House training may be the most important thing you do with your puppy. After all, to a puppy, the entire world is one giant potty area. It’s up to you to help them learn where and when to potty. The good news is that housetraining is pretty straightforward – but that doesn’t necessarily make it easy. Following the guidelines below can make it a little simpler, though !
Where to start
The key to housetraining is setting up the puppy’s environment properly. Start by figuring out how you will manage your puppy between potty breaks until housetraining is complete*. Here are the main options:
- Supervised (which means someone is actively watching the puppy)
- Crated (in an appropriately sized crate)
- Penned (in an ex-pen)
- Confined (in a small, baby gated room, or just a room with the door shut)
- Tethered (to you or another adult; you can simply tie the dog’s leash to you)
- Outdoors (where the puppy can potty with impunity)
*NOTE: If your puppy has had an accident – other than due to illness – in the past month, your puppy is not yet housetrained.
What to do next
Now that you know where your puppy will be when you’re NOT working on housetraining, here’s what to do:
1. Take your puppy to a potty area on leash at least once every 30 minutes while you are home and awake.
NOTE: Please use a leash even if you have a fenced yard! This is recommended for two reasons. First, it helps you keep the puppy focused on pottying, rather than running around looking for butterflies or digging holes. Second, you ultimately want your puppy to potty on walks, right? Getting them used to pottying on leash right from the get-go helps you achieve that goal.
2. Stand still and quietly watch to see if the puppy pees or poops.
3. Praise calmly and offer a treat right after the puppy pees or poops outside.
NOTE: Be sure to wait to praise and treat until your puppy has finished peeing or pooping. You don’t want to “interrupt” the puppy with your praise and have them finish the potty back indoors!
NOTE: If the puppy does not pee or poop, take the puppy back to a confinement area for 10 to 20 minutes, and then take the puppy outside again.
4. After the puppy pees or poops, extend the walk, take the leash off and play with the puppy in the yard, or give the puppy up to 15 minutes carefully supervised time in the house.
NOTE: Pay attention to what your puppy seems to enjoy most (play in yard, longer walk, or supervised time indoors), and do that after each successful potty trip.
5. Repeat these steps throughout the day.
EXPERT TIP: Create a housetraining chart or use a notepad to keep track of when and where the puppy pees and poops, so you can learn the patterns.
IMPORTANT: The nighttime routine is a little different!
At night, many puppies can “hold it” for longer than during the daytime (just like humans – most of us use the bathroom less often at night).
- There is no need to wake your puppy up to take them out to potty!
- Instead, keep an ear out (so to speak) for movement, fussing, or whining in the night. When you hear those, take your puppy out on leash for five minutes.
- After the puppy has pottied, give them a treat and then IMMEDIATELY put them back in their sleeping area.
The goal here is to give the puppy a chance to potty overnight if they need to, but not teach the puppy that fussing at night leads to fun playtime. At night, pottying is all business: Do your thing and then back to bed!
Likely potty times
There are certain times when puppies are more likely to need to potty. By taking them to the potty area at these times, you increase the odds they will potty in front of you, in the right place, so you can give the puppy the all-important positive reinforcement of praise and a treat.
Here are times your puppy is likely to need a potty break:
- After eating
- After drinking
- After five to ten minutes of play or other vigorous activities
- Immediately after waking up from a nap
Want to use a crate?
You can absolutely use a crate as a confinement space between potty trips, but if you do, keep the following in mind:
- A young puppy should never be crated for more than a couple of hours, except overnight. Your puppy might not be able to hold it very long. If they’re crated for too long, they may start pottying in the crate out of desperation. That’s a can of worms you do not want to open!
KEY TAKEAWAY: Keep crate time to a couple of hours or less, except at night, when you’ll be listening for “I need to potty” whining (right?).
What if my puppy potties in the wrong place?
If you see your puppy having an accident, calmly take the puppy outside and then praise and treat for going in the right place. Fight the urge to yell or scold! Punishing your puppy by scolding, pushing the puppy’s nose into the urine, etc., will not help. In fact, punishing puppies often teaches them to be afraid to potty in front of you (which can create big problems down the line on walks). Many puppies don’t stop pottying in the house after being punished; they just hide before they do their business. This is because puppies often misunderstand and think people are angry because the puppy pottied where the people could see them. The message that the person was angry because they pottied indoors instead of outdoors may be totally lost.
One more tip: Clean up past accidents thoroughly
The smell of urine or feces is like a restroom sign for dogs. Use a blacklight or get on your hands and knees and sniff around to find all the spots where your puppy has eliminated in the house. Then clean those areas with a pet stain cleaner/odor eliminator.
As mentioned above, housetraining is simple, but it isn’t necessarily easy. Housetraining a puppy can be hard work at first, but the more consistent you are, the faster your puppy will learn. A little work now will pay dividends for years to come. The sooner you start, the sooner your puppy will learn – so get started right away!
- Irith Bloom CPDT-KSA, CBCC-KA, CDBC, CSAT, KPA CTP, VSPDT, CBATI, VSDTA Faculty, DWA Faculty is a certified dog trainer and behavior consultant who specializes in teaching dogs how to make better choices. She helps clients worldwide live the good life with their pets.