Housetraining: How To Potty Train A Puppy or Dog

Two Puppies - How to Potty Train a PuppyLearning how to potty train your puppy is one of the first things you need to teach your puppy.  Housebreaking your puppy is all about developing good habits and a long-lasting relationship full of trust between your little doggy and yourself.

Many people who go about housebreaking their puppies try to do it with all the wrong ways, and only end up miserably failing during the process and only getting their puppy confused, which is obviously not the goal.

Keep in mind that when your puppy is young, they’re still rapidly growing and developing, and your pup will urinate more frequently than older dogs. Moreover, young puppies haven’t developed the necessary skills to control their bowel movements or bladder, and they can’t “hold it in” like older dogs do, which is what we’re here to teach out dogs with housetraining.

Truth be told, housebreaking is much easier than people make it out to be, as long as you follow the right practices, remain consistent throughout the process and have enough patience. Follow these 3 principles, and you’ll most certainly succeed in housetraining your puppy.

When Should I Start Housetraining My Puppy?

Jim, a now-retired professional dog breeder for 15+ years (who obviously has more than enough experience about these issues and knows what he’s talking about) and founder over at ZimFamilyCockers, advises that you should start to potty train your puppy as soon as you get them home.

Puppies are usually most receptive to potty training techniques during the age of 12-16 weeks, but you might get an 8 week old puppy home with terrible elimination habits, so you need to address these issues as soon as they show up.

Waiting for your 8 week old puppy to become 12 weeks of age in order to address their bad elimination habits just doesn’t make sense. What would you do during these 4 weeks? Just wait and do nothing? Obviously not.

Yes, it might be a bit more difficult to properly potty train puppies which are younger than 12 weeks of age, but it’s something that must be done if there’s a need for it.

As a matter of fact, Jim states that from during his 15+ years of dog breeding experience, he finds that dogs that are potty trained from as little as 3 weeks were able to go to their new homes at 10 weeks of age COMPLETELY potty trained!

So, there really is no reason for you to not potty train your dog before the 12 weeks of age mark. It could be harder of a job, but it’s most certainly very doable and completely fine to have your puppy go through.

You don’t want to start housetraining them when they’re more than 16 weeks of age, that will just make the process a whole lot harder and more complicated than it needs to be.

How Long Does It Take To Potty Train A Puppy?

Usually, it can take puppies anywhere from 4 to 6 months (other puppies require up to a full 12 months) to complete their house training, depending on a whole host of factors, such as size and whether your puppy previously lived in another home or not and how that experience was like.

Smaller sized dog breeds require more effort on the part of their owner, while puppies that previously acquired bad habits in their old home will also require harder effort from the owner to have them develop new habits.

How To Potty Train A Puppy

1) Confined Spaces

During the housetraining phase, it’s always recommended that you confine your dog to a small space.

That small space can be anything from a crate, a small room or just putting them on a leash and confining their movement.

You want to do this because it’ll make it much easier for you to always keep an eye out on your puppy and make sure they don’t make any “mistakes”, which will only hinder the housebreaking process. If you always have an eye on your dog, you can immediately correct elimination mistakes they make, which is one of the most important factors that ultimately decide how successful you are during this process.

With time and when your puppy starts to understand that they have to go outside and do what they have to do when mother nature calls, and that they can’t do it inside the house, you can start to slowly give them more freedom and space to move around.

The ultimate goal would be to reach the point where your dog instinctively goes outside the house to where you want them to go to do their business, which is when you’ll be able to remove them from the confined space they are in and give them the freedom to move around freely and as they please.

2) Crate Training

When just starting out with housetraining your puppy, using a crate could be one of the best decisions you ever made. See our Crate Training Tips.

Having your puppy in a crate when housetraining them is an extremely beneficiary for both you and your dog, because:

  • You’ll always be able to have an eye on your puppy to see when they exhibit behaviors that clearly tell you “mother nature’s calling!”
  • Your puppy will learn that they will have to hold in whatever they have, wait for you to come and open the crate, go outside the house to wherever you want them to go, and that only then and there will they be allowed to let it all out.

If you do decide to use a crate when housetraining your dog, here are some of the most important things you have to remember:

  • Large Space: Even though the crate serves to confine your dog’s movement, you don’t want them to go insane feeling they’re trapped inside of it. You want to get a crate that’s large enough for your puppy to move around in and lie down in, but small enough so that your puppy doesn’t find a far away corner they can use as a bathroom.
  • Water: If your puppy is in the crate for prolonged periods of time, you have to make sure they have access to water nearby. One of the easiest ways you can make sure this happens without you having to keep supplying your puppy with water every few hours is by attaching a water dispenser to your puppy’s crate.

