Training a puppy to eliminate outside of your house is commonly called puppy potty training, housebreaking, or house training. The keys to successful puppy potty training are structure, schedule and vigilance with a large portion of patience. Dogs being creatures of habit will follow whatever we present to them as the way the world should be. Puppies by instinct are clean animals and if we keep their nest clean they rapidly learn how to eliminate outside.

Puppy Potty Training Structure

Structure refers to the puppy’s supervision both in and out of the house. The quickest way to house train a puppy is to set the puppy up for success by preventing accidents from happening. By taking control of the puppy’s structure and schedule we can shape his preference to eliminate where and when we want them to. There are four training aids that will help you establish the proper structure for a puppy. A leash, a crate, an exercise pen, and a 10 foot tether.

Using a Leash for Housebreaking a Puppy

A puppy should always be on a leash and always in sight of its owner. The biggest mistake owners make is letting their puppy run around the house freely inviting accidents to happen when out of their sight. Prevention is the most important factor in successful housebreaking. When the puppy can’t be supervised then it should be in its crate or exercise pen. Also, a puppy should not be left unattended outside in the yard. There are too many things the puppy can get into and you do not want to come home to dug up plants, sprinkling systems and chewed up lawn furniture.

Using a Crate for Puppy Potty Training

A puppy instinctually wants to keep her den clean and would prefer to eliminate away from where she sleeps and eats. This is why a crate is such a valuable training tool for housebreaking your puppy.

See article on Puppy Crate Training.

Once we understand this strong motivating drive we can use the crate to prevent accidents from happening and use it to shape the puppy’s elimination schedule.

Using an Exercise Pen for Puppy Potty Training

Exercise pen for Puppy Potty Training

A Puppy Exercise Pen is a great way to contain your puppy while allowing him to exercise. Dog exercise pens for containing your pet indoors or out are available in a variety of heights and finishes. Exercise pens consist of interlocking panels allowing for easy adjustment of size and configuration and providing portability. It is possible to purchase two and put them together to make an even larger pen. If a puppy has to be left alone for more than 3 to 4 hours then the exercise pen is a better option than leaving the puppy in a closed crate. If the puppy is too young we do not want to leave the puppy in the crate for a longer period than they can hold their bladder. In the exercise pen you can put the puppy’s crate or a bed, his toys and water if you need to leave for an extended period of time. Expect that you will have accidents in the exercise pen area so do not put the pen on carpet or flooring that is hard to clean. Do not scold the puppy for eliminating in this area.


Training a Puppy to Potty in a Specific Area Using a 10 foot Tether.

If you have a designated area that you want your puppy to eliminate in you can use a 10′ tether to keep your puppy in that area while he is supposed to do his business. Take your puppy out to the designated potty area on a leash then attach him to the 10′ tether. Let the puppy sniff around and explore the area. It is helpful to scent the area with the puppy’s urine or feces. You can bring out a soiled newspaper or one of his droppings to help him get the idea that this is where he should go. If you form this habit early you will have trained your puppy to go in a specific spot and he will more than likely continue to go in this spot when he matures even without the tether.

While at the potty area start giving your dog a command such as “Go Potty”, “Do your Business”, “Hurry Up”, or whatever prompt/command you want to use. This will come in handy later when you need to get your dog to go on command. When the puppy is doing his business repeat the command and then give him a treat and lots of praise. You should give your puppy at least 15 minutes to complete his business. If the puppy does not go then return him to his crate with the door closed and come back in about 10 to 15 minutes. Then try again. Repeat this process until the puppy goes. Followed by some type of reward, food and lots of praise.

Puppy Potty Training Schedule

A schedule includes times for feeding, potty, play/exercise, rest, and bed time. Start your puppy on a potty training schedule from day one as soon as your puppy arrives home. When the puppy arrives at home take him to his designated potty area immediately. Let him sniff around for awhile and usually the puppy will do its first elimination here. Praise the puppy when he does his business for the first time. From now on this will be the spot you always take the puppy for his potty. If you do this early on and consistently stick to this area then the puppy will most likely choose this spot over your patio or rose bushes.

An eight week old puppy is going to have to urinate every 1 to 2 hours so you are going to have to be diligent. As the puppy gets older you can start stretching this schedule out to 2 to 3 hours, 4 hours and then to 8 hours or more. A puppy that is less than 12 weeks old may not be able to go through a full night without a break but most puppies by the age of 3 or 4 months can sleep for eight hours without needing a potty break.

Puppies will generally have 3 to 4 bowel movements per day depending on their feeding schedule. In order to control the puppy’s schedule it is best to feed the puppy 2 or 3 times a day at fixed times. Free feeding does not allow you to control when the puppy eats therefore when he poops or pees. Some breeds require more frequent feedings so you should consult with your veterinarian and/or breeder on how much and when to feed your puppy.

Puppies also need a lot of water but having total free access to water can cause havoc in your housebreaking efforts. In general you should give the puppy free access to water outside near but not in its elimination area. When a puppy drinks it usually will immediately urinate. Monitor how much the puppy drinks during the day and pick up the water a couple of hours before bedtime so you don’t cause the puppy to have accidents during the night. It is important that puppies get enough water so do not limit water just to prevent accidents. You can prevent accidents by taking the puppy out and watching for the signs that he needs to go.

