To housetrain your puppy: first, it is the owner’s responsibility to prevent any mistakes; and second, to teach your puppy where you would like him to eliminate.
Mistakes are a disaster since they set a bad precedent and create bad habits, which can be hard to break. Consequently, you must prevent mistakes at all cost. Whenever you are not at home, leave your dog in a long-term confinement area, such as a single room indoors with easy-to-clean floors (bathroom, kitchen, or utility room)—this will be your puppy’s playroom. I highly recommend an exercise pen (available at most pet stores) on an old rug on a tiled floor – as seen in the picture below.
Exercise Pen for Puppy Potty Training
Using the exercise pen area as the puppy’s space when he has recently come in from a potty break, but cannot be supervised is a great idea. This also prevents the puppy from having to be in his crate, but unable to roam the house and have accidents or chew the wrong objects. An exercise pen versus a baby gate avoids the puppy chewing inappropriate items such as baseboards or kitchen cabinets.
For Long Term Absences –more than 1 hour
Provide your dog with fresh water, plenty of stuffed chew toys for entertainment, a comfortable bed in one corner, and a doggy toilet in the corner diagonally opposite from his bed. Your dog will naturally want to eliminate as far as possible from his bed, and so will soon develop the good habit of using his toilet. And remember, good habits are just as hard to break as bad habits.
For a doggy toilet, use sheets of newspaper sprinkled with soil, or a litter box filled with a roll of turf, or a concrete paving slab, depending on the surface you will use as your preferred bathroom area outside. Dogs can be very sensitive to what surface they will want to eliminate on.
The purpose of long-term confinement is to confine your dog’s natural behaviors (including urinating and defecating) to an area that is protected (thus preventing any mistakes around the house when you are not there), and to help your dog quickly develop a strong preference for eliminating on soil, grass, or concrete.
If You Are Home
When you are home, use the same setup, but CARRY your puppy out to your preferred elimination area every 30-45 minutes AND after eating, napping or a play session. Carrying him to the location prevent accidents on the way.
Take your puppy out right before heading to bed. Have your puppy sleep in a crate next to your bed. Use a crate just large enough for him to get in, turnaround and lay down. A crate that is too large provides opportunities for bathroom use in a corner where they are not sleeping. Young puppies have small bladders and will need to go out one or two times in the middle of the night. As they get older, they will be able to hold it longer and will eventually sleep through the night. Remember, to carry them out first thing in the morning – not after your shower. If you are not ready to take them outside, don’t let them out of the crate.
Teach Your Dog to Eliminate in the Right Place
When you are at home, confine your dog to a short-term confinement area with a number of stuffed chew toys for entertainment. A portable dog crate makes an ideal doggy den. Alternatively, keep your dog on a short leash fastened to an eye-hook in the baseboard near his bed or attach the leash to your belt or a piece of furniture. This way he can settle down beside you. If they are leashed instead of in their crate, make sure that you are watching over them for signs that they need to eliminate.
Every 30-45 minutes, say ‘Let’s go outside to go potty’ (or some other appropriate instruction) and hurry your dog to his designated toilet area. Stand still with your dog on leash and repeat the instruction to eliminate. Give your dog three minutes to empty himself.
When your dog eliminates praise him enthusiastically and offer a treat or two. Most puppies will urinate within two minutes on each trip and defecate within three minutes on every other trip. As he is eliminating, say ‘Go Potty’ or whatever cue you want to use (be consistent). Over time, you will have taught your puppy to go on command which is quite convenient.
If your dog does not eliminate during the allotted three minute toilet break, put him back inside his crate for another hour.
The purpose of short-term confinement is to prevent any mistakes around the house when your are home (but cannot devote undivided attention to your dog) and to predict when your dog needs to eliminate. Temporarily (for no more than an hour at a time) confining a puppy to a small space inhibits elimination since the dog does not want to soil his sleeping area. Consequently, your dog will want to go immediately upon release from confinement.
Never confine a puppy or an unhousetrained adult dog to a crate for longer than an hour. A dog confined too long will be forced to soil in his crate, making it extremely difficult to housetrain.
I have found it very useful to be sure to use a regular feeding schedule and to limit the amount of water available in the evening. I also feed them within the exercise pen so they get the idea that this is their eating and living space – NOT their bathroom. Most puppies don’t like to eliminate near their dinner table.
Keep a diary of when you took him out and what he did. If he pottied, then give him about 20 minutes of supervised play time then back into his crate or supervised with undivided attention until the next potty break. If he did not, confine him to his crate for 30 minutes and try again.
Always take him to the same elimination location if possible. This will build a good habit and make cleaning up the yard easier in the future.
Always take him out the same door – this will be the door he goes to in the future to let you know he needs out.
Pay attention to the signals that he gives to let you know he needs out. He may paw at you, sniff around and circle looking for the right place, cry or attempt to get to the door.
Be patient! Your puppy is LEARNING a complicated skill. Accidents will happen. Do NOT scold your dog for it. Review your own actions first – accidents are usually the owner’s fault.
Within a few weeks, start giving your dog SHORT periods of SUPERVISED freedom (off leash) in various locations around the house. Be sure to watch for the signs of him needing to go out. If he heads for the door – awesome! He’s learning!
potty training puppy