. For females, use Velcro-tabbed dog panties; for males, use a scarf tied around their waist or purchase a Velcro-tabbed “belly band.” Both will prevent most pups from squatting on the way out. Just be sure to take them off promptly when you get outside. Sure, you may feel silly at first, but not nearly as silly as cleaning up a wet spot in the elevator.


Fold a towel and sling it under your pup, or loop your lead under your pup’s waist to encourage him to stay standing. Do this gently; if you are rough or intense, you will only intimidate your pup, and that may cause him to go to the bathroom.


Don’t give your pup time to think while waiting for the elevator. Use treats to keep him focused and distracted. If you pause, he may well squat. Same goes in the elevator—distraction and calm movement may help prevent an accident.

This is normally a short-lived stage (thank goodness). By picking a potty spot close to your building (the closest fire hydrant, as it ought to be clear of cars), you can focus your pup on that spot, which should help him understand the task at hand.

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You will avoid so many glares from annoyed sidewalk users that it is worth the week or two to teach your pup to step off the curb to relieve himself. Try from the start to set your pup up for success by walking in a safe area of the street or close to the curb, but don’t begin to focus on this until your pup is going outside consistently for at least a couple of weeks.

If he starts to use the sidewalk, hustle him to the curb. Do not correct him or be angry, since he might associate your upset with going to the bathroom. The message we want to send is that it’s the location, not the activity, that is at fault. If you are consistent and persistent, he’ll get the message and curbing will become second nature.

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Going from no real exercise one day to hiking up and down several flights six or more times a day for housebreaking can put a lot of stress on a young pup’s body. We suspect that many cases of orthopedic difficulty in pups in walk-ups might be caused by this sudden demand. So start slowly. Let your pup do one hike out for a few days, then allow him another. If you can still carry him safely, do so. Keep him on lead on stairs to prevent rushing and possibly tumbling. This gradual introduction can’t hurt, and it might help.

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Yes, toy breeds can go outside, but why? Considering how dirty they can get (long coats plus low to the ground) and how much they hate foul weather, we suggest you paper-train, then walk for socialization, fun, and exercise. That will give you the best of both worlds: a happy, well-adjusted companion and the luxury to sleep in on the weekends or to stay inside during stormy weather.


Your Options

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At this point there are three housebreaking possibilities: you are paper training your pup and plan to continue to do so, you are paper training your pup and plan to housebreak her ASAP, or you have access to a safe outdoor area and plan to housebreak immediately. Each of these is handled in slightly different ways.

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This is possible only if you have a reasonably safe area near to you and are willing to take the risk. Sarah’s Bouvier des Flandres pup insisted (at seven weeks old and at the top of his lungs) that he be taken outside. She relented and carried him out to their quiet side street, then carried him back in for as long as she could manage it.

Is there a roof area on your building? If yes, maybe you can play with your pup up there on lead if it is safe… Many roofs have low boundary walls and/or are fenced, but keep your pup on lead anyway. If the roof is not fenced, do not use it, because a dropped lead could mean heartbreak. As always, pick up promptly and totally. Many buildings also have a small back area. Watch out for rats, though, their feces carry diseases your puppy can catch.

Maybe your veterinarian knows of other pups in the area. Sometimes one of them has access to a small backyard area that can be used for playful romping. Be creative!

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Many small breeds can be trained to use papers (or a litter pan). This is a major convenience during foul weather or human illness. This does not mean that your dog becomes apartment bound, simply that you are able to set your outside time around your schedule, not hers.

Here are the basic guidelines for successful training:

Set up one set of papers (or two if you live in a large loft/apartment/brownstone). To avoid floor damage, place the papers either in a tray or on a heavy sheet of plastic. Alternatively, use “blue pads,” which can be bought in bulk from any medical supply store for much less than the cost of the puppy training pads sold at the pet store. These pads have the advantage of not getting ink on your dog, which can be important if you have either a white dog or a white home.

The ideal paper area is a small, narrow room——often a bathroom fits the bill as well as any place. (If you have no such spot, you can create one using an ex-pen.)