A typical house breaking schedule for an 8 week old puppy is as follows:

6 AM Potty, food, water, exercise/play for 20-30 minutes, crate or exercise pen.
10 AM Potty, water, exercise/play for 20-30 minutes, crate or exercise pen.
12 PM Potty, food, water, exercise/play for 20-30 minutes, crate or exercise pen.
2 PM Potty, water, exercise/play for 20-30 minutes, crate or exercise pen.
5 PM Potty, food, water, exercise/play for 20-30 minutes, crate or exercise pen.
7 PM Potty, last water, exercise/play for 20-30 minutes, crate or exercise pen.
11 PM Potty, Bedtime/crate.

You might have to get up in the middle of the night with an eight week old puppy but this should not last for more than a couple of weeks at the most, so take heart. You will get through it. If the puppy is waking you up at 4 am then put the puppy to bed later and then each morning stretch the time by 10 to 15 minutes before letting him out to go potty. You will in a very short time lengthen the time to a normal night’s sleep. If the puppy needs to potty before it is your time to get up always put him back into the crate after he does his business and then go back to bed. Do not change your schedule and start paying attention to the puppy when he asks to be let out or when he just wants attention. If the puppy is just bored and is crying to get out of the crate then you should ignore him. Otherwise you will have a dog that wakes you up in the middle of the night and before you know it you will have a dog that is dictating your schedule.

This schedule is only a guideline. You might have to adjust it based on your puppy and your real life schedule. Every dog is different and you have to adjust accordingly. As the puppy gets older you can start spreading out the times and cut down on the number of feedings and potty breaks when appropriate.

Try to stick to your schedule but there are times when you may have to vary it. Your puppy may not always follow it as planned for a variety of reasons. Puppies do get sick and when this happens you will have to throw the schedule out.

Puppies tend to eliminate after eating and drinking. This is why we should strictly schedule food and water intake. They eliminate after waking up. This we can schedule easily. They tend to eliminate after play and exercise. If we remember this we can anticipate when the puppy will need to eliminate and avoid accidents. The puppy will also give us signs such as whimpering in the crate. Moving in a circle and sniffing. Moving purposely to a door leading outside or barking at us. Look for these signs and reward the puppy when it results in elimination outside.

There are only three places the puppy can be during this period of house training. She can be with us while on a leash. She can be in the crate sleeping or she can be free in her exercise pen. Puppies should have some crate time during the day. Puppies generally need several rest periods per day and they need a lot of sleep. You can safely confine your puppy to its crate 2 to 3 hours at a time a couple of times each day. If you are going to have to leave the puppy for more than 2 or 3 hours then it is recommended to leave the puppy in the exercise pen with the crate door open. Remember do not punish the puppy when she has accidents in the exercise pen.

What do we do if the puppy has accidents outside the exercise pen in our house? Most trainers today agree that punishing the dog after the fact is not all that effective. In general this is a good guideline to follow. Dog and Puppy trainers have varying views on how to correct the puppy when it has accidents and it can be confusing to the dog owner. There really is no black and white answer to this. You need to use what works for your dog. However, taking a dog to his mess and rubbing his nose in it is not a humane nor effective approach. It is better to catch the dog in the act because then the dog immediately associates the correction with his misdeed. If the puppy starts to eliminate in front of you startle him with a noise like clapping loudly then scoop him up and immediately and take him to his elimination area. At this point be neutral and calm and do not scold or show any anger towards the puppy. If he finishes his business then lavish him with praise by saying, “GOOD DOG! GOOD POTTY! or whatever prompt word you use.

What if you live in an apartment and your dog does not have access to a doggie door or a yard?

In these cases you might have to use Puppy Pads, newspapers or a litter box. Each one of these options have their draw backs because a dog who uses these for potty may never be fully housebroken. Dogs who have been trained on newspaper or pads never seem to grasp the idea that it is not okay to mess in the house or use the wrong paper as a potty target such as newspaper left on the couch or chair.

Here is an article on how to litter box train your dog.

Cleaning up after your dog.

It is important to clean up immediately when your puppy has an accident especially if the puppy has an accident in its crate. The puppy will be attracted to the smell and may continue to revisit the same spot(s) if the smell remains. Use an enzyme cleaner such as Natures Miracle to clean up any accidents.

The Three Biggest Mistakes Owners Make When House Training Their Puppy.

  1. Not using a crate
  2. Allowing free roaming
  3. Inconsistent elimination and feeding schedule

The Guiding Principle for Successful Puppy Housebreaking

The major rule to remember for house training your puppy is, “DO NOT LET YOUR PUPPY GO IN THE HOUSE!” That’s it in a nutshell. If you prevent accidents from happening you are 90% on the road to successful house training.

When will my puppy or dog be trustworthy?

As a general rule when your puppy is a least 6 months of age and has had no accidents in the house for at least a month or two you can then give your puppy more freedom in the house.