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Housetraining Puppies

Monday January 5th, 2009

The key to rock-solid housetraining is to start the day your pup comes home and stick with the program. Using a crate is the easiest method. (For older dogs, see housetraining adult dogs). In a nutshell, here are the basic steps:

1. Take time off to housetrain your puppy.
2. Start using a crate the day you bring her home.

3. Take your puppy outside for a bathroom break every one to two hours during the day.

4. Plan a middle-of-the-night potty run for young puppies.

5. Shower her with treats and praise when she does a good job.

6. Don't punish your pup for accidents you haven't seen.

Housetraining steps

1. Take time off to housetrain your puppy. Housetraining will be quicker and easier if you start as soon as your pup comes home, then stick to it 24 hours a day. That's one reason experts recommend taking off a week or two from work when you first get your pup.

2. Start using the crate the day you bring her home. Crate training helps dogs learn bladder and bowel control because they don't soiling their sleeping and eating areas.

The crate should be big enough for your pup to stand up, turn around, and lie down in comfortably, but no bigger. If it's too spacious, she may feel like she can eliminate in one corner and still keep her living space clean. Put the crate somewhere in your house where there's a lot of foot traffic to keep your pup from feeling isolated and get her used to the noise and bustle of your household. Or get a portable crate you can take with you from room to room.

Important: The crate should not be used to keep your pup "out of sight, out of mind." Give your puppy lots of breaks to stretch her legs and to play and bond with you; one or two hours at a stretch in the crate is all the time she should be spending there during the day.

3. Take your puppy outside for a bathroom break every one to two hours during the day. A general rule of thumb is that a puppy can hold it for as many hours as she is months old, plus one--for a three-month-old pup, that's four hours. But to prevent accidents in the crate, which make housetraining harder, as well as urinary tract infections, most experts recommend taking your puppy out every one to two hours during the day.

You should also give her a bathroom run after she eats or drinks, wakes up from a nap, or finishes a play session--all times when she's likely to go. She also be taken out first thing in the morning and last thing at night. And always watch for warning signs that she needs to go. Clues include whining, pacing, circling, or sniffing the ground. If you see any of these distress signals, take your pup outside right away.

Basic guidelines for using a crate:

  • Never confine your puppy for longer than she can hold it. If she's ever forced to go inside her crate because you didn't let her out in time, you've made housetraining much, much harder. Puppies younger than six months old need at least one midday bathroom break, so if you work during the day, you'll need to hire someone to come to your house and let your puppy out. Or go with an alternate routine while you're away. Every dog is different, and smaller breeds can't hold it as long as larger ones. If your pup soils her crate, that may be a signal she needs more frequent bathroom breaks.
  • Use the same "elimination station" each time. Dogs develop a preference for pooping and peeing in the same spots. Make it easier on yourself by choosing, right from the start, the place close by where you want her to go.
  • Don't distract your puppy with games and chit-chat; just stand still and let her circle and sniff. As soon as your puppy begins to go, give her a command, such as, "Go pee or poop" or "Do your business." Before long, your puppy will eliminate on cue--a handy skill when you're traveling or don't want to spend your walks carrying a bag of poop.
  • Take your puppy back to the crate if she doesn't eliminate within a few minutes, and try again in 15 minutes or so.

4. Plan a middle-of-the-night potty run for young puppies. Puppies younger than four months will need a midnight potty break, so set your alarm. Keep nighttime bathroom runs calm and matter-of-fact, so your pup doesn't think it's playtime.

5. Shower her with treats and praise when she does a good job. Make sure the treats and praise come right after she finishes eliminating, and make the praise enthusiastic and the food treat top-notch. You want to make it crystal clear that eliminating outside is a great thing. Don't wait to get back to the house to give your puppy her treat; she won't connect the reward with what prompted it.

Important: Take your puppy for a walk or give her some playtime as a bonus reward. If she always comes straight back inside after eliminating, she'll learn to hold it to prolong her time outdoors.

6. Don't punish your pup for accidents you haven't seen. Clean up thoroughly so she's not drawn back to the same place by the smell of residual poop or urine. If you catch your puppy having an accident, startle her midstream with a shout or clap and then quickly hustle her outside to finish the job. Praise her when she's done so she learns that eliminating outside isn't just allowed, it's generously rewarded.

  • Use a cleaning product that contains live bacteria or enzymes that break down the mess, rather than masking it with another fragrance.
  • Stay away from ammonia-based cleaners; they'll smell like urine to your puppy, and she'll want to pee again on the same spot.
  • Leave some soiled towels in your puppy's "elimination station." The scent reinforces for your puppy that this is the potty area.


Bottom line: The keys to good housetraining include:

  • Using a crate to prevent accidents and make it more likely that your pup will eliminate when you take her outside; and
  • Rewarding your puppy handsomely whenever she does the right thing in the right place. Punishing your pup for mistakes can actually make housetraining harder.
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