To successfully house train your puppy, keep these important rules in mind:
Regulate food and water intake.
Repetition & consistency help Pup learn faster.
Praise makes learning fun & faster.
Confinement & supervision prevent indoor accidents.
Patience is a virtue.
Put Pup on a feeding & watering schedule. If you know what went in & when, you can predict when Puppy has to go outside to avoid accidents.
- Feed your dog a high quality diet. (Avoid grocery & drug store brands.)
- If Pup is younger than 3 1/2 months, split her daily food allotment into 3 equal, measured feedings. For an older pup, twice daily feedings are great, for the rest of your dog’s life. Never feed once daily. Small breeds do best on 3 meals per day, if possible, through adulthood.
- For each meal, leave Puppy’s food down for about 20 minutes. Don’t leave food down all of the time.
- Offer water to your puppy rather than always having it accessible. (Puppies often play with & drink much more water than they need — which leads to accidents in your house.) Pup will be thirsty when she wakes, at mealtime, and during/after play. Offer her water whenever she seems thirsty; this is about monitoring the water, not deprivation. If you can’t observe & offer water, just leave it down during the day so Pup remains hydrated. But you’ll have to be very diligent about the “Potty Pattern”, below. And Pup will need a place to potty, such as potty pads in an exercise pen, when you’re gone too long to crate her.
- No food within 3 hours of bedtime. No water within 2 hours of bedtime or during the night.
Most pups have to potty when they wake up; after heavy play or chewing; and within 20-30 minutes of eating/drinking. You will learn your pup’s individual timing, which will evolve as she ages. It is your responsibility to take Puppy to her potty spot at these times to avoid accidents.
Establish a “Potty Pattern”. Dogs learn quickly through repetition, and they thrive on routine. As your pup ages, the frequency of potty trips will decrease from perhaps every hour to once every 4 hours during the day. Repeat the following steps each time you potty your pup:
- Leash Pup to help her focus on the mission. If Pup’s not comfy on leash yet, she won’t potty while wearing it. Instead, create a puppy-proofed potty area with minimal distractions in your yard. Some folks use exercise pens as borders for this area, for example.
- Walk her out the same door to the same area each time. Pick a potty spot near the door, for now. The path of least resistance = successful pottying outside.
- Stay with her as you gently repeat a “Potty Phrase” (“Go potty”, “Hurry up”, etc.) until she eliminates. Don’t hover as you wait. Instead, look away — or slowly, calmly walk around the yard. Pup will likely follow you. Walking & sniffing inspires puppies to potty.
- When she eliminates, praise her: “Good!”. (Take care not to be so enthusiastic that you distract her, in case she’s not finished pottying.) After her last potty, surprise her with a piece of kibble from your pocket. This rewards the potty & discourages her from coprophagia. Casually (no tension) pick up after her when she’s distracted or indoors, to further prevent this habit from developing. After a potty, you can trust Pup to not have an accident inside for a little while, so reward her with outside play or more freedom inside — always supervised.
- Don’t stay outside longer than 5-15 minutes. If Puppy didn’t eliminate, come back inside. Supervise or confine her, and try again 20-30 minutes later.
Supervision & confinement
- In general, always keep Pup within eyesight unless she’s confined. When you can’t supervise — confine.
- Confine Pup in her crate or another small area with a chew toy. In either place, she will potty if she has too much room. Block off part of the crate (igloo cooler or divider panel) or decrease the size of the confinement area until you’re not seeing any accidents for several days. Then gradually enlarge the space. For example, you might eventually gate Pup in a room with you where she’s successfully not pottied. Too much room too fast, especially for smaller breeds, and Pup will soil the area.
- At night, your puppy should sleep in your bedroom, either in her crate or in an exercise pen.
Be patient with Pup during house training. It will pay off in the long run. You’ll have a better relationship with a happier, house trained dog. Below, I address common frustrations & misconceptions of puppy guardians:
- What if she has an accident?
- If you catch her in the act, make the mildest noise that distracts her but isn’t scary (“Oops!”; clap hands; etc.), and get her outside asap. Say her potty phrase & praise her if she eliminates.
- Never punish Pup for accidents. If you yell, hit, or rub Pup’s nose in her mess, she will be very anxious abut ever pottying in front of you. That will include the next time you take her outside to her potty spot!
- Never punish Pup after-the-fact. She won’t associate your behavior with her soiled spot because too much time elapsed after the accident. Instead, she’ll likely become anxious about your senseless reaction, which often increases house soiling. But why does she look guilty? Because she’s responding to your tension & unpredictability.
- Use accidents as learning experiences:
- Did you wait too long to take Puppy out?
- Should Pup have been confined?
- Did you let her out of your sight or give her too much freedom too soon?
- Were you in tune with her food & water schedule?
- Clean up accidents with Nature’s Miracle, Simple Solution, Anti-Icky Poo — or another cleaner that works via bacteria & enzymes that naturally break down organic material (soiled spots). Don’t use ammonia-based cleaners. Clean when Pup isn’t watching you so you don’t attract too much attention to the spot.
- I want my puppy to signal me to go outside.
- Don’t rely on a signal from Pup at this age. It is 100% your responsibility to take your puppy outside on schedule!
- A signal will naturally develop as your dog matures and you’re consistent with repeating the “Potty Pattern”.
- Dog doors or open-door policies will prevent Pup from learning to signal you & will prolong her house training.
- My puppy urinates when she meets new people or greets family members.
- This is not a house training issue. Some dogs urinate when frightened (guests) or excited (family). While most pups eventually outgrow this, you can speed the process by ignoring Pup when you come home. Ask guests to do the same. If Pup is frightened by guests, she’ll appreciate time to warm up to them at her pace. If she’s excited, ignoring her gives her time to settle before greetings. Treating non-jumping and/or distracting with a food-stuffed toy also help. Don’t worry — no doggy feelings will be hurt as you ignore.
- My puppy’s already house trained and she’s only 3 months old!
- Congratulations on doing a good job, but your work is not done. Don’t rest on your laurels at this age. Puppies go through a lot of changes as they mature, including house training reliability. If you slack off now, you’ll have more accidents. Continue with the “Potty Pattern” and supervision/confinement.
Follow these general guidelines and you’ll be well on your way to a house trained dog. Enjoy your dog’s puppyhood as much as possible. Understand that house training is a process you must go thorough, but it doesn’t have to control your life! House training schedules & techniques can be adapted to many lifestyles.