A wire mesh/metal baby gate needs to go across the door so the pup can see out but not get out. Some pups are climbers, so if you can install the gate so that it leans inward slightly, this will make it harder to climb.

Put the papers toward the rear of the room with bedding, food, and water up front. The hope is that your pup will soon learn to leave the bedding area and potty on the papers in the rear.

Your pop will ideally choose to urinate and defecate at the far end of the area, away from her bed, food, and water. This is not always the case; some pups go right up front, then jump up and down in the mess. You can help to refocus your pup by dabbing the clean papers with a bit of urine from the paper toweling after cleanup. The pup will be attracted to the smell of her own urine and hopefully be more on target.

Be sure to clean under the papers daily with an odor neutralizer/eliminator, as this will mop up any urine that might have seeped over. If any smell is left at the edge, your pup may squat with her rear end several inches or more off the papers.

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A common Metrodog situation. If you’re doing this, proceed as recommended in “Straight Paper Training” but skip the wild praise for success. You don’t want to instill this behavior deeply, since you will be abandoning it ASAP.

Whenever possible, get your pup to safe areas outside. On the weekend, try to take him to the country or a friend’s house with a backyard. The more experience he has urinating and defecating outside, the easier it will be to make the transition later. However, plenty of pups don’t get weekend road trips but still end up perfectly housebroken.

Once it is safe to get your pup out, proceed with “From Papers to the Park: Getting Your Pup to Go Outside.”

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You see your dog squatting—what do you do? Startle her with a loud sound (a clap, a “Hey!,” or a wall slap will do) and hustle her off to her papers or outside. No yelling, scolding, face rubbing, scruffing, or any other form of punishment. If your puppy knew how to tell you she needed to go (and maybe she did and you didn’t know what she meant), she would tell you. Punishment will only make her think that you hate it when you see her go, and that will lead her to going out of sight and/or not wanting to go on lead near you. Both things are bad.

Proper Cleanup

The smell of past mistakes will attract a pup to those same spots, so make sure you use an odor neutralizer/eliminator specially made for the purpose. Homemade concoctions such as vinegar and water will not do the job. And never use a mixture containing ammonia, as it is present in urine and will encourage mistakes.

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With the exception of toy pups who need food all the time, the more control you have over when food goes into your pup’s body, the more predictable it will be when things come out of her body. We feed pups under twelve weeks of age three times a day. We put food down for fifteen minutes, then pick it up. This will teach your pup to eat when the food is available, and our dogs universally eat what is fed when it is fed. If your pup seems to pick at her food consistently, please consult your veterinarian.

Water is given with meals, when the pup is warm, and every few hours in between. A pup needs as much water as she wants throughout the day, and controlling when she gets it should not be confused with controlling how much water she gets. We’ve seen too many puppies who have been deprived of water to the point where they drink everything in sight. If your pup is thirsty, let her drink. Just realize that if she drinks a great deal, she’ll need to urinate several times in the next couple of hours.

Some foods seem to promote heavy water drinking, so if your pup is drinking up a storm every day, please consider slowly changing over to another brand and see if that makes a difference. If you have concerns, speak to your veterinarian.

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One possible schedule for working folks might be:

  1. Crate overnight next to the bed.
  2. To the papers/outside ASAP in the A.M. Plan to get up early for the next few months to give your pup time before you leave.
  3. Hang out with your pup as you do morning routines.
  4. Feed breakfast.
  5. To the papers/outside.
  6. Confined in safe room/area, with crate open, water, and papers.
  7. Midday cleanup, feed, play.
  8. Home, outside if safe, or on lead with you around the apartment.
  9. Dinner.
  10. To papers or outside if safe after eating.
  11. Water is picked up around seven P.M.
  12. Last chance at papers or outside after ten P.M.
  13. Crate next to you at night (yes, even pups being paper-trained).

A sample schedule for people home all day would be the same as the work one, only instead of confining during work hours, keep your pup on leash near you or crated within earshot. If you are home to hear your pup get restless, then short bouts of crating can be helpful. If you are going out for more than a short errand, confine your pup to a safe papered area.