How to House Train a Puppy

For an 8 week old puppy, the two most important things to teach your puppy are to pee and poop outside and to teach your puppy (gently!) that you are the pack leader in your home.  Our method of house training utilizes techniques that simultaneously teach both. 

House training a puppy takes a lot of time and effort on your part.  For housetraining to be as efficient and as quick as possible, you must be prepared to make it your main priority for the first few days your puppy is with you.  If you will set aside adequate time now, you’ll end up spending less time over the long haul.  Success in quick house training boils down to three key factors: keeping puppies in their crates to sleep, taking them outside as soon as they wake, and never taking eyes off of them if they are out of their crate and haven’t peed lately.  What lately means will start off at only 20-30 minutes but will grow quickly as puppies develop better bladder control and as they get more dependable.  Crate time is what teaches them bladder control.  Consistent watching of them and always catching them if they make a mistake is what will make them more dependable.  Following the crate training instructions in our crate training FAQ’s will give you a puppy that is happy in a crate.  Using a crate will be a huge help in house training.  Put your dog on a schedule involving waking up, peeing and pooping, free time with your family, strictly supervised awake time, and then nap time again. 

When your puppy wakes up first thing in the morning and after every nap, carry him from the crate to the yard for the first week or until you are sure that your puppy won’t pee in the house on his way outside.  Then start using a leash to walk him outside.  Dogs tend to potty in the same place so decide on what place in your yard is best for you.  Pee will kill grass so if you’ve got a natural area, I’d suggest getting your puppy used to doing his business there.  If not, it might be a help to create a 8 or 10 foot square out of wood chips. Have a special word for peeing and pooping.  I use go potty.  Some use the words hurry up.  Whatever word or phrase you use, say it while he potties and praise him.  If he doesn’t potty quickly but is distracted by something else, keep him moving.  Call him away from that leaf that may have taken his attention away from doing his business.  When your puppy does go potty, praise him, and give him a treat.  Don’t praise your puppy too exuberantly or he will quit pottying and run to you for his treat before he finishes emptying his bladder.  Just say good potty with a calm but pleasant voice.

In the beginning, always go outside with your puppy.  You must know when your puppy has actually peed for housetraining to be effective.  I also suggest that some, if not all, potty outings are on leash until your puppy is spot trained to a particular place.  Having your puppy pee in the section of the yard that you prefer is helpful and having your puppy used to pottying on a leash can be a big plus when you travel.  When dogs aren’t used to pottying on leash, some of them will resist peeing or pooping at all unless let off leash.  This can make for difficult travel.

After your puppy has peed, give him a treat, praise him, and bring him back inside.  You can let him be free in your house for 20 minutes. (This time will get longer as he gets older).  After the first pee in the morning, you need to expect that he will go again soon so no free time until your puppy has peed twice and pooped once in the morning.  I like to feed breakfast during that time. Dogs tend to need to potty twice fairly close together first thing in the morning.  I think maybe it’s to rid themselves of the backup from holding it all night. 

After he’s done his business outside and he’s had his free time, you need to either watch your puppy VERY closely or tether him to you with a leash or put him in a pen if you’re unable to watch him. (There is a complete FAQ on the use of e-pens.)  If you can’t do either and the weather is nice, he needs to be outside.  You still need to keep an eye on him outside as you always need to know when he’s peed last.  To tether him, attach one end of a leash to your puppy and the other to your belt or belt-loop or to the strap on your treat bag. A carabiner is a nice way to attach the leash to just about anything.  If you are sitting down, you can tether him to a chair or a desk leg. You can go about your normal routine with your puppy attached to you.  If you are doing something where you can’t have him tethered to you and you have an exercise pen, put him in there.  While your puppy is tethered to you or in his pen, keep an eye on him and when he is about to fall asleep, put him back in the crate to start the process all over again.

If an accident happens in your house and you catch your puppy while he is peeing or pooping, clap your hands and say no in a loud voice.  Quickly pick your puppy up and take him outside even if it means a stream of pee all the way to the yard.  Then reward him for peeing in the correct place.  Do not do any of the old-fashioned training methods such as rubbing your puppy’s nose in it, scolding him, or hitting him with a newspaper.  Dogs live in the minute.  They have no idea what you are scolding them for if the timing isn’t within 3 seconds of what they’ve done wrong.  If you find evidence of an accident that you didn’t catch, accept it as handler error.  Clean up the mess.  Spray the area with a 50/50 solution of vinegar and water to hide the smell (dogs like to re-use an area that smells like pee or poop so this is very important).  Then commit to watch your puppy better in the future.

If an accident happens in the pen, your pen is too large or you have left him/her in there too long.  Clean it thoroughly as described above and either shrink the pen or commit not to leave him there for as long next time (or both).