German Shepherd Housebreaking

Few German shepherd housebreaking problems are worse and more frequent than accidents in the house. In fact, one of the top five reasons owners give for relinquishing their shepherd to a shelter is that the dog is impossible to housebreak. Unfortunately, many people simply give up when the dog does not learn right away. Housebreaking does not have to be difficult. As with any other learned skill, its mastery simply requires practice and patience.

The Basics

There are two rules for quick and effective housebreaking; set your German shepherd up for success, and eliminate virtually any opportunity for her to fail.

Puppies develop their elimination patterns during the first few months of their lives and will seldom eliminate where they sleep. Once a puppy finds a spot to eliminate that she likes, she will return to it.

First get a crate. You can call it a kennel, cage, or carrier, but get one. When used properly, crates are not cruel, and they provide a safe area for your dog. When housebreaking your German shepherd puppy, she should be in the crate anytime she is not supervised by you. She will learn that the crate is a good place if you start feeding her in it. After she begins to associate food with the kennel, only treat her randomly and increase your praise for good behavior. This is refered to as variable reinforcement. This is a general principle that you should apply to other types of training. Start with consistent rewards, and then switch to variable ones.

Increasing Boundaries

If your German shepherd has not had any accidents in her designated space for several days or a week, then you can consider increasing her space. Do not entrust her with the whole house at once. Take small steps.

What do you do if you have expanded your dogs boundaries in the house and she has an accident? First, take a look at the situation to see if it is your fault. Were you gone too long? Did you feed her and immediately put her back in the crate? If everything other than the increased boundaries has remained the same, go back to limiting her to the smaller area. When she proves reliable again, you can increase your space and try again.

Increasing Time

Your German shepherd's age has a significant effect on his abilities to control his bowels and bladder. Most puppies have good bowel control by the time they are eight weeks old. However, puppies do not start having significant control of their bladders until they are at least four months old, so you really can not expect them to hold it for too long.

A young puppy will need to relieve himself roughly every two hours, as well as after eating, after playing hard, during and after walks, when he is excited, and upon awakening. But it gets better. A four month-old puppy should be able to wait roughly 4 hours during the day. A five-month-old puppy could go as long as five hours, and a six month old puppy may be able to go as long as six hours, if necessary.

An adult dog, barring any physical problems or disease, does have complete control his bodily functions. But you should not put him in a position where he has to have an accident. This will make him feel ashamed and guilty. Ideally, you should never force your shepherd to wait more than eight hours between potty breaks, even as an adult

There are some dogs that are well housetrained but they get so excited they urinate when a favorite family member comes home. This is not an accident, instead, this behavior is called submissive urination. Do not yell at the dog if this happen as it will only make matters worse. Instead, be patient. Usually, this behavior will fade as the dog matures.

Crate Training

Using a crate as a tool in the housbreaking process works very well. The concept of crate training is based on the fact that a puppy or an adult dog does not want to soil her with her private space. Therefore, when a dog is in a crate, she will let you know when she needs to go out. If you are not around, she will do her best to wait until you come home and let her go outside to relieve herself.

For crate training to work; however, the crate must be the correct size for the shepherd. If the crate is too big, she can soil one corner and retreat to another. This is particularly true for a puppy that is being housed in an adult crate. This defeats the purpose of using a crate as a training tool.

Ideally, the crate should be just big enough for the shepherd to stand up without crouching, turn around without getting stuck, and lied down comfortably. If you do not want to buy a new crate every few months, you can either look into purchasing a wire crate that has dividers, or you can borrow a crate from other dog owners. If you have to buy three different sizes of crates, it is still going to be a lot cheaper than replacing a precious Oriental rug or buying new wall-to-wall carpeting for your entire first floor.


You want your German shepherd crate to be comfortable, but you do not want to spend a lot of time washing wet or soiled bedding. When beginning housebreaking, consider lining the crate with a thick layer of newspapers. Puppies and adult dogs may shred some of the top layer of the paper to pad the crate a little more. With a paper lining, if there is an accident, you can simply pull out the papers and slides new papers in.

When you are more confident that your German shepherd can keep his space clean, you can add some soft but easily washable towels to his thick newspaper bedding. Once he has really got the hang of things, you can buy him a nice, comfortable crate pad nestle down in.

Using a Puppy Playpen

For puppies, placing the crate in a large puppy playpen can be the perfect second step in housebreaking. The pen gives a puppy more space to play in but does not give her too much room. If you do use a playpen, here a few helpful tips:

Place the puppy playpen on a hard floor that is easy to clean.

Put a few toys in the playpen to occupy your puppy.

Keep your puppy's water bowl in the playpen area. This prevents spills in the crate and wet bedding.

Use the playpen only when you are around to supervise.

Do not use the playpen with an adult German shepherd.

Food, Water, and Exercise

To improve your German shepherd's rate of house training success, you can manipulate his feeding times and exercise schedule so that you can anticipate his needs to relieve himself. When a puppy or dog drinks, the water works through his body relatively quickly, usually within an hour. When a puppy or dog eats, he will usually have a bowel movement within 30 minutes. Planning exercise times can assist in making your German shepherd schedule more consistent. Exercise is very effective at stimulating bladder and bowel movements in your dog. You can expect a puppy or adult to relieve himself during or immediately after exercise and play sessions.

While a dog sleeps, his body produces a hormone that slows the production of urine. However, if he takes a long drink right before he retires for the night, he will need to relieve himself. One way to help young puppies and learning adults make it through the night is to remove the water bowl one hour prior to bedtime. Then, right before he retires to his crate, send him out one more time to relieve himself.

Of course, removing the dogs water only works if your shepherd is calm and relaxed and nearly ready for sleep. If, on the other hand, he is out with the kids playing an endless game of fetch, he will need water. Try to limit his evening activities during the last hour before bedtime, if you can not, allow him to drink water, but the prepaired to wake up later in the night to let him out.


Single people work. Married people often both work. In some cases, a spouse may stay at home or work from home, but rarely does a dog owner have the perfect arrangement for housebreaking a puppy or an adult dog. If you are flexible, creative, and willing to work around your German shepherd's needs, you can find a way to spend time with your dog without disrupting your work schedule.

Puppies require the most work. In general, they need to be let out every three hours and fed two to three times a day. The untrained adult dog can hold out longer; however, he, too, needs a midday break because he is confined to a crate during the day. If your trained adult dog has a dog door, he can go in and out at will. Otherwise, he will require a midday break as well. If you work outside the home, you are probably a bit worried. You can not take off of work whenever your German shepherd needs you. If this is your scenario, you will need to consider several options.

One possibility is doggy day care. Your dog will have a blast, as long as the day care is run well. Check references thoroughly. These facilities can cost as much as a week of childcare and could be as much as $1000 per month. Option two is to hire a pet walker or pet sitter to come into your home as often as necessary. Going rates for these services vary and could cost between $8 and $15 per visit. Another option is to ask for the help of a trusted neighbor, friend, or relative. Note that you must trust this person to come every day and do all the right things with your dog.

You can make almost any situation work with patience and persistence. Just remember that your German shepherd needs consistent, reliable scheduling and care to trust you and feel secure. As long as you have the dog's best interests at heart, a plausible solution will present itself.

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