The Dog House Series, Part 1: House Training Your Puppy

So you got a puppy. It’s exciting! They are cute and adorable and innocent… until you see that puddle seeping into the carpet. Then it’s a mad dash for the carpet cleaner followed by grumbling and furious scrubbing.

You stand up, observing the large wet spot on your carpet. Your new furry friend stands happily nearby wagging his tail. This is going to be such fun, and they say that the fun lasts for at least the first several months. If you’re lucky, it may last up to a year.

Don’t panic! House breaking a puppy isn’t nearly as hard as it may seem. To train your puppy as quickly as possible (and with the least amount of accidents and frustration), you must remember these three words:

  1. Routine
  2. Consistency
  3. Patience

It’s all about routine and consistency. Dogs become very accustomed to the routines of their households. (My dog knows my routine so well, that when she sees I am ready to go to work, she runs over to her crate awhile.) With a new puppy, it’s important that you begin to establish a routine, so that he can quickly learn what to expect and what’s expected of him.

Before You Begin

Before you even bring your new friend home, do yourself a favor and have these three items ready to go.

  • A crate- Have an old towel, blanket, or even nothing in it for the first week or until the puppy is crate trained. Also, I recommend buying a crate that has a divider (see picture below). You obviously want to buy a crate large enough for the dog when it is full-grown; but if the puppy is in such a large crate, he will probably pick a corner or two to eliminate in. A divider allows you to make the crate small for the first few months, so the puppy learns that the crate is only for sleeping and has no room for a potty!
  • Carpet cleaner specifically for pets- I use Simple Solution. It works fabulously to take away the smell and the stains.
  • Plenty of cleaning rags- Paper towel won’t work to scrub carpet!

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The First Few Weeks

The first few weeks of having a puppy are the most work; but if you take the time and put the effort into it, it pays off! The first thing you’ll want to do is crate train your puppy. Dogs have a natural instinct not to pee or poo where they sleep, so house training becomes much simpler if you have an established area that’s a “no potty zone.” It’s a place where you can put your puppy where you know he will not eliminate, and it’s a way to teach him to “hold it.”

It’s important to note that puppies from roughly 1-3 months can hold their bladder around one hour during the day and four hours overnight. For the first few weeks, you will have to get up at night to take the puppy out. You are trying to teach them not to go in their crate, and therefore you must give them opportunities to eliminate during the night. From 4-5 months old, most puppies can hold their bladder 2-3 hours during the day and 5-6 hours overnight. These are probably conservative numbers, but I hope it at least gives you a rough idea of what to expect. Medium to large breeds can usually go longer than this in between bathroom breaks.

A good routine for the first few weeks looks something like this:

  • Crate time
  • Take puppy directly to “potty area” outside.
  • If puppy eliminates, praise him and allow him to play inside for about 45 minutes before going back into his crate. Leaving him out longer than that raises the chances for an accident. If the puppy does not eliminate when outside, put him back in his crate for another 15-30 minutes and try again.
  • Repeat
  • Repeat
  • Repeat

By following a strict and consistent schedule, you greatly reduce the number of accidents you will have. Your puppy will soon learn the routine and will begin to recognize the potty area. Try not to play with the puppy when you take him out to do his business. This will distract him. When he eliminates outside, praise him. If he does not eliminate, do not yell or scold him. Simply put him back in his crate. Puppies have so much to learn at their new home! Remember to be patient and gentle.

When the inevitable accident happens inside, do not scold your puppy too harshly. In fact, unless you catch him in the act, you should not scold him at all; because he will not understand why he is being scolded. (Trust me, you will want to scold, but it won’t do you any good.) If you do happen to catch your puppy in the act, give him a firm, “No!” Don’t yell or hit him, because doing so could make your puppy afraid to go to the bathroom in front of you at all. If that happens, it becomes very difficult to teach your puppy the correct place to eliminate.

If you are able to crate train your puppy and stick to a consistent schedule, it will not take long for your pooch to begin to understand. Most puppies who are well trained become “trustworthy” around 7-9 months old. When I say trustworthy, I mean I can take a three hour Sunday afternoon nap and leave my dog alone downstairs. Even if she has to go, she knows to hold it.

As your puppy becomes better with the house breaking, be careful not to give him too much freedom. Once you feel like he has the idea, slowly wean him off your crate, bathroom, play time schedule. Dropping the routine too quickly or too soon can cause the puppy to regress. 😦

As your puppy gets more practice, he will learn to hold his bladder until he can go outside. This can get a bit tricky, though. Even in just a couple of weeks, your puppy will most likely know where the potty area is; but if he has to go when he is inside, he doesn’t know how to get there. He doesn’t know how to tell you he needs to go outside.

Some puppies develop very clear signs to let you know they need to go out (barking, whining, scratching at the door, etc.). Some puppies don’t have obvious signs, or any signs for that matter. This is a difficult part to teach, and each dog is different.

This is how it worked for my dog. Within two or three weeks, she knew where the potty area was. She knew it was good to outside and bad to go inside. However, if she was inside and she needed to go, she just went. She didn’t hold it. I began to notice, though, that often, before an accident, she wandered over to the door. (We always took her out the same door to go to the bathroom.) She didn’t stand there long, but she went over as if to try to go outside. I started to take her outside whenever I saw her walk towards the door. Pretty soon, she learned if she waited at the door, I would take her out. (She did go through a phase where she abused this, and she asked to go out even if she didn’t need to. Over time, though, she learned that she should only ask to go outside if she needed to go to the bathroom.) This step in learning to communicate her need to eliminate was HUGE. Once she could tell me when she needed to go out, I could trust her more. She knew if she waited by the door, she could go outside. She learned to hold her bladder in the house until I let her out. After this point, I felt I was able to wean her slowly off the strict bathroom schedule and gradually allow her more and more freedom.

Every dog is different, and you will have to learn your dog and what his signs are. Just remember to have a routine, be consistent, and, above all, be patient! In a few months, you will have a happy and house trained dog. All of the time and effort you put in to those first few months will definitely be worth it!

Leave a comment to share any advice or experience you have!

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