House Training Your Puppy or Older Dog

Puppies

Puppies need to learn where the "dirty" spots, or potty places are, and they need your help for that. Depending on the puppy's age and the logistics of your home and your schedule, the potty places may be inside and outside or outside only. If you're home most of the day and have an easily accessible yard, go for the outdoor only option, but if you have to be gone for long periods and don't have reliable help, or if you're in an apartment or your yard takes some getting to, indoor and outdoor options are best in the beginning.

1. If you're making an indoor potty spot and your long term goal is for the puppy to go on grass, consider getting a grass pad made for this purpose instead of using puppy pads. If you're a city dweller and your puppy will be going on concrete, puppy pads may be a better option. If a grass pad isn't feasible and you need to use puppy pads even if your long-term plan is for the puppy to potty on grass, it's not a big problem. You'll just take a puppy pad outside to the grass when the time comes and over time cut to down to be smaller and smaller until it's gone and puppy is pottying on the grass.

If you're starting with an outdoor potty spot (or indoor and outdoor), go straight there when you take the puppy out and wait in that area until the puppy goes. Walking and playing come after he does his business, not before. Praise and reward the puppy for going in the right spot and be consistent about going to that spot every time, day or night, good weather or bad. Once he's pottied he gets the extra reward of a walk or playtime. Don't make him go right back into the house if he wants to stay out or he will learn to put off going potty so he gets more time outside.

2. It's critical to get your puppy on a schedule. IN addition to taking him out first thing when he gets up in the morning, puppies under 5 months of age should be getting fed 4x a day and getting a potty break roughly 30 minutes after each meal. They should also get regular opportunities to go out to potty on a schedule (see below). After they potty there should be a treat, then some play time, then nap time in the crate or the pen, and repeat. By getting him on a schedule where he goes out (or to his pad) after eating, after waking from a nap, and at regular intervals that match your schedule you'll be able too make sure he's in the right place i.e. outside or on the pad, when it's time to "go".

3. Do not give your puppy run of the house. You should always know where he is and what he's doing and the best way to do this is to use a crate and a playpen or exercise pen for those times when you can't be 100% focused on him. In addition to not getting to use your house as a bathroom, you'll also be keeping him from chewing on your furniture, power cord and shoes and letting him learn to enjoy chewing on his own toys and bones. The crate should always have water in it (you can get a bowl that attaches to the side of a wire crate or the door of a plastic travel crate). We don't help our puppy learn to be house trained by dehydrating him to keep him from having an accident (see the Crate Training tip for more info). The crate should be just big enough for him to have his water bowl and be able to turn around and stretch out (the top must also be higher than his head when he's sitting or standing). Many wire crates come with an extra "wall" that you can use to adjust the available floor space. This allows you to expand the space as the puppy grows and also as he successfully keeps his space clean.

You don't want to leave the puppy in the crate too long. Here are some guidelines:

8-10 weeks: 30-60 minutes

11-14 weeks: 1-3 hours

15-17 weeks: 3-4 hour

18+ weeks 4-6 hours

If your schedule doesn't allow you to get your puppy out of the crate often enough, use a playpen or exercise pen that you can attach to the crate or put the crate inside of. The crate will still be his sleeping and resting area while you put down puppy pads or grass pads on the floor inside the pen. When the puppy is consistently going potty on the pads or grass (and not in his crate or bed), you can remove one or two of the pads or grass patches to make the potty space a little smaller. If he's still consistently using the pads or grass, make it smaller still until you get it down to just one or two pads or grass patches depending on their size and the size of your puppy. If you're using indoor and outdoor spaces, you can take him out of his pen or crate on the schedule outlined above and take him outside to potty when you can be there. If you're only using outdoor spaces remember to watch for when he wakes up from his nap so you can take him right outside and ensure success. Leave his leash and treats on top of his crate so you can just grab them and go. It's best to let him go through the door on his own so he learns that's how he gets to the potty place, so if you need to carry him through the house to ensure he doesn't stop and have an accident be sure to put him down at the door so he can walk out on his own.

As he gets ore predictable on his schedule and more successful and choosing the right places to go you can start giving him more time outside of the crate and pen.  If you catch him starting to go in the wrong place, gently move him to his pad or bring him to the door to go outside.

Remember that timing is individual to each dog, so any guidelines on how often your puppy will need to potty have to be flexible. Some 8 week old puppies might initially need to potty every 10-30 minutes while others will go for 2-3 hours. Figure out your puppy's timing and help him learn where you want him to go. Reward him liberally when he gets it right and don't make a fuss if he has an accident. He doesn't KNOW where he's supposed to go and it's your job to teach him by being consistent and kind. Do not rub his nose in it if he has an accident. Do not yell. Do not do anything if you find an accident; he will have no idea why you're showing it to him. Just clean it up. And don't be shy about taking your puppy out to potty in the rain. Puppies that do this before 14 weeks of age are less likely to not want to go potty because it's raining or the grass is wet.

Older Dogs

1. Don't give the dog free run of the house, especially if it's a new dog. This is a privilege that needs to be earned with good behavior. At night and when you're not home, use a crate for your dog, making sure he doesn't have so much room that he can "go" on one end and curl up and sleep on the other. (See tip on Crate Training for more info)  At other times, restrict the dog to an area where he can be supervised. You can use gates to keep him in an area where he's always within your view, or tether him to you by putting a belt or carabiner through the handle of his leash and attaching him to you. You don't want him to have an opportunity to potty where you can't interrupt or take him outside before he goes.

 

2. Give him a schedule. In the morning he goes outside as soon as you let him out of his crate. If he doesn't "go" within 10 minutes, he goes back inside and back in his crate. Give him about 10 minutes, then do it again. Keep repeating this until he goes. It doesn't matter if you walk him or let him out in the backyard, but if you do the latter stay out there with him. As soon as he starts to go (in either scenario), praise him to the skies, calmly. Don't scare him with excitement. You can even give him a treat the second he's done. Depending on his age, he should be taken out anywhere from every 2-3 hours to 2-3 times a day. In-between, he's either in his crate or under supervision. Always take him out roughly 30 minutes after he eats (with young puppies it may be sooner). Don't give him any food within 3 hours of bed time (he can have a frozen Kong or other yummy thing in his crate and he should always have water), and be sure to take him out and make sure he does something before you crate him for the night. If he doesn't go the first time you take him out, give him 10 minutes, put him in his crate and then take him out for another 10 minute try before you go to bed. If you've tried this 3 times and he doesn't go, he doesn't have to so he's in for the night. If he wakes you in the night (keep the crate in your room so you can hear him), take him out, let him go, then right back in the crate; no playing or cuddling.

 

3. If he starts to "go" in the house and you see it, interrupt him without scaring him and lead him outside by running toward the door, even if this makes a bit of a mess in the process. If he continues to go outside, praise him. If you find the accident after the fact, just clean it up. Showing it to the dog, or worse, sticking his nose in it or yelling at him, only serves to make him afraid of you. Use an enzymatic cleaner to remove any stains and odors so he doesn't have any traces to encourage him to go in that spot again.

 

4. Be consistent and stay calm. Remember, while some dogs may naturally prefer to "go" outside, most need to be taught that this is where to potty. Just leaving the dog outside without supervision just reinforces the idea that he can go where ever he is and won't give him any clue about where he should go, so be part of the training.