Depending on previous habits your puppy might have gained during previous experiences they went through, you may find out that your dog is using their crate as a bathroom (despite the fact that it’s not large enough for them to do so in one of its corners), which is exactly what we DON’T want to happen. So, if this is what’s happening with your puppy, you have to use another method other than the crate.

3) Leash

If you don’t want to put your dog in a crate during the housebreaking period, you could put them on a leash that’s attached to something that contains your puppy’s movement.

Then, and just like you would do if you had your puppy in a crate, you would actively monitor your puppy for signs that they need to go, where you would then take them outside to the same spot you always take them so they can eliminate.

Please NEVER use something as a leash if you plan on tying your dog on one and leave them unattended for a long period of time, whether by yourself or anyone else, because that’ll just cause them to “go” wherever they are at the time, since they obviously can’t hold it in forever!

Don’t forget to reward your puppy with a treat or just praise them after they successfully finish eliminating!

After your dog has successfully been housetrained, you can get them off the leash and they’ll just do their thing on their own just like you taught them to.

4) Potty Training Pads

Potty training pads have been manufactured for dog owners who find it a hasstle to get their dog outside everytime they want to either defecate or urinate, and makes their lives easier by giving their puppies an option to eliminate inside the house while still very successfully being housetrained.

Potty training pads usually have odors that attract your dog to urinate on them.

With that being said, potty training pads are NOT the best way to go about housebreaking your dog, they are just a “plan B” at best, just in case everything else is proving to be way too much of a hassle for you and you’re looking for a last resort.

The use of potty training pads has been found to sometimes prolong the housebreaking period and even cause some confusion in dogs, because it makes them think that it’s just fine if they use an indoor space as their bathroom.

5) Positive Reinforcement

As soon as you see your dog inappropriately do their thing somewhere they’re not supposed to (a.k.a have an accident), you have to take up on a thing that you’ll continuously use whenever you see this being done anytime again in the future (such as a loud click, whistle or one loud clap).

As soon as you do whatever you choose, which will communicate a message to your dog that they’ve done something you’re not happy about, you have to immediately take them outside to do their thing.

Then, when they’re done outside, give your puppy a treat/reward and praise them.

Rewards are one of the most important elements in making the housebreaking process a success, and this way your puppy will begin to understand that “going to the bathroom” indoors makes you upset, while doing it outdoors where you want them to do it will make you happy and will get them rewarded.

However, you must make sure that you only reward/praise your dog AFTER they’ve completely finished eliminating. Reward or praise your puppy too soon and before they’ve completely finished eliminating, and you’ll only distract them and confuse them.

6) Timing

Timing is everything when it comes to house-training your puppy.

You must know that your dog’s digestive tract acts much faster and is much more efficient than those of us humans.

What does that mean?

This means that you should expect your dog to want to defecate around 5-30 minutes after they eat.

This is one of the reasons why it’s very important that you put your dog on a consistent eating schedule and ideally set an alarm/use a timer so you always remember that your dog will need to be let outside anytime now.

7) Daily Routine

One of the best practices which ensures the success of your puppy housebreaking phase is a daily routine/schedule, which brings us back to the principle of consistency we talked about earlier on in this article.

Take your dog outside the house to the same exact spot each and every morning at the same time, which will lead to this becoming a habit your dog does by itself later on.

You should also take your dog outside (or to whatever designated “bathroom” area you set for your puppy) every night before you go to sleep, and reward/praise them when they successfully let out what mother nature gave them.

Ideally, you should take your dog outside once around every 2 hours when you’re housetraining them, right after they wake up, when and after playing time and right after they eat or drink.

When you take your puppy outside and they “successfully go”, you MUST reward the behavior. A reward doesn’t always have to be something materialistic like a treat or a toy, it can be as simple as a congratulating pat or hug as well. Anything that gets the message across to your dog that this is something that makes you happy does the trick.

8) Consistent Feeding Schedule

To ensure your dog successfully goes through the housebreaking phase, you must have them put on a regular and very consistent feeding schedule.

The more scheduled your dog’s feeding cycle is, the more consistent their eliminating schedule will be and the easier this whole process will become.

On the other hand, the more haphazard your dog’s feeding cycle is, the more inconsistent their eliminating schedule will be and the harder the housebreaking process will be, both for you and your puppy.

Young puppies normally have to be fed 3-4 times a day, so split those up into constant times you feed them throughout the housebreaking phase.

9) The Exact Same Spot

Whatever spot you choose outside to be your dog’s “bathroom”, you should stick with that same exact spot for the remainder of the housebreaking period.

This means that when your dog has to go, you should always take them to that exact same spot, each and every time.

The spot you choose for your dog should also be one where your dog exclusively goes there to get the job done, and not a spot that other dogs use as well.

