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  • Kristen VanNess

How to House Train a Puppy

While there are many variations on house training, some common themes are supervision, giving puppies lots of opportunities to eliminate outside, and rewarding puppies for outdoor elimination. By the time a puppy comes home, he is ready to start house training.

The Main Goals of House Training a Puppy

One of the first goal posts for a new puppy owner is house training. No one wants to step in something wet—especially not when you least expect it. The smell and sanitation concerns can create stress for new puppy owners, especially if this is happening often.

Many breeders and rescues will start house training around the time puppies begin to eat solid food. This makes it much easier for puppies once they go home. For puppies who didn’t get the early experience, that’s ok—there is a lot you can do even without that advantage.

The goal of house training for most puppies is to teach them to eliminate outdoors, right away, and to not eliminate in the house.

Some puppy owners choose to teach their puppies to eliminate indoors on puppy pads, artificial turf, or patches of sod. This is most common in environments where it’s difficult to get outside, such as high rise apartments, in situations where a person has limited mobility, or if there are safety concerns with extreme temperatures.

Potty Training a Puppy

There are a few key elements involved in teaching puppies where to eliminate. One aspect is to take your puppy outside frequently. This might mean going outside every 15 minutes during high-activity times of day. You can go longer between outdoor trips when your puppy is resting or at night.

Your puppy will benefit from a treat or toy reward immediately after he eliminates outside. This should be a big celebration so your puppy has motivation to eliminate. If you always come inside immediately after your puppy eliminates, some puppies learn to wait longer to eliminate so that they get more outdoor play time or more walking time.

It’s also important to limit your puppy’s options in the house. You want to make it very hard for your puppy to make mistakes. This might mean closing doors to areas where you are not spending time, using a baby gate to keep your puppy in the same room as you, or actively engaging with your puppy in training/play while he is loose.

We have additional tips on teaching puppies to use puppy pads/pee pads or turf here.

Crate Training a Puppy

A crate can be a very helpful tool for house training a puppy. Many puppies need to eliminate more when they move around. A crate can restrict access and keep your puppy from sneaking off to a corner in the next room. While you don’t want to use a crate too much, using a crate to keep your puppy safe and contained when you are not able to supervise him will help make the house training process go faster.

Two easy starting points can be to feed meals in your crate. You can gently place your puppy in his crate and hand feed him the meal, piece by piece. A second starting point can be to give your puppy a delicious chew item while he is in the crate.

It may be helpful to have multiple crates in your home so that you have easy access to a crate in these areas where you spend time.

Here is additional information on crate training for puppies.

Puppy Potty Training Schedule

Each puppy will be different with his physiology, age, size, and lifestyle. Take the time to chart your puppy’s house training habits for 24-48 hours. Note the time you take your puppy out and what/if he does anything. If there is an accident indoors, note the time and location. Take this information and look for patterns. Are there any patterns to when he has accidents? For example, maybe your puppy has more accidents when the kids get home from school. If that’s the case, it might be a good idea to take the puppy out every 5-10 minutes during that time. Perhaps you need a specific person to be responsible for supervising his trips outside, so you can be sure he is empty.

A good rule of thumb is to take puppies out at transition times. When a puppy gets up in the morning, quickly get him outside. As you transition from feeding your puppy to play time, take him out. When you transition from play time to rest in the crate with a chew object, take him out first.

During longer periods of play, a puppy will need to go out more often. This might be play time with your adult dog, with you, or with a guest. Some puppies may need out every 5-10 minutes during active play.

Be aware of water or food intake and how that may impact your puppy’s need to go out. If your puppy eats a lot of treats at training class, he may need an extra trip out that evening. If you had 6” of fresh snow and your puppy was eating some of the snow, your puppy will need more trips outdoors. The same thing goes for more play time at a lake—if your puppy drank more, he will need more bathroom breaks.

How Long Does it Take to Potty Train a Puppy?

Each puppy is different as an individual, and this can impact the timeline for house training. Many breeders will start house training puppies at 3 ½ weeks of age. By the time the puppies go home at 8-12 weeks of age, they may never eliminate indoors in the new home. Some shelters who raise litters of puppies will use a similar process. Not everyone who is raising a litter of puppies is aware that this is possible or is able to take the time. If your puppy did not get this start, that’s ok. You will still be able to achieve success.

Puppies who are anxious or who have lived in unclean areas before coming home may be harder to house train. If a puppy has a significant illness or injury, sometimes house training may be more difficult. There are many possible medical reasons that house training may be difficult, such as a urinary tract infection or parasites. Your vet is a great starting place to rule out health factors.

By implementing a house training plan with careful supervision, you should be able to quickly minimize the number of accidents indoors that occur each day.

How do I know when my puppy needs to go out?

Not all puppies will naturally give signals that they need a bathroom break. Some common signals might be circling, sniffing a specific area, moving to an area where the puppy has previously eliminated, or moving towards a door. Your puppy may give other signals, or it’s possible that your puppy may not give noticeable signals at all.

Keeping track of the time and how long it has been since your puppy was last out will be helpful in predicting when your puppy next needs out.

There are ways you can teach puppies a signal such as ringing a bell or pushing a button. Some puppies will ring the bell by accident when sniffing near the door, and this can become an intentional signal over time. For other puppies, you can use a training process to achieve this. Generally, you start by teaching the puppy to ring the bell. Then, you teach the puppy to ring the bell every time you take him out, then to ring the bell as a request, and finally to ring the bell only for bathroom breaks and not just for play.

Potty Training Regression

There may be regression at times during this process.

If you see a sudden change of behavior, the first thing should be a check with your vet. There are many health conditions that can contribute to changes in elimination. Sometimes, this may mean a vet visit, and at other times you may be able to just collect a sample to drop off.

As puppies get older, they will not need out as frequently. Sometimes, it is easy to forget how young a puppy is, and you might skip some bathroom breaks that are still needed. At other times, you might have fed the puppy more treats, or he may have drank more water, and may need additional trips outside.

Bad weather can contribute to regression. People sometimes are not as good about taking their puppies outside as frequently or as long as needed during periods of extreme weather, such as rain, cold, or even heat. This means the puppy will have fewer or shorter bathroom opportunities. Some puppies—especially those with short hair—may not enjoy cold or wet weather. They might not eliminate outside, especially if the puppy is left unattended in the backyard.

If you see a regression, do a quick vet visit if needed and increase supervision and the trips outside. Your puppy also may need more restrictions on his freedom in the house.

Potty Training Classes for Your Puppy

Unfortunately, there aren’t many potty training classes for puppies! Bathroom breaks are typically built into a group puppy class. In an hour long class a puppy may need out 1-3 times, especially if there are many active games or puppy play time. Feel welcome to take your puppy out if you think he needs a break, and not just when the instructor prompts a formal break.

There are board and train programs where a puppy lives with a trainer. Do some research and ask questions. In some programs, your puppy will live in the house with the trainer. In other situations, the puppy will be kept crated in a spare room or in a boarding kennel when not actively being trained. A puppy kept in the house will get house training help, while a puppy in the kennel is not likely to receive that help.

A growing number of facilities are offering day school or day training. In these programs, a puppy spends the day at the facility and goes home with you at night. There are structured breaks in a crate or pen, puppy play time, and training time. These facilities are often set up to help you with house training goals.


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