Many animals are naturally inclined to eliminate in one area instead of all over their environment. Many dogs will do this on their own. However, if you have a dog that likes to “go where they are,” it can be helpful to train them to keep their eliminations to one designated area of your yard. This will make cleaning up after them much easier for you and will also keep the rest of your yard clean and attractive.
Decide Where the Dog Should Go
The first step in this process is to choose a location where you desire for the dog to perform all of their eliminations. The area should be convenient for both you and your dog, and you may want to choose a corner or an area out of or away from the main green space of the yard.
It will likely be more appealing to the dog if the area is covered in grass as opposed to a hard surface such as concrete or rocks. Grass will also be more absorbent for the urine. Make sure there is nothing frightening or threatening in the area. For example, it is likely not a good idea to choose an area next to the fence where there are other dogs on the opposite side that may bark and distract or scare your dog. And be sure to dedicate a space reasonably large enough for your dog to sniff around and have space for multiple eliminations; this will vary based on the size of your pup.
Which Dogs Can Be Trained
For this training, it is ideal to start when your dog is a puppy and teach it along with their routine potty training. Puppies are not yet set in their ways and do not have already established preferences. However, it is totally doable if you have an adult dog you would like to train to go in one area. With adults, you may need to be more patient, and it may take longer to achieve success.
How to Begin Training
After you have chosen an area of your yard that you desire your dog to eliminate in, start by placing some of your dog’s feces in the area. You should only place a few there, as you don’t want the area so messy that it deters your dog from eliminating there. It can be helpful to thoroughly water the rest of the area to help eliminate the smells of previous eliminations. It is also essential to clean all feces from the rest of the yard.
Start with a Verbal Command
When it is time for our dog to go outside for their potty break, you will start by taking them to the designated area on a leash and saying a phrase that you want them to associate with eliminating. When they are in the designated area, use your designated phrase, for example, “Go outside.” or “Go potty.”
You'll need to keep them on the leash during these training sessions to keep your dog in the designated area. Once your dog starts to urinate or defecate, repeat your phrase and immediately reward them, whether this is with praise, petting, a treat, or another high value reward. In time, your dog will begin to associate the verbal command with the act of urinating and defecating and the reward.
Trying to time these trips out to the designated spot when your dog needs to use the restroom is important. At first, always take your dog to the area on their leash and allow them to urinate and defecate before letting them loose in the yard to pay or explore. This will aid in keeping all of the dog’s eliminations in the same spot and being let loose to play also serves as a reward for them going to the designated area first.
Dogs are naturally inclined to respond to rewards, or positive reinforcement of the desired behaviors. This is why positive reinforcement training works so well for dogs. When your dog eliminates in the desired area, reward them right away with something of high value to them. This can be verbal praise, pats, as well as treats or a favorite toy.
If your dog does their business in an area of the yard that is not the desired area, do not punish them. Simply take the dog and redirect them to the appropriate area. Punishment will only serve to confuse the dog and make them fear eliminating at all. Be sure to clean the area where they eliminated in the undesired spot, to avoid the smell causing them to eliminate there again in the future.
The most important aspect of this training, and all dog training, is to be consistent. Dogs learn through repetition, and it may take time for your dog to catch on to what is being asked of them. Always be patient and give lots of positive reinforcement when your dog does what you want.
When to Lose the Leash
For most dogs, two to four weeks of being taken to the designated area of the yard on a leash may be sufficient to for them to make the association. If your dog has begun to head towards that spot in the yard first thing, even when on the leash, it is likely time to try it without the leash. Continue to walk out to the area with your dog to reinforce the desired behavior and so that you can reward them when they do what you want. If your dog is trying to eliminate in other areas of the yard while on the leash, continue training with the leash on until you see signs that they are making the connection.
How to Handle Mishaps Once Off the Leash
No one is perfect, and this includes your dog. Once off of the leash, your dog should be consistently heading to the designated area in your yard to go to the bathroom. However, expect there to be times when your dog fails to go where you want them to go. This may occur if it is cold, raining, they are sick, or there is something distracting them. In these instances, revert back to the training steps discussed above. Do not punish the dog, but calmly move any feces to the appropriate area and water the grass to remove any smells. If the mistakes continue, it may be necessary to reinstitute the leash and rewards until you see consistent signs of them making the connection.
Problems and Proofing Behavior
Though it is convenient to keep just one area of your yard designated for urine and feces from your dog, remember that letting that area become soiled and smelly will be unpleasant for your dog. If they make a negative association with the area because it is dirty, they will not want to use it for urination or defection. Make sure to clean the feces in the area regularly and wash away the urine as well.
It is also essential to take your dog to other places where they are allowed to eliminate. If that one area in your yard becomes the ONLY place they are allowed to eliminate, they may be reluctant to eliminate when they are away from home. This can be a big problem if they are kenneled at a boarding facility, or you travel with them. You can encourage them to eliminate other places by taking them on walks to different places. Use the verbal phrase you have chosen and reward them when they go in these places too. Always be sure to be prepared with a baggie to clean up after them.
Tips on Housetraining Your Dog. PennVet Behavior Medicine
Vieira de Castro AC, Fuchs D, Morello GM, Pastur S, de Sousa L, Olsson IAS. Does training method matter? Evidence for the negative impact of aversive-based methods on companion dog welfare. PLoS One. 2020;15(12):e0225023.