With time, your puppy will start to remember the smell of urine in that spot and will begin to make a connection between that exact spot and “going to the bathroom”, which is just what we want to happen.

10) The Command

Choose a certain command word, such as “go” or “outside”, every time you want to take your puppy outside so they can eliminate.

Then, when you and your dog are outside, choose another command and stick with your throughout the entirety of the housebreaking phase, such as “do it”. Make sure you choose a command word different than the one you use to tell your dog to go outside though, so you don’t confuse them between the two.

With time, this will create an association in your dog’s mind between that command word and the act of going to the exact same spot you taught them to go to and either defecate or urinate.

The key to making this method work is consistency, because if you’re not consistent with this and give your dog a new command word every other day, they’ll never create that association in their mind because of all the confusion that’s going on.

11) Ease Of Accesibility

This point is more about practicability, both for you and your puppy.

The place you want to train your puppy to urinate or defecate in at all times must be easily accessible to your dog.

If your house requires quite some effort for you and your dog to get outside each and every time, then find somewhere inside the house that you can use as your dog’s go-to place when nature calls.

However, if your house makes it fairly easy for your dog to get outside and do their thing, then that’s just fine as well.

Ease of accessibility is an important aspect of housebreaking your puppy because you don’t want it to take your puppy forever to get to their go-to destination each and every time they have to do their thing, because the more effort and time it takes for them to get there, the more their progress will be hindered and the higher chances of setbacks happening become.

12) Regular Bathroom Breaks

Keep in mind that for about every one month of age, your puppy can control their bladder for one hour.

So for example, if your dog is 3 months of age, they can only hold it in for around 3 hours before they need a bathroom break.

This is why it’s vital that you keep track of your puppy’s age so you know how frequently they need to go for a bathroom break.

If you don’t give your puppy the required bathroom breaks they need, you’ll just increase the chances of them having a setback and an accident.

If you’re outside the house for long periods of time (for work perhaps) and you have a young puppy that needs frequent bathroom breaks, then you must make sure to have someone at home give your puppy the bathroom breaks they need, or even hire someone to do so.

How Do I Know When My Puppy Is Ready To Go?

The following are the most common signs that dogs do when they’re ready to go.

So, if you have them in a crate, on a leash or in a closed room, as soon as you see them do any of the following, you have to let them out to do their thing.

Wrong Puppy Housebreaking Practices

Here are some of the most common WRONG practices people do when trying to housetrain their dogs, which often result in nothing but failure, disappointment and frustration for both you and your puppy.

  • Punishment: The minute you scold your puppy when they have a setback or an accident is the minute you’ll have put a huge dent in your housetraining efforts. Scolding your puppy for something only so normal will teach them nothing but to become afraid of you and to panic and become anxious the next time an accident is about to happen. Not to mention the fact that your puppy doesn’t understand that you’re scolding them because of an accident they had, they can’t make such a connection between the two events.
  • Rushing It: One thing you definitely do NOT want to do is rush your puppy to defecate. If you act all rushy and excited in front of your puppy “to motivate them to go and get it done”, I’m afraid to break it to you that that’s not how it works. When you rush your puppy, you’re only causing them to stress out and become anxious about the whole situation. The best thing you could do is refraining from saying anything to your dog, and just monitoring the situation to see when they need to be let out to do their thing. BE PATIENT! Most puppies are only fully housetrained when they reach the age of 6 months, so hang in there for the sake of your puppy!

Housebreaking Setbacks & Accidents

Setbacks and accidents are bound to happen to the best of us when training our puppies, so this shouldn’t at all discourage you or have you give up on your small furry friend.

Puppies less than a year old are most vulnerable to accidents and setbacks, due to many possible reasons.

Setbacks are only a normal part of this whole process, you just have to be consistent throughout it all, stick to the right practices talked about in this article, and you and your puppy will eventually make it out successful.

The best way to deal with setbacks and accidents during the housebreaking phase is to thoroughly clean up after your dog right away and make sure any smell is removed.

This is very important because it will prevent your dog from creating an association with any smell that’s still there, which in turn prevents your dog from wanting to “go” there again.

Probably the best cleaner you can use in this case is an enzymatic cleaner, as this will best help you to get rid of any smell left in the location so you can make sure that your dog isn’t attracted to “go” again in the same spot.

Sometimes and when you’re completely sure that you’re doing all the right puppy housetraining practices, there might be a medical issue with your dog (such as when dogs suffer from urinary tract infections which cause them to urinate very frequently and not be able to hold it in at all), which is when it’s probably best that you talk to your veterinarian about it so your dog gets professional help.

Read our Review of the Best Indoor Dog Potty for further ideas.


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