Six Keys to Successful Puppy Housetraining

1. Establish a Routine

Like babies, puppies do best on a regular schedule. The schedule teaches them that there are times to eat, times to play, and times to do their business. Generally speaking, a puppy can control their bladder one hour for every month of age. So, if your puppy is two months old, they can hold it for about two hours. 

Pick a bathroom spot outside, and always take your puppy (on a leash) to that spot. While your puppy is relieving themselves, say a specific word or phrase that will eventually “cue” them to what you would like them to do. 

Pick up your puppy’s water dish about two hours before bedtime to reduce the likelihood that they’ll need to relieve themselves during the night. Most puppies can sleep for approximately seven hours without needing a bathroom break. If your puppy does wake you up in the night, don’t make a big deal of it; otherwise, they will think it is time to play and won’t want to go back to sleep. Turn on as few lights as possible, don’t talk to or play with your puppy, take them out and then return them to bed. 

2. Practice Positive Reinforcement 

Reward your puppy every time they eliminate outdoors. Praise or give treats—but remember to do so immediately after they’ve finished going to the bathroom, not after they come back inside. Keep treats in your hand or pocket. This step is vital because rewarding your dog for going outdoors is the best way to teach them what is expected of them. Before rewarding, be sure they’re finished. Puppies are easily distracted and if you praise them too soon, they may forget to finish until they’re back in the house. 

3. Supervise Your Puppy 

Try not to give your puppy the opportunity to soil in the house; keep an eye on them whenever they’re indoors. Watch for signs that your puppy needs to go out. Some signs are obvious, such as barking or scratching at the door, squatting, restlessness, sniffing around or circling. When you see these signs, immediately grab the leash and take them outside to their bathroom spot. If they eliminate, praise them and reward with a treat immediately (not when back inside). 

During the housetraining process supervise your puppy at all times. This includes while they are inside and outside (in the yard/their spot). Make sure to mark when they go potty and reward them anytime they potty outside. While in the house, try to monitor them and take them outside on a regular basis before you think they will need to go. If your puppy does have an accident in the house or their crate, do not punish them for it. Especially after the deed is done. Dogs are not able to connect having had an accident an hour ago (or even 30 seconds ago), to why you are upset right now. If they have an accident or start to go potty inside, simply take them outside and give them the opportunity to go in the right place and reward them for doing so (see below).

4. When You Can’t Supervise, Confine 

When you’re unable to watch your puppy, restrict them to an area small enough that they won’t want to eliminate there, such as a crate or playpen. The space should be just big enough to comfortably stand, lie down and turn around. If your puppy has spent several hours in confinement, you’ll need to take them directly to their bathroom spot as soon as you return. Remember to have treats in your pocket when you go to “their spot” outside. 

It’s extremely important that you use supervision and confinement procedures to minimize the number of accidents. If you accidentally allow your puppy to eliminate frequently in the house, they’ll get confused about where they’re supposed to go, which will prolong the housetraining process. If you give them ample opportunities to go to the “right” place it will help them be successful quicker. 

5. Mistakes Happen 

Expect your puppy to have a few accidents in the house — it’s a normal part of housetraining. Here’s what to do when that happens: 

  • Interrupt your puppy when you catch them in the act. 
  • Immediately take them to their spot. Praise/reward your pup and give a treat if they finish there (this is very important). 
  • Clean the soiled area thoroughly so you reduce the likelihood of them using that spot in the future. 
  • Don’t punish your puppy for eliminating in the house. Rubbing your puppy’s nose in it, taking them to the spot, and then scolding them for having gone potty in the house, or any other punishment will likely make them afraid of you, afraid to eliminate in your presence, or even afraid to go outside. Punishment will do more harm than good. 

6. Make Plans for When You’re Away 

If you have to be away from home more than four or five hours a day, arrange for someone, such as a responsible neighbor or a professional pet sitter, to take them for bathroom breaks. Remember to confine them in between breaks to ensure consistency. 

Try Doggy Day Care! At day care, your pup will play all day and have access to appropriate potty areas while you are away.