Proactive vs. Passive Housetraining

A proactive approach is the best option for fast and reliable results in a housetraining (potty training) program. With a proactive program, the owner takes leadership responsibility for setting the dog up to “hold it” and go when access to the preferred potty place is provided.

With a passive program, the owner places this responsibility upon the dog. The dog is expected to “tell” the owner when he needs to eliminate by ringing bells, vocalizing, or staring wistfully at the door. Unfortunately, this approach often has later fallouts that are challenging to correct, although it may appear to work for a short time.

Puppies Don’t Have a Preference

The end result of a proactive housetraining program is a lifelong outdoor elimination preference. A haphazard plan is not appropriate for this training priority.

Puppies arrive in our homes with only one potty preference: an absorbent surface. Because of immature physical development, elimination can be frequent and difficult to predict. They don’t realize they have to “go” until they do. Puppies are baby dogs; they are not human toddlers. It is unrealistic to expect a puppy to ring bells or vocalize to “let you know” when he needs to eliminate. What he will learn, though, is that he can quickly obtain your attention and access to fun space by ringing bells or vocalizing. Puppy trains humans.

Mind Your Step

Dogs do what works for them. Free and immediate access to the yard allows your dog to eliminate anywhere in that space. Urine kills grass and feces scattered in various lawn areas… Who want to go on a scouting mission for clean up or have to hose down soles?

With a proactive approach, you can teach your dog where you want him to go. This provides convenience for you as well as a clean yard for your family.

No One Answers the “Call”

Often when the dog rings bells or vocalizes to “make” the door open, eventually, he eliminates outside. That may validate the passive approach until one wonders if the dog’s true purpose was going outside to eliminate OR because he’s bored inside and something captured his attention outside.

Free and immediate access to the outdoors does nothing to motivate the dog to “hold it” when she feels any need to go. The family adapts to the dog’s schedule: this is the wrong way around! If the dog doesn’t learn to “hold it”, and no one hears her bell ringing or vocalizing, owners report that the dog simply eliminates in a preferred spot in the house. Clearly, the dog has no true outdoor preference.

Appropriate Signals to “Read”

Dogs give us reflexive signals that there is a potty need. With observation, owners quickly come to recognize these signals. They include sniffing too long in one area, restlessness and an inability to focus on play and other engagement, and circling a specific spot. That’s the owner’s cue to leash up and hit the potty palace! This is an example of effective leadership.

Who is Setting the Order Here?

Passivity is not a leadership quality. A proactive approach sends a kind and clear message to your puppy or adopted adult dog. You are taking responsibility for setting the order of his world and establishing a routine to help him succeed in his housetraining. Ultimately, it is most convenient when your dog’s elimination needs coincide with your availability to give him access to his potty place. In the meantime, he learns to “hold it”, so you are confident that his preference is outdoors. Not the mudroom or under the dining room table.

“He lets me know when he needs to go out.” “He lets me know when he wants a treat/wants to play/wants to be pet/etc.….. These oft-uttered comments are red flags that your dog may have an unhealthy level of control of his resources. A re-balancing may be in order.


Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel   CPDT-KA, 2016 all rights reserved

Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC