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Head of the Class Dog Training LLC 

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House Train Your Puppy Right Using Error-free Training


If you have a new puppy at home, chances are you’ve been reading up on different house training techniques. There are many approaches, of course, but we think error-free house training is the best. Here are some things we tell dog lovers about error-free training when they are thinking about house training.

What is error-free house training, and why do we recommend it?

By definition, error-free training is a technique that involves a combination of very close supervision and positive rewards. It works so well because it goes along with your dog’s natural instincts. Dogs naturally do not want to eliminate in their den, or in this case, the indoor living area of your home. They also instinctively respond well to food treats as positive reinforcement. Plus, your puppy’s small, efficient digestive tract makes it pretty easy to predict when your pup will need to eliminate, which makes the approach easier for you to learn.

Puppies don’t know “right” from “wrong” behaviors, so punishing your pup for accidents may actually backfire. They don’t understand the punishment; they only know that they are afraid and that can interfere with your bond with your dog. Error-free training does not involve punishment, which makes it more positive and effective.

What are some steps to error-free house training?

While error-free house training involves more than what we can put in a short article, here are some basics to give you an idea of what this method entails.

  • In the morning, develop a routine in which your dog stays out and both urinates and defecates. Your dog may need to urinate or defecate more than once, so make sure he or she is completely finished before going back in.
  • Put your pup on a feeding schedule so you can figure out how much time there is between when your dog eats and needs to eliminate.
  • Bring a concealed treat with you every time you and your puppy go outside. After the initial morning routine, go out every 45 to 60 minutes.
  • Start training on a day when you will be home all day. If you work outside of the home, start on a weekend or your day off.
  • When you’re just starting to train, leash your dog but don’t walk around, play with your pup or talk. Stand still and be quiet while you wait for your pup to eliminate. If your dog eliminates, give him or her a treat. If you’ve been outside for 3 to 6 minutes and nothing has happened, take your dog back inside. If your pup has not gone and you go back in, watch your little pal like a HAWK because he or she likely does have to go, and you will need to go out to try again in about 15 minutes.
  • When your dog is indoors, if not closely supervised, keep him or her in a crate or small enclosure. If your dog is out, make sure you are actively supervising, meaning keeping your dog on a line or a leash attached to you. Actively supervising means you aren’t engrossed in another activity like reading the paper or watching television. If you are engaging with your dog by playing, a leash or lead isn’t necessary.
  • If your pup has an accident indoors, do not scold or punish. This will cause your dog to hide the behavior from you, but won’t stop it from happening. Make sure you clean the soiled area with an enzyme based cleaner made for cleaning pet accidents. The goal is to eliminate the smell from your dog’s very sensitive nose.
  • Once your dog is consistently eliminating outside, you can start to stretch the periods of time between letting him or her outside to 60 minutes and beyond.

Remember, like any kind of dog training, error-free training takes time and patience. If you are running out of either, or if you would like more information, contact us.

Lisa Marino, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP, PMCT, has taken her varied teaching experiences and applied them to helping owners understand and train their beloved four-legged family members. She has more than four years’ experience leading group dog training classes at Best Paw Forward in Hartland, WI, and opened Head of the Class Dog Training LLC in Winchester, VA in 2012, where she conducts group classes and private lessons, as well as helps owners to modify their dogs' problem behaviors.


Lisa earned her CPDT-KA in 2012, is a 2015 graduate of the prestigious Karen Pryor Academy and is a Pat Miller Certified Trainer.

She has 4 registered therapy dogs and is a Pet Partner Therapy Team Evaluator and a member of HOPE AACR. As a former middle school teacher, she works well with families and children  and does school presentations on various dog related topics.