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House Training Your Puppy

Adapted from the Humane Society of the United States


A Crate Idea

The first step in house training is taking advantage of the dog’s den instinct (their desire to curl up in a snug, protected place). A crate, when properly introduced as a happy and rewarding place, provides your pet a secure haven of its very own. It’s invaluable for housebreaking because most dogs will not soil their sleeping quarters. What size crate do you need? Start with one that’s smaller than you may use later on–one that is just big enough for the dog to stand up, turn around and lie down comfortably. If the crate is too big, the pup may feel he can potty and still get away from it. An easy-to-clean plastic crate works well, or you may opt for a wire crate with a divider panel that can be moved as the puppy grows.  The wire crate should be covered with a towel or blanket to make the dog feel more secure.

Introduce the crate in a positive manner. Get your pup used to going in the crate by tossing in small treats while the door is open. Most dogs will venture in to get the treats. Once they are comfortable going in to eat the treat, you can briefly shut the door, stand right in front and hand your dog treats through the door, then open it and let them back out. If you also use the crate to feed your dog his regular meals, he will quickly associate it as a pleasurable place.

You’ll also need to outfit their crate with some bedding. If the dog does not chew fabric or soil bedding, you can use a towel or light blanket inside the crate. Newspaper is not a good idea, as it may send the message of “potty here,” especially if the dog was previously trained to go on paper. A few dogs will urinate in a crate if bedding is provided. If your dog does this, remove the bedding until the pup starts to understand that bedding is for sleeping–not for a potty pad!

If you have another dog, be sure to leave it crated beside your new pup, or at least have it in the same room with your pup’s crate whenever you leave the puppy alone. This helps prevent the feeling of “social isolation” when you are away. If you do not have another pet, then try leaving a radio or TV on in the room, at low volume.

Whenever your dog is not directly under your supervision in the house, it should be in its crate or kennel. Many breeders recommend that the puppy’s feet never touch the floor of your home for the first several weeks – when they are not in their crate, puppies should be in your lap, laying by your side on the couch, or playing outside.  Preventing potty mistakes by not allowing an accident to happen will help the pup understand these concepts much quicker.

Whenever you take pup out of the crate, make sure you immediately go to the same potty area outside, every single time, even if your pup was crated for only 15 minutes. When you reach the area, set your pup down, or if the dog is on leash, put a little slack in the leash, and say a phrase such as “go potty” or “do your business.” When your pup actually begins to go, repeat the phrase quietly while he is going. Don’t use a loud, excited voice, as this may cause the pup to become distracted and forget what he or she is doing. “Big praise” and treats come after the job is done!  (see below)

Make a Schedule

This is vital to house training success. Puppies have tiny bladders, and water just runs right through them. The same holds true for solid matter. Goes in. Goes out. You have to make sure you are giving your puppy ample opportunity to do the right thing.

A good guide is that dogs can control their bladders for the number of hours corresponding to their age in months up to about nine months to a year. (Remember, though, that 10 to 12 hours is a long time for anyone to hold it!) A 6-month-old pup can reasonably be expected to hold it for about 6 hours. Never forget that all puppies are individuals and the timing will differ for each.  Also, remember that most pups don’t fully conquer the house training routine until they are around 5 months; this means that a whole lot of patience is just part of our job as a puppy parent.

Be sure to monitor daily events and your puppy’s individual habits when setting up a schedule. With very young puppies, you should expect to take the puppy out:

  • First thing in the morning

  • Last thing at night

  • After playing

  • After spending time in a crate

  • Upon waking up from a nap

  • After chewing a toy or bone

  • After eating or drinking (and often 20 minutes later)


This could have you running for the backyard a dozen times or more in a 24-hour period. If you work, make some kind of arrangement (bringing your pup to the office, hiring a dog walker) to keep that schedule. The quicker you convey the idea that there is an approved place to potty and places that are off limits, the quicker you’ll be able to put this messy chapter behind you.

Consistency is key! Be consistent even in which door you use to go outside, and be consistent with feeding schedules, go-potty phrases and places, as well as exercise schedules. Even if your dog just came back inside, if it drinks a lot of water or starts doing something they were not before–take them back out to potty! Sniffing the floor, circling, whining, wandering away, or heading toward the door are often signals that your pup needs to go, which means you need to be quick in taking them outside!

Keep in mind that some dogs will actually poop twice in one outing, so walk them long enough to make sure everything is taken care of before coming back inside. Also, when dogs have been playing and drinking water, they will have to go out more often, sometimes even every half hour if they are out with you instead of sleeping in their crate.


Praise for doing the right thing works best for everything you will do in your life together. Make her think that she is a little canine Einstein every time she performs this simple, natural act. Be effusive in your praise—cheer, clap, throw cookies. Let her know that no other accomplishment, ever—not going to the moon, not splitting the atom, not inventing coffee—has been as important as this pee. And then give her a treat immediately (it's a good idea to keep some treats in your pocket or a fanny pack whenever you take her outside).


When Accidents Happen

Scolding a puppy for soiling your floor, especially after the fact, isn’t going to do anything except make her think you’re a nut. Likewise, some old methods of punishment, like rubbing a dog’s nose in her poop, are so bizarre that it’s hard to imagine how they came to be and if they ever worked for anyone. If you catch the pup just beginning the event, a quick “no” in a calm voice, followed by rushing pup outside can sometimes be helpful.

When an accident does happen, first use a rag or paper towel to soak up urine and/or pick up feces. Clean the spot with a good carpet cleaner, and then follow up with an enzyme cleaner formulated to neutralize odors. Once the spot is at least partially dry, spray it with a dog repellant spray such as Boundary™, or with a vinegar solution, to discourage future accidents in the same area.

Some pups will urinate from excitement when greeting people, or when showing submissive behavior. These dogs do best if you ignore them when you first arrive, and then let them come to you later after you have sat down. Do not scold for this behavior, as this can make the problem worse. If you ignore it, usually it is outgrown. If the behavior continues past the age of 6 months, your vet may prescribe some medication to help solve the problem, and you may also wish to work with a behavior counselor to make sure that your pup’s confidence is increased (which will lessen urinating that is related to submissive behavior.)


Last but not least, always make sure that your pup gets a quick walk after he finishes going potty outside, and don’t immediately put him back in his crate the second he comes inside. If the fun always ends (they have to go right back to their crate) as soon as they “go,” some pups will prolong going so they can stay outside in the fresh area and enjoy your company a bit longer!

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