Step by Step Guide to House Training Your Puppy

ouse training is your first training challenge with your puppy. How long it takes depends mostly on how much commitment, consistency, and patience you invest. Following a proven method will make the difference between frustration and success. 

In theory, housebreaking a puppy is simple. The idea is to prevent the puppy from doing his duties in the house and teaching him to do it outside. A pup needs to learn to communicate when he needs to relieve himself. Dogs are creatures of habit that learn by association and want to please. Consistent, calm and positive training will quickly teach a pup that there is no other place to relieve himself other than outdoors.

How long can house training a puppy take?

Typically most puppies are fully housebroken before 6 months. In practice, it depends a lot more on you and on the method that you choose to follow than on your pup.  

You need to have realistic expectations with house-breaking. Puppies are able to control their bladder 1 hour for every month of age. So if your puppy is 3 months old, you have a 3-hour window to take him out to relieve himself.

At first you’ll probably have to get up at night to bring your puppy out. If you leave too long between bathroom breaks, your pup is guaranteed to have an accident. 

One factor that can make things slightly more difficult is if you live in a condo rather than a house with a yard. Since you cannot always go out at the first signs that the puppy needs to relieve himself, you will have to stick to a routine of taking him out at regularly at set time intervals, based on his age.

Difference between puppies 

What works to our advantage for house training is a dog's instinct to keep his sleeping and eating areas clean.

A puppy's previous living conditions before his adoption is going to be a predictor of how easy or difficult house training will be. Most breeders keep the litter area clean, but puppies that come from pet stores or puppy mills are often separated prematurely from the litter and kept in dirty conditions. A puppy that soils his sleeping place has probably been used to living in a dirty kennel.

Guidelines for house training

1. Use a crate from day one

The first thing to remember is that dogs are instinctively den animals. Your puppy has been used to the comfort and safety of a litter until he was adopted at around 8 weeks. At home, the house is far too big to feel like a safe and cozy den for a puppy .

The most effective strategy for puppy house training consists in using a crate. It caters to a dog's natural need to find shelter and a sense of protection. Small puppies naturally sleep 15 to 18 hours a day. Providing you introduce a pup positively to the crate, he will soon learn that the crate means taking a nap and that it’s a cozy and safe place to sleep in. Read our guidelines for successful crate training.

For house training, the advantage is that a properly-sized crate (big enough to turn around and sit up, not big enough to pee in a corner) will teach the puppy to hold his bladder a little longer every week. Placing the crate at night in your bedroom allows your puppy to feel a comforting presence, especially in the first few weeks at home when he might be missing his mother and siblings.

House training a pup requires a consistent routine - Dog Learner
House training a dog requires a consistent routine

2. Establish a routine

  • Take your puppy outside every 2 hours (every hour between 8 and 12 weeks). Dogs need to relieve themselves immediately after sleeping, eating, playing, and exercise.
  • When it is time for a potty break, take your pup on a leash, set a verbal command of your choice (“potty!”), and take him to a specific outdoor bathroom spot. Only after he has relieved himself you can take your pup out for a walk or let him play in the yard.
  • If your puppy does not relieve himself outdoors within a few minutes, take him back to his crate without exercise, and make another attempt 15-20 minutes later.
  • Praise and reward your puppy with enthusiasm every time and immediately after he eliminates outdoors. Timing is key when training dogs. A reward or a praise are only associated with a good deed when they happen within seconds.
  • Avoid free-feeding. Put puppies on a regular feeding schedule and you’ll have a regular potty schedule. Take away food between meals. Puppies usually need to be fed 3 or 4 times a day until 6 months of age when feeding is reduced to 2 daily meals.
  • At night, pick up your puppy's water dish approximately 2 hours before bedtime to reduce the likelihood that they'll need to relieve themselves during the night.

3. Potty training mistakes to avoid

Do not allow your puppy to soil in the house. Accidents are part of the process, but always try to keep an eye on the puppy when indoors. Mistakes are your responsibility. You can give your puppy complete freedom in the house and yard only after he becomes reliably house trained.

Don’t use newspapers or pads. This is a guaranteed way to teach the dog to soil the house rather than go outdoors. If you live in a condo and you cannot take your pup out timely when he shows signs of wanting to relieve himself, take him out more often and confine him to a small area in the house with a floor that can easily be cleaned in case of accidents.

Dogs are motivated to soil in spots that smell like urine or feces. If you make a mistake and allow the dog to soil in the house, you must get rid of the odor so that the dog won’t be attracted to the same spot again. Buy an odor neutralizer from a pet store. (Beware that household cleaners may contain ammonia and can attract the dog back to the same spot.) After neutralizing the odor, spray the area that has been soiled with a pet spray repellent.

Under no circumstances should a puppy be punished for relieving himself in the house. They don't understand the rules and have no mental capacity to connect your wrath with what they did a few minutes earlier. If you find a soiled area, just clean it up. If you catch the pup in the act, you can verbally scold him with a startling sound (use a word like “NO” or a specific sound, and be consistent). The adage of rubbing a dog's nose in his mess is stupid and counterproductive. A puppy that is punished for soiling will just pee out of your sight the next time.

When your pup is indoors, do not let him roam around unsupervised. Keep an eye on the clock and watch out for signs that your puppy needs to go. Some signs are obvious, such as whining, barking, scratching at the door, squatting, sniffing around, or circling. As soon as you see these signs, give the potty verbal command, grab the leash, and take the pup outside to his bathroom spot. Give plenty of praise or reward immediately after the business is completed.

If you cannot supervise your puppy, confine him to his crate or to a safe enclosed area that is small enough to reduce the chance that he will want to eliminate there.

Do not make the mistake to think that a dog messes in the house for spite or revenge. A dog that is properly house trained will only soil the house for reasons of anxiety, nervousness, or fear.

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